DENVER –Three observations from the Broncos’ 7-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High here Sunday:
1. THEY’RE IN, BUT …
I doubt any NFL division championship ever been met with less celebration than the one the Broncos earned Sunday. The only smiles were ones of relief over being granted a reprieve after losing three consecutive games and hanging on to first place because of a common-opponents tiebreaker. The T-shirts and caps usually brandished after winning a division were nowhere to be found, since no Bronco was in a celebratory mood.
“A little bittersweet,” acknowledged cornerback Champ Bailey. “I know we’re better than what we’ve been showing. It’s just that we haven’t shown it. To go in the playoffs losing the last three games, it sucks, but we’re in it, we’ve just got to keep preparing, stay positive and move on.”
Concurred wide receiver Eric Decker: “It‘s bittersweet. We‘re in the tournament, which is a positive thing. Obviously we didn‘t play too great at all.”
After being besieged for five touchdowns by the New England Patriots in Week 15, Denver’s defense has only allowed two touchdowns in the last two weeks and has accounted for just 26 points conceded. (The offense and special teams surrendered three touchdowns for 21 points in Buffalo on Dec. 24.)
“We’ve got to find a way offensively to move the ball more efficiently and score some touchdowns for this defense,” said wide receiver Eric Decker.
And if the status quo doesn’t change?
“(If) we go out there and perform like we did the past three weeks, we don’t stand a chance. We’ve got to get better,” Bailey said.
2. AN ORTON-ARY DAY.
Remember when Kyle Orton’s return to Denver was the storyline that was going to define Week 17′s Broncos-Chiefs clash? What happened with all that? He became second fiddle as the Chiefs deflated the football and played to avoid giveaways, that’s what.
Kansas City did not hesitate to throw the football early Sunday; while they didn’t have the same kind of pass-run imbalance that the Broncos occasionally displayed in 2010, they did as many passes in the first half (18) as run plays. Seven of the 18 passes were to Dwayne Bowe; six were caught for 93 yards, most coming at the expense of Bailey.
“I think it was Orton remembering things from when he was here,” Bailey said. “I wasn’t surprised at all. It’s the way he did it. He kind of caught me off-guard. Those are two good players and if Orton’s standing straight up, he’s going to hit him every time.”
But when Bowe succumbed to a concussion midway through the game, the Chiefs’ passing fancy ended. Orton averaged 7.1 yards per attempt in the first half but mustered just 4.7 yards after halftime as the Chiefs checked down and largely checked out.
Kansas City only mustered three first downs after halftime, when Orton completed five of his 11 passes for 52 yards. That approach was enough as the Broncos’ offense continued clunking along.
Orton finished with two wins in three games as a Chiefs starter, matching the number of wins he amassed in his final 14 games as Denver’s starting quarterback. Free agency looms for him, and even though he led the Chiefs to a pair of wins over division champions, he has little clue about what comes next.
“I’s been a difficult year for me football-wise, family-wise and I’m
going to take some time and think about things,” Orton said. “I really appreciate what the Chiefs did for me, giving me a chance to re-start my season and get something done before it was over. What the future holds,
3. HAS THE CLOCK RUN OUT ON TEBOW TIME?
It might not be over, but after the last three weeks, “Tebow Time” doesn’t carry the same connotations it did before.
Many factors went into Tebow’s growing viability as an NFL starter when he led the Broncos on a six-game winning streak from Weeks 9-14. Most weren’t quantifiable, but one was: an absence of giveaways.
During the Broncos’ four November games, he didn’t turn over the football once. In the five games since then — including the last three weeks of defeats — he’s lost five fumbles and thrown five interceptions. He’s fumbled in five consecutive games; his lost fumble Sunday cost the Broncos a near-certain second-quarter field goal that could have transformed the result, easing the pressure on a last-minute drive.
Had they trailed by one point instead of four, Tebow might not have thrown the deep heave up the right sideline that Matt Willis dropped. Scrambles into the open field might have been more viable options, and the Broncos could have found themselves in position for a Matt Prater field goal and a 9-7 win.
But even then, it would have hardly been a successful day for the second-year quarterback, who has struggled when kept in the pocket. The Bills and Chiefs crafted defensive game plans that limited his opportunities in the open field; they dropped back in zones and held firm to their assignments, virtually eliminating the threat of his broken field runs. On the back end of the defense, Kansas City blanketed Tebow’s available receivers and remained persistent in their coverage.
“If you don‘t contain him he runs and he makes plays,” Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel said. “We were able to contain him and he wasn‘t able to make the plays that he made against us the last time and that‘s what helped us today.”
They dared Tebow to challenge them. When he did, they pounced. Kansas City’s defenders broke up as many passes — six — as Tebow completed to his own receivers.
“You try to get him to beat you with his arm,” Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “We definitely played more of a ‘bend but don‘t break‘ defense.”
Given that the Broncos only ran six of their 71 plays from scrimmage inside the Kansas City 25, it barely bent and never came close to breaking.