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Steelers will end the Broncos’ optimism, once and for all

By David Ramsey, The Gazette –

DENVER — Playoff pessimism.

Yes, the Broncos are champs of the AFC West, but the Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders almost certainly will be the happy ones while watching the Pittsburgh Steelers devour Denver in the first round of the playoffs.

After Sunday’s gruesome 7-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, John Fox tried his best to put a sunny face on the upcoming clash with the Steelers.

“Once you get in,” Fox said of the playoffs, “anything can happen.”

This is true. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Broncos could upset the Steelers. It’s only almost out of the realm.

Am I being too harsh?

I don’t think so. There are dozens of reasons to expect a football disaster this coming weekend at Mile High.

Consider: Since jumping to a 16-7 first-half lead over the mighty New England Patriots, the Broncos have been outscored 73-24. The Buffalo Bills lost eight of their final nine games with the lone win a rout over the Broncos.

The Steelers will bring a snarling, frightening defense into Mile High next week, led by James Harrison, the NFL’s reigning Mr. Sinister. Harrison is probably plotting unspeakably evil deeds shots even as we speak.

Pittsburgh boasts the NFL’s best scoring and passing defense. It could be a long, ugly afternoon for the Broncos, who will struggle to avoid a shutout.

The Chiefs came close to blanking the Broncos on Sunday, largely because Tim Tebow couldn’t find receivers, couldn’t find openings to run, couldn’t deliver a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback and couldn’t silence his reborn legion of doubters.

Tebow became a national folk hero by leading the Broncos on a six-game winning streak while reviving a lagging love affair between the Broncos and their fans on the Front Range. He made Tebowing a national fad. He inspired a harmless, hilarious skit on “Saturday Night Live.”

Then, poof, all the fun fell apart.

In the past two games, Tebow has failed to complete 33-of-52 passes, thrown five interceptions and caused many of us to wonder why we ever jumped on the Tebowmania bandwagon.

He’s the most discussed player in the NFL, a genuine national phenomenon. He also was purely awful against the Chiefs.

The Chiefs saw the power of Tebow’s legs during Denver’s recent winning streak. This led Kansas City to an obvious strategy for Sunday’s rematch.

They dared Tebow to beat them with his arm. He responded by throwing 16-of-22 passes into the dirt on his way to a microscopic 20.6 quarterback rating.

“The three losses haven’t shaken my confidence,” Tebow said.

But the three losses should inspire him to several hundred hours of labor in the offseason. No one should dismiss Tebow’s and the Broncos’ surprising, inspiring win streak that carried this team into the playoffs.

Still, even his believers must see NFL defenses are figuring him out. At first, he was a freaky, sneaky, different kind of quarterback. In a league filled with pass-first, seldom-stray-from-the-pocket types, Tebow was a revelation. He boldly challenged defenders — and disaster — by lowering his shoulder and pulverizing linebackers. As you know, linebackers usually do the pulverizing.

He must learn the more subtle arts of his position. He’s going to survive — or fail — with his left arm. He remains young, and Tebow has always been able to conquer his doubters. I remain hopeful for his future.

But not his immediate future.

The Steelers soon will arrive in Colorado. Their fans will be grabbing every available ticket. Their defense will be planning football mayhem. Their opponent should be scared, very scared.

The Broncos are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005. It will be a brief return.

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