DENVER — Even in defeat, Tim Tebow came out a winner.
Tebow fell short in his latest comeback bid, yet his Denver Broncos still made it the playoffs Sunday.
As the AFC West champions, no less. Meaning more Tebowmania, at least for another week.
Former Denver quarterback Kyle Orton got his revenge in leading the Kansas City Chiefs over the Broncos 7-3. But the Broncos wound up in the postseason anyway when San Diego knocked off Oakland minutes later.
"It's obviously a little bittersweet right now," Tebow said. "We would have loved to have won that game to have a little momentum going into the playoffs. But I think it's still a special thing what we accomplished, to come back and win the AFC West is very special."
Now, the Broncos (8-8) will host the wild-card Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) in the first round next Sunday.
"Well, we're AFC West champs," Broncos coach John Fox said. "It doesn't matter how you do it. Once you get into the dance, they can't kick you out."
After begrudgingly congratulating Orton, the Broncos celebrated the end to their six-year playoff drought once the Chargers eliminated the Raiders 38-26.
Denver finished 8-8, same as the Raiders and Chargers. They won their first division title since 2005 on a tiebreaker, going 6-6 against common opponents while the others went 5-7.
So, everybody at Mile High got what they wanted even though Tebow couldn't beat the guy he failed to beat out in training camp.
Orton, who also handed Green Bay its only loss, went 2-1 in Kansas City. His steady play likely raised his stock as he prepares to enter free agency. And he might have secured interim coach Romeo Crennel's future with the Chiefs (7-9).
Best of all, he beat the team that benched him after he finally caved under the weight of Tebowmania and the Broncos stumbled to a 1-4 start.
Orton had laid low all week but he finally 'fessed up after the game that this game had special meaning to him even though it was for pride and payback and not the playoffs.
"I can't hide that," he said. "But I congratulate those guys. They're in. I congratulate them and I look forward to next year."
The Broncos revamped their offense to fit Tebow's unconventional skill set and surged to the top of their division. They released Orton in the midst of a 7-1 run that included a series of fourth-quarter comebacks that captivated the football world.
Never before in the four-plus decades since the AFL-NFL merger has a starting quarterback returned to start a game in the same season against his former team.
Neither QB had a great day. The game's only touchdown came on Dexter McCluster's 21-yard scamper in the first quarter, so this game was as much about the Punting Colquitt brothers, Dustin and Britton, as it was about Orton vs. Tebow.
The Broncos got one last shot when they got the ball at their 16 with just under a minute left.
Tebow time? Not this time.
Because Fox had declined to go for a 57-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first half — he was afraid a miss would set up the Chiefs for a double-digit halftime lead — the Broncos had to go 84 yards in 47 seconds instead of just needing to get into range for another game-winner by Matt Prater.
Tebow, who had completed four passes all afternoon with the Broncos running 47 times for 216 yards, including 145 by Willis McGahee, suddenly had to chuck it.
And he was intercepted by cornerback Brandon Carr with 8 seconds left.
Tebow finished 6 of 22 for 60 yards and added 16 yards on six carries.
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