By Woody Paige
The Denver Post
January 8, 2012
Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos pitches the ball to Lance Ball #35 of the Denver Broncos during the game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 1, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images)
Rocky Mountain way
Couldn't get much higher
— Joe Walsh
There is a Rocky Mountain way for the Orange Rush to breach the Steel Barricade and get much higher.
But considering that the Broncos won seven of their games this season by a total of 25 points and lost four by 105, victory over the Steelers will be mission implausible, but not impossible.
Not one pundit from Las Vegas to Bristol, Conn., is picking the Broncos to defeat the Steelers.
The Steelers are synonymous with Pittsburgh — tough, determined, strong, industrious. The franchise has played in eight Super Bowls, winning an NFL-record six and barely losing to the Packers last season.
They have the classiest owners in sports, the Rooney family; an exceptional young coach, Mike Tomlin; a potential Hall of Fame quarterback, Ben Rothlisberger; the Prince of Mid-Air and Long Hair, Troy Polamalu, and the league's No. 1 overall defense.
They have won 12, losing only four to division-winning teams (Ravens twice, 49ers and Texans). And the oldest franchise in the AFC has the most loyal fan following in the NFL.
The Broncos have a proud past too. They've played in six Super Bowls, winning their last two. They've won 11 division championships, and this is the Broncos' 18th trip to the postseason. They've had official sellouts for every game since 1970. "South Park" often mentions the Broncos and legendary player — John Elway — and, on "The Simpsons," Homer once was gifted ownership of the Broncos. Pat Bowlen actually has owned the Broncos since 1984.
The Broncos are under horses to the Steelers, just as they were in their first playoff game in the 1977 season. They won then — and are 3-3 in the postseason against the Steelers. They lost their last playoff game, in 2005, to the Steelers. That's old news, though.
The Broncos rappelled down the cliff into the playoffs.
Doom and Gloom, the nickname for Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, has become the mood in the Rockies.
But the Broncos can overcome the funk and the Steelers.
Both teams have health issues. The Broncos are missing three important players — Brian Dawkins, Chris Kuper and Spencer Larsen — but the Steelers are without Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Clark and Maurkice Pouncey. Rothlisberger has the persistent high-ankle sprain, and James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel and Polamalu will be limited by assorted injuries.
The Broncos will be able to run against the Steelers. A lingering snowfall would be the great equalizer — affecting Pittsburgh's passing and assisting Willis McGahee and Tim Tebow in the rush.
The Steelers have scored only 23 points since Big Ben was hurt. His movement is restricted, and being without his starting center and the offense's No. 1 running back can't help. If Dumervil and Miller can apply pressure, and the Broncos send another attacker, Rothlisberger could struggle. On his bad ankle, he is 8-of-21 under a blitz.
A low-scoring, close game into the fourth quarter will benefit the Broncos. They have come back from deficits in fourth quarters to win five of six games since Tebow became the starter.
The Broncos must have the advantage in turnovers. The Steelers are minus-13 in takeaways-giveaways, the Broncos minus-12 for the entire season.
The crowd, as executive Elway said Tuesday, must get into the game right away, show that old-time emotion and drown out the Steelers' fanatics. An early big play and lead would lift the fog shrouding the city.
Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt have to get a leg up — kickoffs out of end zone, long and unreturnable punts, made field goals.
A half-dozen times the Broncos must reach the "Orange Zone" — an area inside the Steelers' 35-yard line. In Tebow's dozen games (including the second half against the Chargers at home), the Broncos got to the 34 or closer on 44 occasions. They went on to score 19 touchdowns and kick 18 field goals. Prater was in a bad stretch for a while (missing five), but has converted all but one (blocked) since the game in Oakland. In scoring situations, Tebow fumbled once, threw two interceptions and had three incompletions (one on the last play of the first San Diego game). A McGahee thrust on fourth down at the 21 was stopped short.
The Broncos have put themselves in position to score 84 percent of the time inside the Orange Zone.
Most significantly, Tebow has to come up XL — excel and extra large. He shouldn't throw 30 passes, but must, as Elway told me, and Tebow reiterated the next day, "pull the trigger" — not be hesitant, but decisive — when he passes.
The Broncos can win 19-17.
That's the Rocky Mountain Way.
Woody Paige: 303-954-1095 or firstname.lastname@example.org