|The game was played at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.|
|Date||January 8, 2012|
|Stadium||Sports Authority Field at Mile High|
The 3:16 Game was a National Football League AFC Division Wild Card game on Sunday, January 8, 2012, between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, held at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado. It was the first NFL playoff game played under new overtime scoring rules that were enacted prior to the 2010 season. Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime to give Denver a 29–23 victory.
The game was noted for its statistical correlations to John 3:16, the quintessential Bible verse of Christianity: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."
It was the 28th meeting, and seventh playoff meeting, between the two clubs. They had split their previous six playoff matchups; Denver had won in 1977, 1989, and 1997; Pittsburgh had won in 1978, 1984, and 2005.
Tim Tebow had previously said on multiple occasions that John 3:16 is his favorite Scripture verse. In fact, Tebow wore the verse on his eyeblack often during his collegiate career at the University of Florida, most notably during the BCS National Championship Game three years earlier in January 2009, where Tebow led Florida to victory against Oklahoma, spawning 90 million Google searches on the verse the following day.
Tebow's public Christianity caused him to be one of the most discussed quarterbacks in the NFL, making him both a subject of praise and criticism, as well as an instant pop culture phenomenon. Many in the media mocked Tebow, including HBO talk-show host and noted atheist Bill Maher, as well as Saturday Night Live which, earlier in the season, broadcast a sketch in which Jesus visits Tebow and asks him to tone down his fervor; the sketch referenced Denver's 13-10 overtime win over Chicago on December 11, 2011 and aired six days later, on December 17, the night preceding Denver's loss to the Patriots that ended Denver's six-game winning streak under Tebow.
In the days leading up to the game, sports writers predicted that Tebow, following a three-game losing streak and facing the NFL’s top-rated defense (the Steelers), would not only lose the game but would likely even be replaced mid-game by Denver’s backup quarterback. Tebow's last game prior to this one, a 7–3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, had been deemed a 'dreadful' performance. The Steelers, returning AFC champions, were favored to win. Many renowned sports writers noted this was a make-or-break game for Tebow. Yahoo Sports' Michael Silver opined pre-game: "However, if he bombs—and keep in mind that this is a man coming off two of the worst games played by a quarterback in the NFL this season, or any season—no amount of Tebow mania will ward off the doubts which fill the heads of the men who'll decide his immediate professional fate." Others continued to note the death of Tebow-mania, with the Chicago Sun-Times writing that Tebow's fans had been silenced.
Despite the Broncos finishing the regular season 8–8 and the Steelers 12–4, the game was held in Denver due to the Broncos winning a very weak AFC West while the Steelers were a wild card team, having lost out on the AFC North championship to the Baltimore Ravens, also 12–4, on tiebreakers. The game being in Denver also meant that the Steelers had to sit starting free safety Ryan Clark, due to having sickle cell trait and a life-threatening reaction to the thin Denver air in a previous match-up between the teams in 2007, causing him to lose his spleen and gall bladder.
Prior to the start of the game, Denver won the coin toss and elected to defer to the Steelers to open the game.
The game started when Denver K Matt Prater booted the ball to a waiting Antonio Brown, but the kickoff nailed the crossbar of the goalposts cleanly before bouncing back and improbably resting exactly at the 20-yard line.
Pittsburgh marched down the field on the opening drive of the game highlighted by a 33-yard pass and catch from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace. The drive stalled however, and the Steelers scored the first points of the game with a Shaun Suisham 45 yard field goal to take a 3–0 lead.
The Broncos punted on their first two possessions without getting a first down. Pittsburgh again put a good drive together on their third possession of the day, but again the drive stalled and had to settle for another field goal, this time from 38 yards out, to make it 6–0 Steelers.
Denver faced a 3rd and 12 on the second play of the 2nd quarter when Tebow connected with Demaryius Thomas for a 51-yard gain which was the first first-down of the game for the Broncos. Two plays later, Tebow connected with Eddie Royal on a 30-yard pass for a touchdown. This was the first touchdown Denver scored since the 3rd quarter two weeks earlier in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. After a Prater extra-point, the Broncos took a 7–6 lead.
Pittsburgh was unable to respond, punting after 3 plays on their next drive. After the punt, Tebow again connected with Thomas, this time for a 58-yard gain to get to the Pittsburgh 12-yard-line. Two plays later Tebow ran for an 8-yard touchdown and following the extra-point the Broncos led 14–6.
