NFL 2011

The Steelers Overestimated Tim Tebow Before They Underestimated Him
The stadium scene.
Jan. 9 2012 11:00 AM

NFL 2011

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

The Steelers overestimated Tim Tebow before they underestimated him.

Mike Tomlin
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin looks on during Pittsburgh's Wild Card loss to the Broncos.

Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images.

Tim Tebow beat the Pittsburgh Steelers because he was Tim Tebow. He could also have lost because he's Tim Tebow. His final pass of the fourth quarter was, as you said, Josh, the kind of play that's a gimme for Drew Brees or Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady or Kurt Warner or, honestly, Phil Simms. A great passer would have made the connection there; a good passer would have at least put the ball where the receiver had a chance to make the play. Tebow sent the ball skidding into the dirt. If that had been the last throw of his season, it would have been an appropriate one. He's a lousy passer.

But the Steelers didn't appreciate that fact. Yes, they embarrassed themselves on the game-ending touchdown, crowding the box as if they assumed it was physically impossible for Tebow to put the ball behind the defense—even though they had already seen otherwise. Note to future Broncos opponents: Try to give Tebow's throwing at least as much respect as you'd give a halfback option pass. 

In the larger picture, though, the Steelers lost the game because they seemed to think they were playing against Tom Brady. Mike Tomlin's clock-management problems at the end of regulation were set up much earlier in the quarter. After Denver's Willis McGahee fumbled, the Steelers offense took over at their own 45-yard line, trailing by seven points, with 7:53 left.

Advertisement

At that moment—through whatever combination of experience, conditioning, talent, and luck—Pittsburgh was clearly the better team. Denver had scored only a field goal since its first-half outburst; the Steelers had scored on long drives on their previous two possessions. Two more scores, and the world would be turned right-side-up again. 

Yet Pittsburgh appeared reluctant to take advantage. Over and over, Roethlisberger let the play clock dwindle to the final seconds. The Steelers were trying to run out the clock on themselves. They burned more than three-and-a-half minutes moving 24 yards to the Denver 31, before Roethlisberger snapped out of his trance and started firing for the end zone, to tie the game.

What was Tomlin thinking? It was as if he was trying to keep Tebow on the sideline, for fear of losing a clutch-quarterbacking shootout between his two-time Super Bowl winner and the Broncos' career 47 percent passer. In fact, playing for a tie made it more likely that the game could come down to a duel not between Roethlisberger and Tebow, but between Pittsburgh placekicker Shaun Suisham (who'd made 1 of 2 kicks from 50-plus yards this year) and Denver's Matt Prater (3 of 4 from 50-plus yards). 

Maybe Pittsburgh was staking its hopes on the playoff overtime rules, in which Tebow's usual brand of late-game heroics—a short, grinding drive to set up a long field goal in the thin air—would not have automatically won the game. An 80-yard touchdown, however, is still sudden death. First, the Steelers foolishly overestimated Tebow, then they recklessly underestimated him.

Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?

Science

“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 9:19 PM The Phone Call Is Twenty Minutes of Pitch-Perfect, Wrenching Cinema
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.