In a hallway next to the rowdy Broncos locker room, a small prayer group found the last quiet place in Denver. On one side stood Bob Tebow, the father who took his 15-year-old son Timmy, to the Philippines, helping to find homes for the islands' orphaned children. On the other stood Bailey Knaub, a 16-year-old girl suffering from Wegener's granulomatosis, a rare vascular disorder for which she has undergone 73 surgeries.
In the middle was Tim Tebow, his left shoulder wrapped, his right elbow bloodied, his mind already moving from the playbook to the Good Book.
After a week during which he learned that his job might be in jeopardy following three poor starts and three defeats, the Broncos' quarterback awoke on the morning of his first playoff game, grabbed his iPhone and typed "Hebrews 12:1--2" to his Facebook and Twitter flock, words that say in part, Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.
"I've always loved that verse because it's very encouraging, and it was very encouraging this week," Tebow explained in the hallway. "It talks about having endurance—whether it's endurance in your faith or endurance as we play a game."
Against the favored 12--4 Steelers on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Tebow endured for four grueling quarters and 11 heart-stopping seconds. After the Broncos had gashed Pittsburgh's No. 1--ranked defense for 131 rushing yards, Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy guessed that the Steelers' safeties would bite hard toward the line of scrimmage on the first play of overtime, leaving the cornerbacks vulnerable to a big pass. McCoy was prophetic. From the Denver 20, Tebow faked a handoff to Willis McGahee, drawing the defenders in, and hit Demaryius Thomas in stride on a deep crossing route at the Denver 37, in front of cornerback Ike Taylor. Tebow watched Thomas fight off Taylor with a stiff arm and race all the way into the end zone for a 29--23 victory that set up a rematch with the Patriots on Saturday night in the AFC divisional round.
"We were on the sideline talking about [the play call] before we even went out on the field," Thomas said. "Walking to the line, I saw the safety come down, and I knew the only person I had to beat was the corner. The middle of the field was wide open."
Said Tebow, who finished 10 of 21 for 316 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (a 125.6 passer rating), "I just tried to fit it in there, and he made a great catch."
The touchdown set off a celebration worthy of the franchise's biggest victory since Super Bowl XXXIII in January 1999. Tebow sprinted downfield, leaped into the stands, then fell to one knee in prayer. Broncos president John Elway punched the sky with two hands. And coach John Fox, who last week pronounced backup quarterback Brady Quinn ready if his starter struggled, wrapped Tebow in a hug and squeezed him tight. The NFL's most improbable playoff squad—left for dead by many after finishing so poorly and ending up 8--8—had taken its fourth overtime victory in four chances.
"A team that has won Super Bowls, that was in the Super Bowl last year, that is always in the playoffs, against a young team that hasn't been to the playoffs, that kind of backed in," said Broncos cornerback Andre Goodman, laying out the tale of the tape between Pittsburgh and Denver. "But we have a guy back there [in Tebow] that, when the game is on the line, I don't think anybody would bet against."
As the party spilled into the stadium tunnels and surrounding streets, defensive end Elvis Dumervil lingered at his locker. After missing the 2010 season with a torn pectoral muscle, Dumervil played through a shoulder injury in September that cost him two games and an ankle injury in October that forced him into a walking boot. On Sunday evening he slowly packed his duffel bag and recounted the details of the battle, the spirit on the Denver sideline and the toughness of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who, hobbled by a high-ankle sprain, brought Pittsburgh back from a two-touchdown deficit to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.