Tebow Throws, Saints March and a Giant Defensive Effort: Three Things We Learned from Wild-Card Weekend

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Mark Leffingwell / Reuters

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (L) celebrates with teammate Virgil Green after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter of the NFL AFC wildcard playoff football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Denver, Colorado, Jan. 8, 2012.

1.  Whew. Good thing NewsFeed didn’t write that “Play Brady Quinn” story we were thinking about on Friday.

The Denver Broncos backup quarterback had no need to loosen up on Sunday. Tim Tebow crushed all his doubters, NewsFeed very much included, by delivering a stellar performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers on wild-card weekend, throwing for 316 yards and a touchdown in a 29-23 overtime win against the defending AFC champs. (Yes, 316 yards, as in John 3: 16, the Bible verse Tebow wore on his eye black when he won the BCS championship at Florida.) Tebow ended the first non-sudden-death overtime in NFL history on the first play of the extra session, zipping a ball to receiver Demaryius Thomas, who warded off one defender with a perfectly placed stiff arm and raced past a thin Steelers defensive backfield for a 80-yard touchdown score. (Under new NFL rules, if the team that wins the coin toss and receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown, the game ends.)

Coming into the game, the Steelers had the best pass defense in the league. All Tebow did was throw for 185 yards in the second quarter alone. He had five completions for more than 30 yards each; Tebow’s average of 15 yards gained per pass attempt  (he threw 21 passes) is the highest playoff average in NFL history. This from a guy who was pretty awful the last few weeks of the regular season. And Thomas, we should note, had a pretty unbelievable day, finishing with 204 receiving yards and that touchdown.

We all thought that after Tebow’s magical six-game winning streak, his past three games, all Denver losses, represented his norm. Is it possible that Tebow is really a good quarterback who just had an ill-timed cold streak? Trying to forecast what this guy will do is impossible.

Next up for the Broncos: a trip to New England for a Saturday-night divisional-round game against the top-seeded Patriots. Check out the buildup for this one pretty much anywhere on the Internet all week.

(MORE: Tim Tebow’s Testimony)

2. The New Orleans Saints might be playing better than anyone else in the league right now. The Saints, who beat Detroit 45-28 on Saturday night, have won nine straight games. Drew Brees, who just set the NFL record for most passing yards in a season, tore up the Detroit defense, completing 33 of 43 passes for 466 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. New Orleans put up 626 total yards, a playoff record. A stellar offensive line surely helps: the Saints kept Detroit’s feared pass rush, including talented defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, quiet. The Saints visit the San Francisco 49ers, another strong defensive team, next week. During a non-This-Tebow-Guy-Is-Ridiculous year, Saints-Niners would be the divisional game to watch this weekend.

3. When the New York Giants were mired in a four-game losing streak in November and early December, their defense struggled. Sports-talk-radio callers, never ones to overreact, wanted defensive coordinator Perry Fewell fired then. These days, however, the Giants are playing defense like their 2007 team, which was written off but went on to win the Super Bowl. New York pitched an effective shutout against Atlanta on Sunday — the Giants won 24-2, with Atlanta’s only points coming on a safety called against quarterback Eli Manning for intentional grounding in the end zone. The Giants defensive line, led by second-year man Jason Pierre-Paul, has been particularly strong: twice on Sunday, the line stuffed Atlanta on fourth-and-1 conversion attempts. New York draws Green Bay, in Lambeau Field, next. Two things worth remembering: New York nearly gave Green Bay its first defeat of the season in Week 13, losing 38-35. And Lambeau Field shouldn’t intimidate Manning and the several other Giants who played for the 2007 Super Bowl winners — that season, those Giants beat the Packers at subzero Lambeau in the NFC Championship game, in what was Brett Favre’s last game in a Packers uniform.