- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2012

Here come the big boys.

After the four host teams swept the wild-card round, the division winners who earned byes get to try their hands at protecting the home-field advantage.

Tim Tebow’s overtime heroics and the Giants’ balance on offense and stinginess on defense were decisive Sunday.

Tebow hooked up with Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard pass play to lift Denver over Pittsburgh 26-20, a play that took 11 seconds for the quickest overtime finish in NFL history.

“Definitely a special memory. One that will always be very special,” Tebow said of his fourth overtime win of the season, against no losses.

Manning, having his best pro season, threw for three touchdowns and even scrambled for 14 yards to get New York’s offense on track in a 24-2 victory against inept Atlanta.

“Before the game I said, `Hey, let’s have fun, these are special moments and just go out there and play your best,’ `’ Manning said. “I knew all of them would be great and try not to make a big deal about things.”

The big deals on Saturday were Drew Brees and the Saints, and the Texans in their postseason debut.

Brees and New Orleans dominated the second half to romp past Detroit 45-28 in the NFC. In the AFC, Houston won in its first playoff game in its 10-year existence, 31-10 against Cincinnati.

The last time all four home teams won in the wild-card round was 2006, when the Patriots beat the Jets, the Colts took the Chiefs, the Eagles downed the Giants, and the Seahawks beat the Cowboys.

And now the powerhouses join the action. NFC South champion New Orleans (13-4) visits West winner San Francisco (13-3) on Saturday. The 49ers were 7-1 at home, winning their last six.

“You win 13, 14 games now, and you’re trying to find something,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “When you start playing well on the road and home, you’re probably a better team and we’ve been able to do that. This will be a good challenge for us. Not just playing on the road, but traveling west.”

New England, also 7-1 at home, hosts Denver (9-8) that night. The AFC East champ Patriots (13-3) whipped the West champion Broncos 41-23 on Dec. 18 in the Mile High City.

“We played them a month ago. It didn’t go very well,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “That would be kind of my mindset this minute. I think it will be a huge test. It is a well-coached … great football team, great organization. It will be at their place, so it will be a huge challenge. It is one we’ll look forward to.”

The Texans (11-6) visit Baltimore (12-4), which won all eight home games in 2011, including a 29-14 victory over Houston on Oct. 16.

“We made history,” said rookie defensive end J.J. Watt, whose sensational leaping interception and 29-yard return for a touchdown was decisive for Houston. “We’re excited about another chance to make history up there in Baltimore.”

That matchup of AFC division winners is followed by defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay (15-1), which swept its games at Lambeau Field, taking on the Giants. The NFC North winners won at the Meadowlands 38-35 in early December.

But that was when the Giants were sliding. They’ve won four of five since as their defense has come alive. The hot streak earned the Giants (10-7) the NFC East title and, now, a rematch with the Packers.

“If we can play defense like that,” coach Tom Coughlin said, “we will continue to make ourselves heard in this tournament.”

The last time the Giants were in a playoff game at frigid Lambeau Field, they won the NFC championship 23-20 in overtime, then stunned the undefeated Patriots two weeks later in the Super Bowl.

“Cold, I remember that. I remember coach Coughlin’s face. I remember (tackle) David Diehl sweating and it froze on his hair and he had icicles on his hair,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “And I remember us winning. Hopefully, we can go back there and do it again.”

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Broncos 26, Steelers 20, OT

After Pittsburgh (12-5) rallied from 14 points behind to force overtime, Denver won the coin toss and called the perfect play for the defense the Steelers were in.

Thomas hauled in a high play-action pass from Tebow at the Denver 38, stiff-armed cornerback Ike Taylor and then outraced backup safety Ryan Mundy to the end zone.

“I was just saying, `Man trust your speed. Trust your speed. Don’t cut back. Don’t cut back.’ And he kept it straight. He outran the guy,” said Willis McGahee, whose fourth-quarter fumble helped Pittsburgh tie it.

Tebow, who led five fourth-quarter comebacks and three OT wins in the regular season, finished with 316 yards through the air. He completed just 10 of 21 passes, with Thomas catching four of them for 204 yards. Tebow had two TD passes and ran for a score.

The Steelers lost despite Ben Roethlisberger rallying them. Limping on a sprained left ankle, and with his team severely undermanned because of other injuries, Roethlisberger found Jerricho Cotchery for a 31-yard TD pass with 3:48 left in regulation to tie it.

“Any loss stinks for me and this is no different,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s hard to put into words right now. It’s a frustrating thing.”

Giants 24, Falcons 2

Manning hooked up on a 72-yard catch and run by Hakeem Nicks in the third quarter that put away the Falcons (10-7). Manning also connected on a 4-yard TD with Nicks in the second quarter, and a 27-yard TD throw to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Jacobs had 92 of the Giants’ 172 yards rushing, and New York twice stymied Atlanta on fourth-and-1 as Ryan’s sneaks went nowhere. The defense also stopped Michael Turner on a third-and-inches late in the third quarter. The Falcons couldn’t gain any traction on the ground and were held to 64 yards rushing.

“They did a great job of defending us, especially in the second half,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “That shouldn’t happen to a team like we have. We’re a lot better than this.”

The only points the Falcons could muster came when Manning was pressured into the end zone by James Sanders and threw the ball away to avoid the sack, resulting in a safety.