The Daily Lard 1-2-12

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Believe it or not, your Denver Broncos are the 2011 AFC West Champions and the AFC's fourth seed; they will host the Pittsburgh Steelers (the fifth seed) in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday at 4:30PM ET on CBS; Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will again be excusing every Tim Tebow misstep calling the game.

As for how they got there, the Broncos may have redefined the term "backing into the playoffs" as they lost a 7-3 stinker to the Chiefs which was characterized by the same brand of inept offensive Foxball they've played for most of the past eleven weeks. It was the team's third straight loss and included two more turnovers by Tim Tebow, but San Diego's 38-26 victory over Oakland enabled the Broncos to take the division title via common opponents tiebreaker over both the Raiders and Chargers, who also finished at 8-8.

On a day when the scoreboards at SAFaMH did not display the score of the Oakland/San Diego game, the Broncos and Tebow were playing what they knew to be a must-win game, and what they came up with amounted to three gifted points (after taking over on the KC 20 following a muffed punt by Javier Arenas) and 266 yards of offense on 71 plays. On 11 of its 12 possessions, Denver failed to move the ball more than 36 yards, and the one time they did so (a 70-yard march to start off the second quarter), yet another fumble by Tebow (his 13th of the season) during a rare would-be third-down conversion snuffed out what was an almost guaranteed three points and perhaps even seven.

All in all, Tebow produced 66 net offensive yards on 30 touches (22 pass attempts, six rushes and two sacks). This from a QB who three months ago was supposed to push the ball down the field more often and in bigger chunks than the man he replaced, Kyle Orton - and yes, back then this author was guilty of expecting that to happen, too. The Denver offense since Tebow became the starter in Miami has now averaged 15.8 points per game in regulation - remember, Tebow was supposed to lead the Broncos to more points, was the story. During Orton's four full games as Denver's starter, the offense scored 18.5 points per game, and the two QBs combined for 17 points against San Diego in Week 5.

But of course, it's not just stats or numbers which tell the story of how bad Tebow was yesterday and has been for most of the past eleven weeks. All one has to do is watch the games, as painful as they are. In fact, the Orange Crush is more like Clockwork Orange nowadays, in that an unmaniacal fan would need their eyelids taped open in order to make it through the full three hours.

Aside from the potential for more points on the board, Tebow presumably took over for Kyle because of his ability to extend plays behind an offensive line providing iffy pass protection. Yet what Tebow does to extend plays now is spin around in the pocket, foregoing throws to open receivers (even on flea flickers) and sailing the ball over their heads when he finally does decide to throw.

What has happened to our football team? After watching one of the greatest QBs of all time for 16 years, we've spent the intervening 13 looking for his worthy successor, and the bar has been set so low by Tim that a spiraling incompletion invites a Well, it was a good throw and a flying saucer completion qualifies as a Great throw! now. Okay, so a lot of people like Tim. He seems to be a nice guy and some folks would even want him for a next door neighbor or son-in-law. And, the word is that he works exceptionally hard when he's not busy doing book tours or promoting underwear and soft drinks. Does that mean he can be a good NFL quarterback someday?

No, of course it does not. Granted, nobody's saying he can't do it. But how long is it worth waiting for that to happen? Let's not forget that if Tim takes 55 percent of Denver's offensive snaps next year, he may be due an extra $11.25 million of Pat Bowlen's money on top of the $1.9425 million in salary he'll make in 2012. Gonna have to sell a whole lotta orange #15 jerseys to offset that $13,192,500 and the three-and-out football Denver fans have grown to accept but will surely tire of eventually.

Oh right, there's a playoff game on Sunday, this is all too negative, and it's a team game - everyone loses together, but Tim wills them to win when they do. Sorry about that. Perhaps the past couple of weeks have simply been a test for Tebow and his devoted following, and he and the Broncos will get back to #winning next week. And who knows - the Steelers will be led into town by a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger and will be without RB Rashard Mendenhall, who may have suffered a torn ACL yesterday during Pittsburgh's 13-9 win over the Browns. So maybe the Broncos can pull off a 2-0 victory or something. Because at this point, that's about what it seems it will take.

Unfortunately, the Broncos suffered a devastating injury of their own, as Chris Kuper dislocated his left ankle, broke his tibia and fibula, and is done for the season. It was a gruesome injury, with Kuper's left foot pointing in the wrong direction - but as was typical of the CBS coverage of the game, neither Nantz nor Simms acknowledged the graphic nature of what had happened. Perhaps the producers were too busy looking for more coverage of Tebow praying, or Simms was thinking about which legendary QB he was going to compare Tebow to favorably next week. During the New England game, it was Tom Brady; yesterday it was Peyton Manning; we can suppose the presence of Roethlisberger and his two ringz in the other huddle will present for an easy choice next Sunday?

Broncos

Broncos TV, GameDay and NFLN offer "highlight(s)" from the game; John Fox, Tim Tebow and several others spoke afterwards.

Andrew Mason recaps the game on his own site and for the NY Times, plus some notes and numbers.

Mike Klis details the loss, plus notes from the DP: Von Miller again had a minimal impact on the game and was benched for a good chunk of it; Denver is hoping to have Brian Dawkins back for next Sunday's game.

Sam DeWitt is tired of the Blame Everyone Else game, and he thinks it's about time to change Tebow's position.

Even Woody Paige can admit the Broncos backed into the playoffs, while Mark Kiszla actually thought yesterday provided for good TV. Presumably, he didn't have to hear Nantz and Simms.

Dave Krieger says the postgame locker room scene was a bizarre one, and fans were asking if Brady Quinn might get a chance against Pittsburgh.

Les Carpenter says the Tebow magic is gone, and that the team's confidence in him is also slipping away.

Mike Freeman wasn't sure what he witnessed yesterday in between bouts of covering his eyes, and he's hearing that John Elway has serious doubts about Tebow's future.

Jeff Darlington focuses on Tebow's rough fourth quarter yesterday.

Steelers

Terry Pluto and Scott Brown recap Pittsburgh's victory in Cleveland.

Gerry Dulac grades the Steelers and shares some more notes.

As has become a repeat story every time Pittsburgh comes to town, the Steelers may be without S Ryan Clark, whose sickle cell anemia wreaks havoc on his organs at Denver's altitude.

Hines Ward caught his 1,000th career NFL pass yesterday.

Devan Kovacevic says the Steelers must utilize more of their offensive weapons going forward.

Trimmings

The Broncos will face Pittsburgh because Baltimore beat Cincy 24-16 to take the AFC North, the #2 seed, and a first-round bye. Meanwhile, the Denver loss and the Jets' 19-17 shortfall in Miami (during which WR Santonio Holmes was either benched or quit) clinched the #6 seed for the Bengals,  and the Patriots locked up home field advantage with a 49-21 win after spotting the Bills a 21-0 first-quarter lead.

Houston went for a potential game-winning two-point conversion at the end of their 23-22 loss to the Titans, and when that failed, they had temporarily given their division rivals hope for a playoff spot. The #3 Texans will host the Bengals in the first wild card game on Saturday afternoon.

The other AFC game put the Colts on the clock for the first pick in the draft, as they were dropped by the Jaguars 19-13 for their fourteenth loss of the season; Peyton Manning says he'd be able to coexist with a QB taken with that #1 pick.

Over in the NFC, the Giants beat the Cowboys 31-14 to sweep the season series and win the NFC East. During Sunday's early slot, the #4 G-Men will host the #5 Falcons, who pummelled the Bucs to the tune of a 45-24 final score after posting 42 first-half points. After the game, it was announced that Atlanta gave TE Tony Gonzalez a one-year extension worth a reported $7M.

Saturday's late game will feature a potential shootout between the #6 seed Lions and the #3 Saints; Detroit lost an arena ball-like 45-41 firework display to the Packers during which Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers Matt Flynn combined for 11 touchdown passes and 1,000 passing yards. New Orleans beat the Panthers 45-17 to finish with a 13-3 record but lost out on gaining a bye week to the Niners, who eked out a 34-27 victory over the Rams and took the #2 seed with a superior conference record.

As for the NFC games without playoff implications, the Bears beat the Vikings 17-13, Philly whipped Washington 34-10, and Arizona notched their fourth OT win of the season, this time a 23-20 home win over the Seahawks (All John Skelton does is win - clearly, he is the next Elway/Favre/Montana/Marino all rolled up in one - never mind his 68.9 QB Rating).

In coaching news, the Rams have fired Steve Spagnuolo and are expected to fire GM Billy Devaney this week, and the Bucs canned Raheem Morris. Meanwhile, Jeff Fisher may find interest from St. Louis and San Diego, there's talk that the Dolphins may be interested in Jets DC Mike Pettine for their head coaching vacancy, and the Browns are considering hiring Brad Childress to be their OC.

Scrapple

Andy Benoit, Pat Kirwan, Mike LombardiMatt Bowen and Will Brinson analyze Sunday's games; Benoit finds it laughable that Denver will have home-field advantage over the 12-4 Steelers, while Kirwan says all Kyle Orton (2-1) does is win for the Chiefs.  

Nolan Nawrocki and Eric Edholm break down the day's action and look ahead to the playoffs, plus PFW's Insider notes and the FO staff's weekly Audibles column.

Don BanksMike Silver, Jason Cole, Clark JudgePeter King, John Clayton wrap up Sunday's games, while Judy Battista looks ahead to the AFC and NFC matchups. Banks says the Tebow story and his awful passing have come full circle, and that the magic is gone.

Here are MJD's best and worst (Tebow) players of the day, plus Doug Farrar takes a quick look at the Saturday and Sunday playoff matchups.

Doug is IAOFM’s resident newsman and spelling czar. Follow him on Twitter @IAOFM

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