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2012 playoff loss in Denver is ancient history to Steelers

| Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, 10:06 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas scores the winning touchdown past Steelers safety Ryan Mundy during overtime in their AFC wild-card playoff game Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, in Denver.

Tim Tebow caught the snap and looked into the secondary. It was the first play from scrimmage of overtime and the last of the Steelers' 2011 season.

Standing tall in the pocket, Tebow lasered a pass, distinctively left-handed, to Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The race was on, and Thomas outran Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and free safety Ryan Mundy 80 yards to the end zone to win the wild-card playoff game and defeat the defending AFC champions 29-23.

Four years later, the Steelers are getting ready for their first postseason meeting with the Broncos since that day. They visit Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday in an AFC divisional playoff game.

Taylor looks back with enough strength to philosophically shrug off the disappointment.

“Welcome to life,” he said.

The retired Taylor played 12 years in the NFL — eight before that game and three after it — so he treated the defeat in the only way he knows.

“It's not going to go your way all the time,” he said. “Only certain people are built for that. I'm built for that.”

The current Steelers treat one of the more agonizing playoff defeats in franchise history almost as if it didn't happen.

“I didn't even think about it until you brought it up,” said linebacker James Harrison, who was on the field for the play. “It will be out of my mind as soon as I stop talking to you.”

Thomas said it's one of the better moments of his career (tied with catching Peyton Manning's NFL-record setting touchdown pass), but he added, “I'm not even paying attention to it.”

Steelers long snapper Greg Warren, an 11-year veteran, said there are more important matters to ponder.

“Everybody is focused on (this season's) Denver team that has Peyton Manning and a lot of great playmakers,” he said.

For Tebow, it was the last touchdown pass of his career. He was traded two months later to the New York Jets, coinciding with the Broncos' acquisition of Manning in free agency. Since then, Tebow was cut by three teams and works as a commentator for ESPN and the SEC Network. An ESPN spokesman said he was not available to comment for this story.

“He's doing good on all these networks,” Taylor said. “He's doing real good. Can't knock him.”

Warren said he seldom thinks about the game, but he remembers the impression Tebow left.

“Maybe if we see (him) on TV, you think about it,” he said. “You see a guy who played with a lot of passion, played with his heart on his sleeve and went out there and gave it his all. That's what it takes sometimes. Sometimes, you just like to have players that play like that.

“Take nothing away from him. He deserved every point he scored on us.”

Taylor credits the Broncos for a well-timed play call. It was only Tebow's second pass on first down all day.

“They had a good game plan,” he said. “They figured it out on the last drive. The man threw the ball. Demaryius made a play.”

The Broncos have turned over most of their roster and coaching staff in the four years since that game. Thomas and linebacker Von Miller are the only players still in the starting lineup, and the team now is coached by Gary Kubiak, who replaced John Fox after the 2014 season. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the Steelers' leading pass catcher that day, now starts for the Broncos.

After winning that game, the Broncos lost the next week to the New England Patriots, 45-10, and four of six postseason games overall — a fact not lost on Taylor.

“Shoot, them boys ain't won a championship since,” he said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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