Roethlisberger re-aggravated a severe ankle injury on the next drive after a sack forcing the Steelers to take a time-out. The following play Roethlisberger was intercepted on 3rd and 16 by Quinton Carter who returned the ball to the 18-yard-line. After a huge momentum swing in the span of only 5 minutes, the Broncos were unable to get a touchdown, but still got a Prater field goal to give them a 17–6 lead.
The Steelers again struggled to move the ball in the second quarter on their next drive and had to punt after gaining one first-down. Following the punt, Tebow again was able to burn the Steelers secondary with a 40-yard pass to Daniel Fells getting the Broncos to the Pittsburgh 25-yard-line. Denver was able to get the ball to the Pittsburgh 10 before the drive stalled resulting in another Prater field goal and a 20–6 lead.
Pittsburgh was finally able to move the ball on their next drive getting the ball to the Denver 32-yard-line. Looking to add points going into halftime the Steelers again missfired when a shotgun snap went over Roethlisberger's head which resulted in a 23-yard loss ending the threat. Denver went into halftime with 20 second-quarter points, a vast improvement from the regular season being the worst second-quarter team in the NFL.
The Steelers forced Denver to punt on their first drive of the third-quarter. The Steelers were able to march down the field to score a touchdown on a 1-yard end around to Mike Wallace to cut the lead in half and make the score 20–13. Pittsburgh caught a lucky break early on this drive when a lateral was mistakenly called an incomplete pass by Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace. Denver did fall on the ball after the play, however NFL rules state that when challenging a lateral to an incomplete pass, the ball can not change possession. Instead the ball will be placed at the spot that the play was blown dead. Upon realizing this rule Denver head coach John Fox decided not to use a challenge on this play.
The third-quarter ended on the following Denver drive when Tebow connected with Lance Ball on third and five from the Pittsburgh 19 to give the Broncos a first down at the Pittsburgh 13. The Broncos stalled on that drive to start the fourth-quarter and Prater hit another field goal to give the Broncos a 23–13 lead.
Pittsburgh responded right away and Suisham connected on a 37-yard field goal make the score 23–16 Broncos. Denver turned the ball over for the first time in the game after Willis McGahee fumbled at the Denver 48-yard-line. Roethlisberger then started to look like his old self and connected with Jerricho Cotchery after scrambling to his right for a 31-yard touchdown pass. Following the extra point, the score was tied at 23 with only 3:38 left.
Both teams had two chances to break the tie, but the Broncos sacked Roethlisberger to end regulation and force overtime. Due to overtime rules, Pittsburgh was allowed to call the coin toss, but guessed incorrectly, leading to Denver calling for the first possession of overtime.
The game ended during the very first play of overtime, only 11 seconds into the overtime period. When Tebow connected with Thomas, who ran it into the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown, the Steelers overreacted to a play-action fake by Tebow which allowed Thomas to get behind the defense. Thomas caught the ball at the Denver 37-yard-line and had to stiff arm Ike Taylor before he was able to break into the clear. The final score was Denver 29 – Steelers 23. (In this game, the NFL debuted its new overtime rules for playoff games, consisting of a modified version of sudden death. Under the new rules, both teams would have a chance to possess the ball in overtime—unless the team that received the initial kickoff scored a touchdown or the defense scored on an interception, safety or fumble recovery. Denver won the coin toss and received the ball first, thereby ending the game via scoring a touchdown on its possession.) The 11 second overtime was the quickest overtime in the history of the NFL, regular season or playoffs. Tebow finished completing 10 of 21 passes for 316 yards, he threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. Thomas finished with 4 catches and 204 yards receiving. Roethlisberger finished completing 22 of 40 passes for 289 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception.
Within minutes of the game's conclusion, the Associated Press NFL Twitter account sent out a Tweet reading: "Twitterites, having fun with this. Tebow a fan of John 3:16 from the Bible. He threw for 316 yds vs Steelers; 31.6 avg per completion, too." The afternoon of January 9, Twitter reported that the event spawned 9,420 Tweets per second, setting a new Twitter record for a sporting event. It is also the second most-Tweets-per second event of all time. John 3:16 became the most searched term on Google that evening and the following day. In addition to the yards statistics, further connotations to John 3:16 were revealed the following day, including the game's ratings and the Steelers' time of possession. Millions marveled at the occurrence, including CBS Sports' Eye on Football newsletter summing it up as: "Weird stuff man, weird stuff." 
The John 3:16 correlations of the game
- Tebow passed for 316 yards. 
- Tebow averaged 31.6 yards per completed pass.
- The ratings for the game, peaking at the overtime period, was 31.6% of U.S. households.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers' time of possession was 31:06.
- The game's sole interception (thrown by Steelers' quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger—Tebow threw none) was thrown on 3rd and 16.
