National Football League
How Demaryius Thomas beat the odds
National Football League

How Demaryius Thomas beat the odds

Published Jan. 10, 2012 12:00 a.m. ET

Mike Smith made Marvin Lewis look like a genius.

The Falcons' "Big Three" have to win in the playoffs at some point, right?

Plus, the underrated story within Tim Tebow’s magic, the Giants' potential and just horrible officiating, Schein 9 style:

1. The monologue


I still can’t believe what we all witnessed Sunday afternoon in Denver. I still cannot believe that Tebow played his best game as a pro quarterback and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Think about it. The morning started with Jay Glazer reporting Brady Quinn could play in the game if Tebow struggled. Broncos coach John Fox didn’t exactly deny the report when he talked to John Lynch on the NFL on FOX pregame show. The day ended with Tebow doing a victory lap around the stadium. Considering how polarizing a figure Tebow is, ranging from his ability to complete the forward pass to his beliefs, and considering how awful Tebow looked the past three weeks, this is a story of overachievement for the ages.

What really made it extra special was the fact Tebow’s fellow 2010 first-round draft pick Demaryius Thomas was on the receiving end of the 80-yard, heart-stopping, catch-and-run touchdown on the first play of overtime.

The Thomas story is a remarkable tearjerker. When he was 10, both his mother and grandmother were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for selling drugs. Thomas bounced from house to house growing up, and, he told us, he didn’t really start focusing on football until late in high school. He was talented enough to go to Georgia Tech and skilled enough to instantly be compared to fellow Yellow Jackets receiver Calvin Johnson. Thomas truly has Johnson’s ability, incredible hands, height and speed. If only he could stay on the field.

Part of Thomas’ sad story has been his inability to stay healthy in his first two years in the NFL and maximize his talent. Thomas has suffered a variety of injuries, including a torn Achilles, a broken foot, a banged-up ankle and a fractured finger. The Achilles injury was projected to be severe enough that Thomas could have missed the 2011 season.

Thomas had a range of emotions when we talked Monday morning on the SiriusXM Blitz, jubilant having scored the game-winner, reflective on the journey. He had a feeling the Broncos were going to score a touchdown on the first play. He told us: “Tim called the play, and I knew. They were in cover 2, and the safety came down. I thought if I could just get around the corner I could take it. And I did after a stiff-arm right in his chest.”

Thomas thought the Steelers simply didn’t respect the Broncos' passing attack, and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy brilliantly took advantage.

Tebow and Thomas were part of the same 2010 Josh McDaniels draft class. Thomas said he instantly clicked with Tebow and loved his attitude. Thomas was at a loss for words, just like the rest of us, when we asked him to describe what makes Tebow so great in crunch time.

“I don’t know how to answer the question. I don’t know," Thomas said after a pause. "I do know he inspires all of us.”

Thomas said Tebow took John Elway’s message of “pulling the trigger” to heart by “not running as much as he did and giving us time to get open. Tim doesn’t want to make mistakes. He pulled the trigger and believed in the receivers.”

Thomas said he told his mom that he was going to go “pro in something” and do something special. He vowed to work harder than anyone else, something that stayed with him when he was injured this offseason. Thomas vowed to leave his troubled childhood in the past. He said as he scampered into the end zone, he thought, “This is for my mother and grandmother.” Thomas got really emotional when he looked down and saw their names on his wrist.

I had chills when he was done describing the moment and Thomas said, "I'm just a small-town kid."

The perseverance for the “small-town kid” put him in position to etch his forever moment in the NFL. And if he can stay healthy and Tebow can become a legit quarterback, Thomas has star potential in the NFL.

2. Backseat coaching

It doesn’t get worse for Smith, the Atlanta Falcons' coach. This was one of the worst coaching performances I’ve ever seen in a playoff game.

Everything he did Sunday afternoon was wrong.

Atlanta eschewed a makeable field goal from the Giants’ 24-yard line with no score in the game, electing to go for it on a fourth-and-1 on the first play of the second quarter. You are on the road. It is the playoffs. Take the points. He even had the television timeout to think about his decision as the first quarter expired. The strength of the New York Giants' defense is the line. It was backward thinking.

Then, Smith opted not to use his timeouts to end the first half, with time to get points on the board. It was mind blowing. Did he think it was an IRA and he could roll it over? The Falcons got lucky on a botched spot on Hakeem Nicks (more on that later), and Smith should have gone for the kill. At the very least, he should have played it intelligently.

And then in the third quarter, with 4:16 to go, Smith again goes for it on a fourth-and-1 at the Giants' 20-yard line instead of kicking a field goal. He shifts his line, doesn’t have running back Michael Turner in the game and runs with quarterback Matt Ryan. The Giants stuffed it. The score was only 10-2 Giants at that point. It was an easy first guess! The Giants took over, Eli Manning hit Nicks again for a touchdown and the rout was on.

This is on the heels of Smith’s in-season gaffe of going for it in a fourth-and-1 against the Saints deep in his own territory. Why doesn’t he learn?

The Giants grossly outplayed the Falcons as the game moved along. But one of the Giants MVPs was the coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

3. Under pressure

Smith, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Ryan changed and saved the Falcons franchise. That should not be forgotten.

But at some point, they have to win a playoff game, right?

Dimitroff is a bright football man, but I ripped him (first guess) for trading his draft for Julio Jones. The rookie receiver had an impactful rookie year and a thunderous second half. But Atlanta needed defense. We saw that in the second half of the loss to the Green Bay Packers in the regular season. We saw that for four abysmal quarters in the loss in New Orleans on "Monday Night Football." And the Falcons couldn’t stop a previously defunct Giants run game or Manning on Sunday.

