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Loss Hurts, But Playoffs Loom

Posted Jan 1, 2012

Despite a 7-3 loss to the Chiefs in the regular season finale, the Broncos are headed back to the postseason for the first time since 2005.


DENVER -- Second chances don't come often in the NFL.

Neither do division titles for teams coming off a 4-12 season.

The Denver Broncos got both Sunday.

"We're AFC West champs. It doesn't matter how you do it," Head Coach John Fox said. "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."

The Broncos will host the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) next Sunday at 2:30 p.m. MST in the wildcard round of the playoffs, and they enter the postseason despite a 7-3 loss to the Chiefs in Week 17.

"It's, obviously, a little bittersweet right now," quarterback Tim Tebow said. "We would have loved to have won that game, and (had) a little bit more momentum going into the playoffs, but, I think it's still a special thing what we accomplished, to come back to win the AFC West."

A 16-yard touchdown run in the first quarter by Chiefs' running back Dexter McCluster proved to be the game-winning score in a defensive duel Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High where each team had just five third down conversions.

After recovering a muffed punt early in the second half, Matt Prater put the Broncos on the board with a 38-yard field goal. Denver's defense continued to force punts, paving the way for a possible comeback drive. But the Broncos failed to score on their final five possessions of the game following Prater's conversion.

"Our defense is playing lights out," wide receiver Eric Decker said. "We've got to do a better job of executing and take some pressure off them."

Tebow, who had just six completions on the day, was intercepted on a fourth down pass with 19 seconds remaining, allowing Kansas City to run the remaining seconds off the clock.

"As a quarterback you've just got to find a way to put your team in the end zone," Tebow said. "We've just got to find a way."

The moment the Chiefs took a knee and time expired, the Broncos season hinged on the result in Oakland.

Minutes later the Chargers sealed a 38-26 victory over the Raiders, making the 8-8 Broncos AFC West Champions for the first time since 2005.

"We had to wait for another team to win their game to let us know we were going to be AFC West champs," running back Willis McGahee said, who ran for 144 yards. "At the end of the day, we made it. We're in it."

There was no boisterous celebration in the Denver locker room when the final score in Oakland came through. No division championship apparel passed around.

The Broncos made it clear they were treating the regular season finale like a playoff game throughout the week of practice, knowing a win would clinch the division.

San Diego's victory allowed Denver's season to continue but the playoff-bound Broncos know second chances no longer exist.

"We have to get better," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "We have to prepare better, we have to play better, period."

"I know we're better than what we've been showing," Bailey added. "The good thing is that we're in it and we have a chance."

The Broncos have the opportunity they so desperately wanted. Now they'll look to take advantage of it.

"It's about what you're going to do with the opportunity when you get there," linebacker Mario Haggan said. "You get in and anything can happen."

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