One second-quarter play from Denver's debilitating 7-3 loss to Kansas City last Sunday told us everything we need to know about the Broncos — and, in particular, the future of quarterback Tim Tebow.
Denver's ball, third down, four yards to go at the Kansas City 15. Tebow starts right on an option play, sees nothing but defenders waiting, reverses to the left and appears to have a good angle to make the corner for a first down. But Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis gets there first, slams into Tebow short of the first down and knocks the ball loose. Linebacker Justin Houston recovers the fumble, and the Broncos never come that close to the end zone again.
Lewis is a second-year player out of Mississippi, and Houston a rookie from Georgia. Both played against Tebow during his college days at Florida, and will be around to torment him for years to come.
That is, if Tebow still is Denver's quarterback. Forget what team executive John Elway has said about Tebow being the starter going into 2012. These past three weeks, as NFL defenses have figured out how to contain Tebow, a new solution has come to mind. I've heard different versions of the same idea in various conversations.
If normal people are thinking this, you know the Broncos' brain trust is. Let's summarize: Nobody questions Tebow's leadership and athleticism. He inspires everyone around him. But when he's only 6 of 22 for 60 yards and no offensive touchdowns in a vital home game, after starting most of the year, that's not good enough. Six lost fumbles in a season doesn't cut it, either.
Why not go with a more typical NFL quarterback, playing Tebow at fullback or as a second running back (remember Peyton Hillis?), where he can run, block, catch (and sometimes throw) passes, and be a "second quarterback"?
Given the Broncos' chances Sunday against Pittsburgh, and that Denver fullback Spencer Larson is injured, why not try it now, with Brady Quinn at quarterback? There isn't time to put in an entire new offense, but Tebow could learn a handful of new plays, plus wrinkles with him and Quinn both in the shotgun. Head coach John Fox probably isn't that close to panicking. Then again, Pittsburgh's defense should easily follow the examples of New England, Buffalo and Kansas City.
It's hard to foresee a major breakthrough by Tebow. He doesn't look like the next Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady. Nowhere close. As a fullback/H-back/extra running back/tight end, though, Tebow could become a standout playmaker. And a decent chunk of Denver's offense could revolve around him.
Regardless, the Broncos need more than another quarterback and a revised role for Tebow. The receivers can't get open. Ironically, as Sunday wound down, this statistic popped up: Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis, 6 catches, 100 yards, one touchdown.
Obviously, Lloyd could have made a difference, but he was dealt to the Rams for a future draft pick. The reality is that Lloyd will be a free agent after this year, and the Broncos likely would have lost him. Of course, when he was traded, nobody thought Denver would be in the playoffs, needing a proven No. 1 receiver.
Without Lloyd, or anyone like him, Denver can't advance in this postseason. Fixing that will be just as much of a priority for the Broncos entering 2012 as deciding what to do with Tebow. But why not start now?