“Matty Ice” flat-out melted for the third time in three playoff starts. He’s a four-year starter. He has been excellent during the regular season, especially at home. It was supposed to be Ryan’s time, and he couldn’t find the end zone.

I love the Big Three in Atlanta. But the clock is officially ticking. The hope in Atlanta was this was the year the Falcons went to the Super Bowl. Instead, it revealed some concerns and head scratchers from Smith, Dimitroff and Ryan.

4. Open your eyes, ref

Perhaps lost in the shuffle from a great weekend of football was some horrendous, pathetic officiating. This needs to be cleaned up.

The New Orleans vs. Detroit game was a disaster, ranging from blowing the whistle on the Drew Brees fumble when the Lions had a chance to score on the return, to the Brees sneak, to the generous first-down spot on a third down on the Jimmy Graham touchdown scoring drive (a play Detroit should have challenged).

I can’t believe someone upstairs didn’t tell the officials in New York on Sunday that Nicks had a first down with 1:40 to go. Tom Coughlin can’t challenge inside two minutes.

And what happened in Denver would have been the lead on every sports show if the Broncos lost. How the refs didn’t see that Ben Roethlisberger threw that pass backward for a lateral at the 8:13 mark of the third quarter with Denver up 20-6 is beyond me. It clearly went backward. And if it is close, how the heck do the officials blow the whistle and declare the play dead? It was totally inept and irresponsible.

5. Giant run?

The Giants defense pitched the perfect game Sunday. Literally. The Giants beat the Falcons 24-2, and the two points given up were on a safety. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul peppered Ryan with pressure. The interior line, led by Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard, was excellent. Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka flew around. The coverage downfield was great. Much-maligned defensive coordinator Perry Fewell showed for the third straight week what his defense could do when healthy.

Manning was flawless and dominant. And the Giants' run defense pounded Atlanta.

Several folks have compared the Giants of 2011 to the 2007 Giants. I have too much respect for Green Bay to scream that. But, with the way the defense is playing, and with the elite, star quarterback getting balance on offense, you have to acknowledge the Giants are at least ready for Green Bay.

Although I won’t pick the Giants to win, this game should come down to the wire.

6. Classic second guess

I thought it was a classic second guess of talking heads on Sunday, including former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, questioning whether Mike Tomlin should have played Roethlisberger in Week 17. The doctors cleared the QB, so Tomlin played him. The Steelers were fighting for a division title and a bye. Their upside going into New Year’s Day was to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Clearly, Roethlisberger wasn’t 100 percent, but, of course, you were going to put him on the field.

7. My guys

Andre Johnson: The longtime Texans receiver scored a touchdown in the team's first-ever playoff game and couldn’t wipe the smile off of his face. Awesome scene.

JJ Watt: The Texans rookie had a pick-six of Andy Dalton's pass to end the first half and bust up a tie game. On SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday, Watt said: “It was a big play. The crowd erupted and gave us momentum. We wanted to rattle him. It was the combination of everyone playing solid defense.”

Sean Payton: The Saints coach went for it on a fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter and dialed up a pitch to Darren Sproles, who darted for a first down. It set up a Sproles touchdown to make it 31-21 and put the Lions to bed.

Perry Fewell: Mocked by some as “Perry Fool,” the Giants defensive coordinator looks smarter with his players on defense finally healthy, right?

Tim Tebow: That was awesome.

8. My goats

Chris Crocker: With the score 17-10 and Texans QB T.J. Yates looking like the third-string rookie that he is, Yates threw a pass right to the Bengals defensive back. Crocker flat-out dropped it. He could have caught it and returned it for a touchdown. Yates then threw a dagger touchdown pass to Andre Johnson. It could have been a different game if Crocker simply caught that ball.

Aaron Berry: Similar to the Crocker play, Berry dropped a sure-fire pick of a pass by Brees in the early stages of the fourth quarter with the Lions training 24-21. That’s a killer. It was right after Sproles executed on that first down. Berry dropped the gift, and Sproles scored a touchdown to make it 31-21.

Marvin Lewis: The Cincinnati Bengals coach might challenge this column. Lewis lost both challenges in the first half. He had no chance of winning either one. Lewis did the exact same thing the last time he was in the playoffs, a few years ago against the Jets. Pathetic.

Troy Polamalu: There’s a reason he didn’t get my vote for first-team All-Pro safety. Polamalu didn’t have a great season. He was caught cheating on big pass plays, including the Tebow-to-Thomas game winner.

Ike Taylor: The Steelers cornerback apologized on Monday for his awful game. It was worthy of an apology.

9. Three nuggets of wisdom

• Thomas told us Monday morning on SiriusXM NFL Radio that he wasn’t even sure he won the game because of the new overtime rules for the playoffs. I don’t blame him or John Fox. There was never a reason to change them. The regular season and the postseason should have the same rules.

• Thomas got a text message saying congratulations from McDaniels, his old coach, on Sunday night. McDaniels was officially hired as a Patriots assistant moments after Thomas’ catch. It adds some major intrigue to the Broncos-Patriots game Saturday, as Tebow-to-Thomas was McDaniels’ grand plan. But I’m not sure it will affect anything on the field.

• Hue Jackson doesn’t control his ego, as we documented a week ago, and it cost him his job as Raiders coach on Tuesday. I loved the Raiders' hire of Reggie McKenzie to be their general manager. Excellent choice.


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