As the minutes tick down to free agency (44 of them left as of this writing!!!), we break from our regularly scheduled rumor mongering to relay some rather eerie foresight prior to the Broncos’ upset of Pittsburgh during Wild Card Weekend back in January.
The final play during that game is famous now for many reasons, starting with the fact that any time Tim Tebow takes a forward step it’s notable and celebrated. But the conclusion of that 29-23 Broncos win and the 80-yard catch and run between Tebow and Demaryius Thomas will forever be etched in the league’s dusty history books as the first NFL playoff overtime game that played under the new extra time format.
The new rules that were instituted last year but not used until this year dictated that each team will get at least one possession in overtime, and a field goal on the first possession couldn’t win the game. The exception to that fundamental rule came into play if the first team to possess the ball scored a touchdown. The game is then over, so in that sense the new format is a race to six points.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was very, very aware of that exception. So aware, that he predicted the outcome.
In an interview with the Denver Post that will be published in its entirety later this week, CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz described his conversation with Tomlin prior to the game. Nantz asked Tomlin how he would handle the overtime coin flip, a fateful flip that Denver won.
If that coin came up heads instead of tails, Tomlin had a clear plan that he didn’t get to execute.
I’ll let Nantz tell you about his overtime blueprint:
I asked Coach Tomlin: What are you going to do? He said, ‘We’re taking the football. We’re not going to give them the football first.’
“I said, ‘Mike, wouldn’t you think twice about that? I mean after all, the Broncos’ last game they lost 7-3 to Kansas City. So if you kick the football to them, you know you are going to get a touchhback in the thin air, you’re gonna set up the Broncos at their own 20 and the odds are you’re going to get a punt and now all you have to do is going down and win the game with a field goal.’
“He said, ‘No way I am doing that. I’m not putting my whole season at risk giving the other team the football because if one guy busts an assignment or something else and one play they go 80 yards and a touchdown and my season is over. I’m not going to let that happen. I’m taking the football.’
“I said, ‘Come on. You gotta be kidding. The longest pass play of the season for the Broncos and Tebow was 56 yards against Kansas City.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to put my season on the line for a one-play, 80-yard touchdown pass.’
“The next day, overtime, one play, 80-yard touchdown pass. And that pass, by the way, was absolutely to the inch where it had to be. He threw it, it was a rocket coming in there, hit Thomas in stride and that stiff arm at the 50 and away we go.
“But it was exactly what Mike Tomlin had feared the night before when asked. To the letter. To the letter.”
Tomlin didn’t want to take any chances. Unfortunately, the only aspect of overtime left purely to chance–the coin flip–was still out of his control.
A higher power was watching that coin. And when that mystical force ensured it fell in the Broncos’ favor, it then stepped off their sideline and threw a perfect pass.