Monday, January 2, 2012

Broncos Win AFC West, Postseason-Bound

The Denver Broncos finished the 2011 season with an 8-8 record and won the AFC West, despite losing in their final three matches. Denver will host the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers next week at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in the first round of the playoffs.

Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. (MT) and the game will be broadcast on CBS. A win on Sunday would mark the Broncos first playoff victory since 2006.

Five weeks into the regular season, there were few that thought the 1-4 Broncos would make the playoffs. Under the direction of Head Coach John Fox, the team would go on to win seven of their eleven remaining games, marking the first time in franchise history that a coach has led the team to a division title during his first season.

"We're AFC West champs. It doesn't matter how you do it," Fox said Sunday evening. "Once you get into the dance, they can't kick you out, so what we do with it we will be determined here next weekend."

They can't kick you out, but you have to win in order to advance. If they do not perform better than they did on Sunday against Kansas City, Denver will not last long in the playoffs, and they know it.

"To play the way we did... It's not going to cut it (in the playoffs)," said cornerback Champ Bailey after the game. "To go into the playoffs with losing the last three games, it sucks. But, we’re in it. We just have to keep preparing, stay positive and move on.”

There were positives to take away from the team's 7-3 loss on Sunday; the team broke a franchise record with 2,632 yards in a single season. A large chunk of those yards (1,199 of them) came from the legs of veteran running back Willis McGahee, who seven times topped the 100-yard rushing mark this season, which tied for the NFL lead.

“We didn’t do a good job. You can run the ball and get three or four hundred yards. But, we didn’t get a touchdown running the ball," a frustrated McGahee said following the season finale. "It’s over with now, and we’ve got a big game coming up this weekend.”

If the Broncos are going to have better success going forward, second year quarterback Tim Tebow will have to start performing at a higher level. After winning seven of his first eight starts in 2011, Tebow has lost three straight games and has had seven turnovers in those games.

“Well, obviously when you lose it’s just not good enough, and for me it wasn’t good enough,” Tebow said. “I just have to get better and learn from my great coaches and just come out next week and try to be a better quarterback, a better leader and be a better player.”

Tebow's teammates are confident that their quarterback will get back on the right track.

“He’s not going to have a great game every week, so that’s our job to give him a pat on the back like, ‘Man don’t worry about it. That’s behind us. We’re in the playoffs. Start fresh come this week,’” said McGahee.

Injuries: Broncos offensive guard Chris Kuper will miss the playoffs with a broken leg, and Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall will miss Sunday's game with a knee injury.

Broncos' 2012 opponents announced: Next season, the Broncos will face the Browns, Steelers, Saints, Buccaneers, Texans, and their AFC West rivals at home. On the road, Denver will play the Ravens, Patriots, Falcons, Panthers, Bengals, Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers.

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