DENVER - Denver quarterback Tim Tebow already had won over the hearts of Broncos fans.
On Sunday, he may have won over the critics as well.
Tebow threw for 316 yards and hit Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to beat the Steelers, 29-23, in an AFC wild-card game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"I never really doubted [Tebow],'' Broncos coach John Fox said. "He's a really strong young man, and really it wasn't just about Tim. A lot has been made of Tim, and he's done an amazing job, but I don't think they had too much credit for our whole team. I'm not talking about they being the Steelers - they being the people that write stuff.''
The Steelers were impressed with Tebow, who completed 10-of-21 passes and also rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown.
"I don't think [he did anything different],'' Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said. "They made some plays. Guys got open. They made some good catches today, and [Tebow] put the ball in some tight places.''
Years in which the Steelers lost their first playoff game:
1947Eastern Division playoffEaglesL, 21-0
1962Playoff BowlLionsL, 17-10
1973AFC Divisional playoffRaidersL, 33-14
1977AFC Divisional playoffBroncosL, 34-21
1982AFC TournamentChargersL, 31-28
1983AFC Divisional playoffRaidersL, 38-10
1992AFC Divisional playoffBillsL, 24-3
1993AFC wild-card gameChiefsL, 27-24, OT
2007AFC wild-card gameJaguarsL, 31-29
2011AFC wild-card gameBroncosL, 29-23, OT
The Broncos will now face the New England Patriots in the AFC divisional round on Saturday. The Tebow mania that has taken over the city of Denver extends another week to the rest of the nation.
"I don't know if I felt extra pressure from [the playoffs],'' Tebow said. "I knew it was a big game. We had a great week of practice - we practiced hard - and I felt like we had a great game plan. And we were playing a very good Pittsburgh Steelers team. They came out, and they played hard, and we played hard. It was a great game, and I'm very thankful we were able to get the win.''
Steelers running back Isaac Redman replaced injured Rashard Mendenhall in a big way. Redman rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries and was a major reason the Steelers had a chance to pull out the game in the fourth quarter.
"I grabbed [Redman] there at the end and told him how proud I was of him,'' Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He played a grown-man game. I'm so proud of the way he stepped up and carried the load. He did a good job, and I'm incredibly proud of him.''
Redman said his mind was on running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who was hospitalized on Friday after being severely burned during an early morning fire at his home in a Pittsburgh suburb.
Wilson did not make the trip to Denver with the team.
"[The loss] definitely [hurts more],'' Redman said. "[It's] probably the reason we fought so hard like we did - we've been fighting all season, fighting a lot of injuries - but then Coach Kirb going through what he's going through, it kind of sucked that we couldn't bring the game ball home for him.''
No chance for Clark
Steelers safety Ryan Clark sat out the game due to his sickle cell trait that caused life-threatening injuries to him during a game in Denver's high altitude in 2007.
Clark had already been declared out for the game by coach Mike Tomlin earlier in the week.
"I really just wanted to play again,'' he said. "And that was the reason I tried to work hard during the week and help, but this is worse for my guys because they go out there and put everything on the line and gave it all to win the game.''
Clark was replaced in the lineup by Ryan Mundy, who was one of the players chasing after Thomas on the game-winning touchdown pass.
"It's a different feeling,'' Clark said. "It's definitely a feeling of incompletion and dissatisfaction.''
The Steelers were already without several of their key players, and they lost three more during the game.
Nose tackle Casey Hampton injured his left knee in the first quarter and was replaced by Steve McLendon. Defensive end Brett Keisel re-aggravated his groin injury in the second quarter and was replaced by rookie Cameron Heyward.
Left tackle Max Starks sustained a right knee injury in the second quarter and returned briefly before Jonathan Scott took over for him.
Center Maurkice Pouncey, as expected, sat out the game due to his sprained ankle. Doug Legursky started in his place, pushing Chris Kemoeatu into the starting lineup at left guard.
Other Steelers who missed the game due injury were cornerback Cortez Allen (shoulder) and running back Mewelde Moore (knee). Others who were dinged up but still played included LB James Harrison (toe), Polamalu (calf), Roethlisberger (ankle), OT Jonathan Scott (back) and LB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring).
"Adrenaline does some crazy things,'' Roethlisberger said. "You want to be there for your guys. You want to show them it's about heart, and that's what we did. We had a lot of guys do that today. It's unfortunate that we came out on the wrong end.''
Missing the game for Denver due to injury were safety Brian Dawkins (neck) and fullback Spencer Larsen (knee). Receiver Eric Decker went out of the game with a knee injury sustained on a hit from Harrison in the second quarter.
This 'n that
Game time temperature was 40 degrees with sunny skies. Winds were just 6 miles per hour. The number of tickets sold for the game was 75,970, and the attendance was 75,658. That meant 312 tickets went unused. The Broncos' stadium's naming rights were sold to Sports Authority on Aug. 16, 2011 as part of a 25-year agreement at $6 million per year. Rascal Flatts sang the national anthem.