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(Sunday, January 1st)
Final Score: Kansas City 7, Denver 3
Denver, CO (Sports Network) - Tim Tebow and the Broncos backed into the playoffs Sunday.
Needing a win or a Raiders loss to clinch the AFC West, the Broncos relied on the latter, falling 7-3 to former teammate Kyle Orton and the Kansas City Chiefs minutes before Oakland was ousted by the Chargers.
Denver, Oakland and San Diego all finished with 8-8 records, but the Broncos (8-8) earned the title courtesy of a tiebreaker against common opponents. They will host a first-round game against the Steelers next Sunday at 4:30 p.m. (et), but will head into the postseason devoid of momentum after losing their final three games of the season.
The slide was preceded by a six-game win streak, which was largely fueled by the inspired play of Tebow. But he threw for just 60 yards Sunday, completing 6-of-22 attempts and was intercepted near midfield in the game's waning seconds, ending any hope of a miracle comeback.
"We're AFC West champs," said Broncos coach John Fox. "It doesn't matter how you do it, once you get in the dance they can't kick you out."
Orton, who was released by the Broncos in November, threw for 180 yards for the Chiefs (7-9). He beat out Tebow for the starting job in the preseason but struggled to a 1-4 start. Tebow was called upon and delivered, winning four of five starts before Orton was released on November 23.
Kansas City signed Orton the next day, fating his return to Mile High as an foe. Orton's inking was necessitated by starting quarterback Matt Cassel's season-ending hand injury, the last of a rash of trials which derailed the defending AFC West champs. A Week 2 season-ending knee injury to running back Jamaal Charles contributed to the disappointing campaign, which claimed head coach Todd Haley's job in early December.
"It was a long year for me," said Orton. "I thank the Chiefs for giving me a chance and a fresh start. I like guys we have in this locker room."
In reality, neither quarterback played a vital role in Sunday's matchup. The Chiefs' lone score came courtesy of a Dexter McCluster 21-yard, first-quarter touchdown run.
The Broncos, who punted nine times, got on the board in the third. They took over at the Kansas City 20 courtesy of Javier Arenas' muffed punt, but settled for Matt Prater's 38-yard field goal after a pair of short Willis McGahee runs and an incomplete pass.
They went three-and-out after taking over at their own 49 with 8 1/2 minutes left in the fourth, then punted the ball away on their next possession after a short run, a sack and an incomplete pass. Their last drive began at their own 16 with 58 seconds on the clock. A 15-yard roughing the passer penalty and a pair of short completions moved the ball to midfield, but Brandon Carr picked off Tebow with eight seconds remaining.
Despite the loss, the Broncos will be making their first postseason appearance since 2005.
Tebow was 7-4 as a starter during the regular season...With Denver, Orton completed 91-of-155 passes for 979 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions this season...Haley was fired on December 12 and Romeo Crennel acted as interim coach in his stead...Charles suffered a torn ACL, Cassel broke his right hand.
01/01 22:35:05 ET