This one has all the earmarks of a rout. A big one. If it were Pop Warner football, they might have to employ the mercy rule.
On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers pay a playoff visit to Invesco Field to play the Denver Broncos. Sound familiar? The last time the Broncos were in the playoffs in 2005, the Steelers came to Colorado for the AFC Championship game – the Steelers won easily after being up 24-3 before the end of the first half. This one could be much, much worse.
The Broncos are in the playoffs because of a magical, mystical 7-1 run during the middle of the season. The defense was unbelievable and Tim Tebow looked like a legend in the making. The run included comeback victories that virtually deified their quarterback Tim Tebow. The wins were unbelievable, unfathomable. Try to explain the overtime win over the Chicago Bears without resorting to divine intervention. I can’t, can you? Tebow was god’s quarterback and Denver the promised land.
After that incredible run, the Broncos stood at 8-5. They finished 8-8. Each of their final three losses were more demoralizing that the last – the ugly culmination coming in the 7-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs – a loss that propelled them kicking and screaming into the playoffs.
But, frankly, the downfall started much earlier – even during the streak. The Broncos coaching staff has refused to believe in Tebow and his magic. They have employed a “Let’s not lose” strategy more than a “Let’s have some fun and watch what this kid can do” approach to Sunday afternoons. The defining evidence came in the second quarter of the New England game. Fourth and inches on the Patriots 6-yard line, the Broncos and Tebow had literally been running over the Patriots. Going for it seemed to be a no-brainer. Even Phil Simms thought so. Coach Fox decided to kick the field goal. Nothing for the Broncos has been the same since.
Now, for the worst part if you are a Bronco or Tebow fan. As the AFC West champ, the Broncos draw the Steel Curtain in their Wildcard contest.
Sure the Steelers are a little beat up on offense – Ben Roethlisberger is still a bit gimpy (keep in mind some of his most amazing performances have been when he’s aching in one place or the other) and Rashard Mendenhall is out of the game with a knee injury.
It really shouldn’t matter so long as the defense can drum up a safety. The Pittsburgh offense can take the day off, as it is sometimes prone to do.
The Pittsburgh pass defense is 1st in the league; its run defense is 8th overall. What does 1+8 equal for a Broncos offense that has been anemic against far lesser opponents? A very early exit from the playoffs – and perhaps a very humiliating one if they play like they did last Sunday.
The Broncos do have a formidable rushing attack. But the offense has become so one dimensional, especially in the first three quarters, that it should be easy for the Steelers to load the box to stymie Willis McGahee. And the Steelers extraordinary secondary should create havoc for Tebow and what has shown to be a subpar receiving corps the past few weeks.
If they are going to advance, the Broncos are going to need some more Mile High magic. They are going to need believe. Believe in Tebow.
It can happen. It has before. Most people, even those non-football fans, would love to see it. For awhile it was bigger than the game. And the game misses it.