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Four in NFL quiet their naysayers, for now

DENVER — Tim Tebow, Alex Smith, Tom Coughlin, Gary Kubiak.

All are two wins away from the Super Bowl.

Imagine that, two quarterbacks and two coaches who will participate in four divisional playoff games next weekend, four guys who many predicted would have been benched or fired by now.

From the brink of extinction to the edge of glory.

Tebow led the Denver Broncos to a stunning 29-23 overtime upset of Pittsburgh on Sunday, setting up a second-round game Saturday at New England.

Smith, for years branded a bust in San Francisco, has thrived under new coach Jim Harbaugh, and the second-seeded 49ers will play host to New Orleans on Saturday after a week’s rest.

Coughlin, perpetually under fire as coach of the New York Giants, was really on the ropes this season when his team lost four games in a row before winning three out of four to claim the NFC East. The Giants beat Atlanta, 24-2, Sunday and will play Sunday at Green Bay.

And Kubiak, whose job as Houston Texans coach has at times dangled by a thread, is coming off a victory in the first postseason game in franchise history, a 31-10 thumping of Cincinnati, and is headed for a Sunday game at Baltimore.

These playoffs have a lot of the usual suspects but some unusual ones, too. None is more surprising than Tebow, whose time seemed to have run out when the Broncos sputtered to three consecutive losses to end the regular season.

“I really never doubted,” coach John Fox said. “He’s a really strong young man, and really it wasn’t just about Tim. A lot has been made of Tim, and he’s done an amazing job, but I don’t think they had too much credit for our whole team. And I’m not talking about ‘they’ being the Steelers, ‘they’ being the people that write stuff.”

Volumes have been written on Coughlin’s shaky status. In the week leading up to the first-round game against the Falcons, Giants safety Antrel Rolle said he and his teammates have been motivated to play especially hard this season to help save their coach’s job.

“I have always loved him as a guy,” Rolle said. “He is one of the better men I have ever been around. … I am sure guys feel the same way I feel. For his job to be talked about and speculation about him maybe not being here, that is a reflection of us.”

The 49ers have rallied around Smith, too. He had been largely written off long before this season, and for good reason. He never truly got traction on his career after being selected No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft.

“They call him a game manager and he’s a great game manager,” Harbaugh said. “But you read it and you hear people talk about him and they’re trying to slight him when they say that. I have a ton of respect for him as a player. You can write whatever you want. The more against us, the better.”

For these onetime NFL endangered species, that formula is working just fine.