- The game took place on January 8, 2012—exactly 3 years to the date Tebow famously wore the John 3:16 eyeblack during his BCS Championship win, which took place on January 8, 2009.
- Johns: Broncos head coach (John Fox) and executive vice president (John Elway, who told Tebow to "pull the trigger" in the week leading up to the game).
Many Christians took to Twitter and Facebook noting that, while they do not believe God intercedes in athletic games’ outcomes, the 3:16 connotations of this game are far more than coincidence and deem it a sign of Christianity’s truth or a Christian message, manifested through Tim Tebow, the most discussed public Christian at the time. For instance, Joe Price, professor in the religious studies department at Whittier College, asked whether God really does care about football, answered "Not one whit. But does God care about people who play football? You betcha.” 
Although the Broncos fortunes would start improving in the following seasons (including an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII), the game turned out to be Tebow's last home game in Denver and, to date, his only playoff victory. After the team lost to the New England Patriots the following week in Foxborough 45–10, former Broncos quarterback and current team executive vice president John Elway announced that Tebow would head into the 2012 Broncos training camp as the starting quarterback. However, plans unexpectedly changed when the Indianapolis Colts decided to part ways with Peyton Manning after 14 seasons due to Manning missing the entire 2011 season following multiple neck surgeries and the Colts subsequent 2-14 season putting them in position to draft Andrew Luck. Manning signed with Denver and, only two days later, Tebow would be traded to the New York Jets. After an unsuccessful one-year stint with the Jets in 2012 and a stint with the Patriots training camp in 2013, Tebow was out of football, serving as a commentator for the SEC Network. On April 19, 2015, Tebow was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles.
The loss to the Broncos also marked a downturn of the Steelers fortunes. In 2012, the Steelers started 6-2 (including a 27-10 win against the Jets in Week 2, in which Tebow made an uneventful cameo appearance) before an injury to Roethlisberger on Monday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs sent the Steelers onto a late-season slide, finishing 8-8. 2013 initially appeared to be worse, with the Steelers starting 0-4, their first such start since 1968. However, the Steelers steadily improved, rallying back to finish 8-8 for the second straight season, but just barely missing the playoffs. It wouldn't be until 2014 that the Steelers returned to the playoffs (falling to the Ravens), which coincidentally was also the same year Tebow joined the SEC Network and the team having to sit Clark when playing in Denver became moot when the team opted to sign Mike Mitchell and let Clark leave the team.
- Steelers vs. Broncos box scores from Pro Football Reference
- "Google Trends: Jan 9, 2012". Google.com. May 15, 2007. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "Show Tracker". Los Angeles Times.
- Boren, Cindy (December 18, 2011). "Watch Jesus visit Tim Tebow on ‘SNL’ (video) – The Early Lead". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "Tim Tebow, Brady Quinn Could Both See Time in Steelers-Broncos Game". SBNation.com. January 8, 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- Silver, Michael (January 7, 2012). "Broncos given no choice but to embrace Tebow – NFL – Yahoo! Sports". Sports.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "Tim Tebow: Broncos Must Go to Brady Quinn at First Sign of Trouble". Bleacher Report. January 8, 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- Silver, Michael (January 7, 2012). "Broncos given no choice but to embrace Tebow – NFL – Yahoo! Sports". Sports.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- Silver, Michael (January 7, 2012). "Tebow playing for more than his playoff life – NFL – Yahoo! Sports". Sports.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "Tim Tebow fans, your silence is deafening – Chicago Sun-Times". Suntimes.com. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- January 9, 2012 by Brian Anthony Hernandez 21. "Tim Tebow Pass Lands in Twitter’s Record Book With 9,420 Tweets Per Second". Mashable.com. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "John 3:16 trends again thanks to Tim Tebow". CBSSports.com. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "Denver Broncos Stats at". Nfl.com. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- Levinson, Mason (January 9, 2012). "Tebow’s Latest Victory Charge Draws 24-Year TV Ratings High for Wild-Card". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "Pittsburgh Steelers Stats at". Nfl.com. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "Denver vs. Pittsburgh Full Play-by-Play – CBSSports.com Live Play by Play". Cbssports.com. June 11, 2008. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "Another Victory Keeps Tebow in the Spotlight « CBS Denver". Denver.cbslocal.com. January 8, 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- Farrar, Doug (January 16, 2012). "Fox and Elway agree: Tim Tebow’s earned the right to start in 2012". Shutdown Corner, a Yahoo! Sports Blog (Yahoo! Sports). Retrieved February 4, 2012.