AFC West: Ike Taylor

DENVER -- It wasn’t a game-winner in overtime in the playoffs.

But it changed momentum of Peyton Manning’s first game in Denver.

Manning hit receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 71-yard touchdown play to give the Broncos 14-13 lead over the Steelers with 5:29 to go in the third quarter Sunday night.

Thomas beat Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor. It’s the same player Thomas beat on his 80-yard pass from former Denver quarterback Tim Tebow on the first offensive play in overtime of a wild-card game last January.

In addition to giving Denver’s the lead, it was a milestone for Manning. It was his 40th career touchdown pass in the regular season. He is the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 touchdowns and was the quickest to accomplish the feat. It is Manning’s 209th NFL game. Dan Marino hit No. 400 in his 227th game and Brett Favre threw his 400th touchdown pass in his 228th game.

Until that touchdown, the Steelers were utilizing the best way to beat Manning. They were keeping him off the field.

From the 5:16 mark of the second quarter to the 6:05 mark of the third quarter, Manning and the Denver Broncos’ offense has one snap and that was a kneel-down at the end of the half. Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers on an eight minute, 55-secod drive to open the second half that culminated in a field.

Roethlisberger has been terrific, especially on third down. The Steelers have converted 8-of-13 third-down plays.

However, 36 seconds into Manning’s first drive of the second half, the game changed.

Thomas back in Taylor's head

September, 9, 2012
DENVER -- Demaryius Thomas and Ike Taylor have met again.

The two will forever be linked because of a memorable playoff finish last year.

They rekindled their relationship Sunday night. Thomas made a nice 20-yard catch over Taylor in Pittsburgh territory midway through the second quarter. It was a key play on a drive Denver took a 7-3 lead on. After the catch, Thomas jumped up and got in Taylor’s face.

I, of course, wasn’t privy to the chat, but I bet it went something like this: Remember me?

Taylor and the Steelers were suddenly sent home last January when Thomas burnt Taylor on a 80-yard scoring strike form former Denver quarterback Tim Tebow on the first offensive play in overtime in a wild-card playoff game.

Taylor has had to relive the moment countless times. I’m sure he may be thinking about it again.

Final Word: AFC West

September, 7, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

Manning’s last game against Pittsburgh: It's been 20 months since Peyton Manning played in an NFL game, after a neck injury kept him out of all of last season. Manning will begin a new chapter in his Hall of Fame career Sunday when he quarterbacks the Denver Broncos against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It will be Manning's first game against Pittsburgh in nearly four years. On Nov. 9, 2008, Manning led the Colts to a 24-20 road victory over the Steelers, completing 21 of 40 passes for 240 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. I'm sure both the Broncos and Manning would take a similar effort in this outing against the Steelers.

How will the Chiefs run the ball? The Kansas City Chiefs believe they can have one of the best running games in the NFL with Jamaal Charles coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in Week 2 of last season and because of the signing of Peyton Hillis. With Charles' speed and Hillis' punishing approach, the pair will be particularly important Sunday against the Falcons. The Chiefs have injuries on defense, and pass-rusher Tamba Hali is serving a one-game NFL suspension -- just what the pass-happy Falcons want to see. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chiefs did not record one sack with Hali off the field last season. That’s why Charles and Hillis have to be successful: The Chiefs need to establish a run attack and eat the clock to keep the ball away from Atlanta.

[+] EnlargePeyton Hillis, Jamaal Charles
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerThe contrasting styles of Peyton Hillis (40) and Jamaal Charles (25) will be key to the Chiefs' ball-control efforts against Atlanta.
Can the Chargers find offensive rhythm? The Chargers are going to be rusty on offense Monday night at Oakland. The team had several injuries in the preseason, and the first unit really didn't get much time together in games this summer. Quarterback Philip Rivers didn't even play in the third (and most important) preseason game because of injuries on the offensive line. It could take time for this unit to come together.

Instant bad memories for Oakland: In the last game that counted in Oakland, after Denver lost at home to Kansas City, all the Raiders had to do was beat the Chargers to go to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. However, San Diego, which was eliminated from the playoff race the week before, hammered the Raiders 38-26, keeping them out of the playoffs. It also cemented Hue Jackson's departure from Oakland. Now, the Dennis Allen-led Raiders can get off to a good start by handling the same Chargers.

The Thomas-Taylor showdown: Stepping onto the field Sunday night in Denver likely will cause Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor to shake a little. Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas stiff-armed and badly beat Taylor on his way to a 80-yard touchdown pass from former Denver quarterback Tim Tebow on the first offensive play of overtime to give the Broncos a wild-card victory over the Steelers. The play will live forever in both Denver and Pittsburgh. I’m sure Manning will try to create some new memories for Thomas and Taylor if the opportunity presents itself Sunday night.
Tim TebowRon Chenoy/US PresswireTim Tebow relishes his OT victory against the Steelers after regaining his passing touch.
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos can thank Josh McDaniels for supplying one of the most improbable playoff wins in team history.

In fact, they can extend their gratitude to their reviled former head coach in person on Saturday night.

In an AFC West season that refuses to stop twisting chaotically, we will be treated to an unexpected storyline when the amusingly perplexing Broncos continue their unlikely postseason journey at New England on Saturday in an 8 p.m. ET kickoff. On a day the top-seeded Patriots confirmed McDaniels has rejoined the team, the Broncos qualified to face them with a thrilling 29-23 overtime victory over the heavily favored Steelers on Sunday in the best of the four wild-card games.

McDaniels, who spent the 2011 season with Rams, will be an offensive assistant for the playoffs and is expected to be the offensive coordinator in New England next season. He was the Patriots’ offensive coordinator prior to being hired as the coach in Denver. He was fired after 28 games in Denver.

A week ago, it seemed far-fetched that the Broncos would beat the Steelers and McDaniels would be actually coaching in the playoffs.

But that’s the 2011 season for you.

The Broncos-McDaniels showdown was made possible by an 80-yard pass play from redeemed quarterback Tim Tebow to receiver Demaryius Thomas on the first offensive play of overtime. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was the longest overtime touchdown in NFL playoff history.

McDaniels targeted the pass-catch combination as a potentially dangerous postseason pair when he made Thomas the No. 22 overall pick and Tebow the No. 25 overall pick of the 2010 draft. It was McDaniels’ second and final draft in Denver.

McDaniels was widely criticized for drafting Thomas over Dez Bryant, who went No. 24 to Dallas, and for taking Tebow, period. First-year Broncos coach John Fox’s biggest challenge was trying to make something of the departed McDaniels’ criticized draft classes and the elephant in the room, Tebow.

Now, Fox, Tebow and company will take on McDaniels.

The Broncos go to New England with renewed faith in their passing game after improving to 4-0 in overtime games this season.

After struggling horribly in the past two games, Tebow regained his passing success, completing 10 of 21 passes for 316 yards. Thomas had 204 yards receiving on four catches.

From the first quarter of the Buffalo game in Week 16 through the first quarter Sunday, the Broncos had 18 punts and six turnovers in 28 possessions. They scored only 10 points in the stretch.

However, after going 0-for-2 passing in the first quarter, Tebow threw for 185 yards in the second quarter as Denver turned a 6-0 deficit into a 20-6 halftime lead. It was Tebow’s best quarter in his 15-start career.

Tebow had five passes of 30-plus yards Sunday against a Pittsburgh defense that was ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the pass this season.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyTim Tebow rushed for a touchdown and threw for two, including the game winner in overtime.
During the week, Broncos football czar and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway said that Tebow needed to “pull the trigger” and try to make some plays in the passing game. In the past two games, Tebow -- who was impressive against New England in Week 15 -- was tentative and reluctant to throw.

He appeared to start Sunday’s game that way, but after completing a 51-yard pass to Thomas second play of the second quarter, Tebow settled down and started to look like the improved passer he became earlier in December.

