Home field advantage is always desired in the postseason, and the importance was proven as all four home teams won during Wild Card Weekend. Here are my top story lines from Saturday and Sunday’s games.
1. Broncos stun Steelers
No one gave them a chance, yet Tim Tebow and the 8-8
Denver Broncos found a way to knock off the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 in overtime. It was the first-ever postseason overtime game under the revised rules, which gives both teams an opportunity to possess the ball unless a touchdown or safety is scored on the opening possession.
Denver nearly got “Tebowed” by Pittsburgh, but unfortunately for the Steelers, the Broncos received the ball first and Tim Tebow found Demaryius Thomas cutting across the middle, behind Pittsburgh’s safeties. Thomas went all the way for an 80-yard touchdown, ending the coveted overtime game just 11 seconds in.
A more aggressive game plan led to 447 yards against the league’s No. 1-ranked defense. Denver’s 29 points more than doubled the regular season average of 14.2 points per game given up by Pittsburgh, which also led the NFL.
Tebow worked that game plan to perfection by throwing for a career-high 316 yards and two touchdowns with 50 yards and another TD rushing. In his first-ever playoff start, Tebow did not turn the ball over for the first time in a month. Thomas finished with 204 yards and the game-clinching touchdown on just four receptions.
Denver jumped to a 20-6 lead and seemed to control the line of scrimmage as well as the game after the first quarter, during which the Broncos managed a mere eight yards and zero first downs. However, a controversial call by the referees on an apparent fumbled lateral that was clearly recovered by Denver at the Steelers’ 18 (ruled an incomplete pass, then Pittsburgh went on to score a touchdown on the drive) in the third quarter and a relentless Ben Roethlisberger led to a 23-23 tie at the end of regulation.
Although the Steelers were banged up, they were the heavy favorites. Yet the Broncos pulled off the upset to win their first playoff game since 2005. It’s Tebow Time in Denver for at least one more week.
2. Texans shine in first-ever playoff game
J.J. Watt changed the fortunes for the Houston Texans at the end of the second quarter.
Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton dropped back, turned to his right and fired. Watt took a step back and jumped up in order to try for the pass deflection once he realized Dalton’s intent. Dalton fired a bullet that hit Watt’s hands and stuck. Watt ran the interception back for the game-changing touchdown and the Bengals were unable to find a rhythm the rest of the game.
No one would have expected rookie T.J. Yates to be the first-ever Texans quarterback to guide the team to a playoff win, but that honor is indeed Yates’. The rookie went 11-of-20 for 159 and a touchdown.
It was Arian Foster that shined brightest for Houston, however. Foster ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries for the Texans, including a 42-yard scamper to the end zone in the fourth quarter that put Houston up 31-10 with just over five minutes left, all but ending the game.
Andre Johnson hauled in five catches for 90 yards and a touchdown in his playoff debut. It took Johnson nine years to finally experience postseason play.
With the win, the Texans will travel to Baltimore and will face the Ravens on Sunday.
3. Home teams flourish
Denver, Houston, New Orleans and New York all hosted a wild card playoff game and all four came away victorious this weekend.
The Broncos’ 29-23 win over Pittsburgh was not simply the lone overtime game, it proved to be the only game that ended with a point differential of less than 17. Denver will travel to New England to face the Patriots on Saturday.
The Giants dismantled Atlanta despite a slow start. An intentional grounding call was made against Eli Manning in the end zone, giving the Falcons a 2-0 lead, but New York scored 24 unanswered points to earn a divisional round matchup with Green Bay on Sunday.
Saturday’s games featured Houston’s 31-10 victory over Cincinnati and the Saints’ 45-28 win over Detroit.
Drew Brees again showed true quarterback prowess against the Lions. Brees threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns on 33-of-43 passing. New Orleans also rushed for 167 yards, bringing its total yardage for the game to 626 (Detroit sacked Brees twice, resulting in seven yards lost).
The Saints and Lions combined for 1,038 total yards and 73 points. Calling this game an offensive contest with a lack of defense is an understatement.
New Orleans is set to take on the 49ers in San Francisco on Saturday.
Photo Credit: Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI