|New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) celebrates with Wes Welker after scoring on a 17-yard pass from Tom Brady, not shown, during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Denver Broncos Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, in Foxborough, Mass. Brady tied the all-time postseason touchdown passing game record on the play. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)|
Broncos both bummed, buoyed as they look to 2012
ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—For a team that's bringing back its orange uniforms in 2012, the Denver Broncos were resoundingly blue on Sunday.
While some players were buoyed by their bounce-back season under Tim Tebow, most were still bummed over their 45-10 pummeling Saturday night at the hands of the New England Patriots.
"Everybody wants to say we should pat ourselves on the back, but to heck with that. We lost," Champ Bailey said.
Crashing the playoff party for the first time in six seasons and beating Pittsburgh in the first round just wasn't enough.
"People think we should walk around here with a smile on our face because we made the playoffs, we won a game. We came up short again," Bailey said. "For me personally, I don't have a lot of time here. I don't know how much longer I'll play. It's one of those things, every year you miss it and you don't win it and here we go again, we've got to start all over again."
Among the biggest questions facing the Broncos this offseason is whether Tebow did enough to stay the starting quarterback and force the front office to look at other needs in the draft and free agency.
Football chief John Elway said last month that he'll work with his raw lefty to polish his passing game during the offseason, something he couldn't really do during the NFL lockout last year.
Elway, coach John Fox and general manager Brian Xanders will meet with the media Monday.
Tebow wasn't among the Broncos in the locker room during a one-hour media window Sunday, emerging from the trainers' room with a smile as the session ended and the players filed out for their final team meeting.
Tebow went 8-5 as the starter but lost four of his last five games, piling up some stinkers to go with his stellar starts that included a series of fourth-quarter comebacks and triumphs in overtime.
The Broncos (9-9) got a late start on their comeback season with Kyle Orton getting almost all the snaps with the starters in training camp before caving in to Tebowmania and losing his starting job when Denver stumbled to a 1-4 start.
Tebow is the presumptive incumbent barring a big offseason move.
"I think the guy has a good shot to be a good quarterback in this league," Bailey said.
When asked if he felt Tebow had sowed his starting status, however, Bailey said everyone has to prove himself all over.
"I think we all do. You can't just look at him and think he's the only one fighting for his position," Bailey said. "Every year we've got to prove ourselves. I know he's going to work hard at it, just like every guy in this locker room. So, I'm looking forward to seeing the kind of product we have on the field next year."
Wide receiver Eric Decker concurred, saying: "No one's ever guaranteed a spot. I think Tim's done a great job to earn respect and definitely have that role for next year. But competition drives greatness. I think going into next year at each position, I don't know if anyone's guaranteed anything."
Nonetheless, Decker's money is on Tebow.
"Just knowing the person he is and the work ethic that he has he's going to be hard to beat out," said Decker, who pledged to work with his quarterback this offseason to help make the passing game less clunky.
Tebow's string of stirring comebacks and 80-yard touchdown strike to Demaryius Thomas that beat the Steelers on the first play of overtime in the wild-card round gave the Broncos hope for 2012.
"Everybody doubted us, saying that we were only going to win two or three games," Thomas said. "We won eight games and made it to the playoffs. When we were down 1-4, we still had doubters and we came out and worked everything and got better as we went."
Thomas emerged as one of the league's top deep threats over the last two months after overcoming a series of injuries, including a torn Achilles and fractured finger.
A full offseason with Tebow will make a big difference for this offense, tight end Daniel Fells said.
"Not to use the lockout as an excuse, but when you have a younger team and a quarterback it is harder to gel without all that time and training camp is definitely a good time for you to get that rhythm," Fells said.
The Broncos, who finished a franchise-worst 4-12 last year, went from the second overall pick in the draft to the second-round of the playoffs in Fox's first year as coach and Tebow's first as the starting QB.
"Well, it's definitely a better feeling in this locker room after the season than last year, just because we know we're headed in the right direction," Bailey said. "Now, we've just got to build off that. We've got a lot of work to do. Obviously, yesterday showed that we're not near to being one of the top teams in the league right now."
Linebacker Joe Mays said the culture of losing stopped when Fox replaced Josh McDaniels as coach.
"He just said, `We're going to be a good football team this year and we're going to turn some heads and right some wrongs, we're going to show that we can go out there and play football with the best of them,'" Mays recounted. "And I think that we did a good job of that. We had our ups and downs, but overall I think we're going to be a good football team for years to come."
Notes: Decker said the hit from James Harrison that left him with a sprained left knee was legal: "I think it was unfortunate now with the new rules, guys are scared to hit high, especially Harrison, being fined so much. He had to go low," Decker said. "It stinks. I'd rather get hit high, to be honest with you, because as a receiver, my legs are my investment. But at the same time I'm not upset or mad at what he did." ... Bailey, for one, expects SS Brian Dawkins to recover from a neck injury and return for a 17th season "just because I know he doesn't want to end like this." ... Rookie Von Miller told The Associated Press he would have the pins removed from his surgically repaired right thumb this week and expects to be healed in time to participate in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29.
Connect with AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton at http://twitter.com/arniestapleton