“I think that definitely gave us some momentum,” Tebow said of his early second-quarter success. “We were cooking pretty good from then on out.”

However, Tebow saved his best for last.

The Broncos’ offensive staff was planning to run the play to Thomas on their first play of overtime. Thomas said he thought he had a good chance to score when he saw he was in single coverage with Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. Taylor had no chance.

Thomas beat Taylor off the line, caught a bullet from Tebow at the Denver 38, raced across the field to the end zone and into a tunnel as the crowd erupted, giving Denver its first playoff win in six years.

The unlikely day ended with Tebow taking a victory lap around the stadium, slapping the hands of fans.

Late in the week, there had been speculation that Tebow would be spelled by Brady Quinn on Sunday and talk about Denver needing to find a new quarterback this offseason got new life.

All that talk is off. It’s Tebow time again.

"He showed he’s an NFL quarterback today,” Broncos running back Willis McGahee said. "Case closed.”

Denver entered the playoffs with no juice at all. It was the eighth team in NFL history to enter the postseason with three straight losses and appeared to have no chance.

After Tebow showed again he can throw the ball, and the Denver defense continued its resurgence -- it pressured Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all game and had five sacks -- the Broncos feel good about themselves again.

They remember they squandered a 16-7 lead with turnovers in a 41-23 loss to the Patriots three weeks ago. Sunday, the Broncos showed what can happen when they play with ball security.

“Everyone said we backed into the playoffs,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “But we won a game in the playoffs and we’re moving on. We must be doing something right.”

Bring on McDaniels.

AFC West mailbag

June, 4, 2011
Weekend mail call:

Terry from Quantico, Va., wants to know if the Raiders could try to sign a veteran cornerback such as Carlos Rogers, Ike Taylor or Chris Houston as a free agent if Nnamdi Asomugha departs in free agency.

Bill Williamson: I think if the Raiders don’t pursue Asomugha, they may go with what they have at cornerback. That may be why they took two cornerbacks in the first four rounds of the draft. The Raiders spent big money on Stanford Routt and I’m not sure they can afford to sign another high-dollar cornerback. Perhaps if one of the top cornerbacks lasts on the market longer than expected and he becomes a bargain, Oakland could pounce. But that may be a long shot.

Andrew from Kansas City wants to know what we should expect from second-year Chiefs’ player Dexter McCluster in 2011.

BW: Kansas City coach Todd Haley expects McCluster to be a threat as a runner and as a receiver this season. He had 21 catches for 209 yards and he had 18 rushes for 71 yards. McCluster was also a returner during his first season. The key for McCluster is his health. He missed five games due to injuries as a rookie. If McCluster can stay on the field, he will be another weapon for a diverse offense.

Mikey from San Diego wants to know if I think Chargers’ safety Eric Weddle will leave in free agency.

BW: I think it is far from certain that Weddle will leave. I know it has been reported that Jacksonville could pursue Weddle. Look, if he hits free agency, a lot of teams will go after him. But we won’t know if he is restricted or unrestricted until after the lockout. The Chargers like Weddle and are interested in keeping him. So, it would be a mistake to assume Weddle will definitely be elsewhere in 2011.

AFC West notes

June, 2, 2011
In his mailbag, John Clayton explains why free-agent cornerback Ike Taylor worked out with the Oakland Raiders last week in Georgia. Clayton is right on. Don’t read too much into it.

Did the Raiders have interest in quarterback Alex Smith? If so, I would think only as a backup. I don’t see Smith being an upgrade over Jason Campbell.

The Chiefs’ coaches are not getting involved in the labor dispute.

The Denver Post passes along that Tim Tebow doesn’t dedicate much of his new autobiography to his first NFL season, although Tebow did call former Denver coach Josh McDaniels his biggest supporter.

Former Denver star running back Terrell Davis told Denver Post readers that coaching in the NFL is not for him.

Kansas City linebacker Mike Vrabel was among those who attended a secret labor meeting in Chicago. Vrabel is heavily involved in the NFLPA and has been a part of many of the labor meetings.