Today, we say goodbye to the Denver Broncos, a team that, had you told me in Week 5 that they'd be making the playoffs, I'd have laughed at you and maybe thrown a heavy object at your face.
It happened, though. The Broncos, who started the season at a depressing 1-4, won the AFC West and outlasted teams like the Steelers and Falcons.
What happened between Week 7 and the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, I'm not sure anyone has completely figured out yet. What we know for sure is that Tim Tebow got involved, and then everyone in the free world lost their minds. Those are the facts. The rest is open to interpretation.
How much of this is sustainable?
It's fair to wonder if the 2011 Denver Broncos were the most captivating team in NFL history ‒ maybe even American sports history. What other team has generated national headlines like this one?
The '96 Chicago Bulls, who won 72 games with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman in his ascension towards insanity? The 1919 Chicago Black Sox? There can't be that many contenders. I don't believe that any team in my lifetime has moved the mainstream media needle for such an extended period of time like these Broncos.
But we're going to try to keep this football-related, and the good news is that that side of things is no less intriguing. What the Broncos have to figure out about their season is whether or not what Tim Tebow did ‒ a seven-and-four record in the regular season, a six-game win streak and a division championship, while compiling a 72.9 passer rating ‒ is sustainable. They need to know if this can happen again.
No one knows the answer. John Elway does not know that answer. The total amount of time given to discussing that very issue on TV, radio, newspapers and blogs equates to about 41 percent of recorded human history. And when it comes right down to it, still, the best anyone can really do is shrug and say, "I dunno."
That's about the best I can do, too. I dunno. I don't think it's sustainable ‒ I don't think Tim Tebow's ever going to be a great passer.
However, I also think if you take the offense as it is now, and add even a little bit of a conventional drop-back passing game, you've got something that's incredibly hard to defend, because Tebow's athleticism presents so many other options. This drop-back ability, though, isn't something that exists right now, and it's not something you can wish into existence. It's something that a lot of guys ‒ guys with a better passing pedigree than Tim Tebow ‒ have tried and failed to develop. It's not easy. It is not a given.
If Tebow can develop it, then yes, Tebowmania is sustainable. If he can't, I don't believe it is. Other teams will figure the Broncos out and take away their strengths (if they haven't already), and if it's not that, he won't be able to sustain the pounding. It's not a question of his toughness, it's just a question of the limits of the human body. What quarterback in the modern NFL has ever run for a living, without also having a passing game, if for no other reason than to limit the hits he takes?
Tim Tebow must develop to survive. He has to be more than he is right now.
So can he do that? I'm afraid that puts me back at "I dunno." Like I said, I don't think so, just because NFL history is so littered with quarterbacks that were never able to figure it out, but at the same time, what am I going to do, bet against Tim Tebow's work ethic? That seems like a losing proposition.
Elsewhere on the roster, the signs are encouraging. At receiver, there were good things from Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, even though they seemed to work in shifts. That could be an excellent tandem for years if they both develop some consistency. Willis McGahee turned in an excellent season at running back, and the offensive line was OK, if a little spotty. They'll need to add some depth there.
Defensively, there are some very good pieces in place. They had stretches where they looked dominant, though none of those stretches happened to come in the playoffs against the Patriots. Some help at safety is imperative and they could stand to get stronger up the middle of the defense, too. They'll be OK here.
But it feels a little silly to even pretend that the Broncos future is about anything other than one guy. They're going to go as Tebow goes, and yes, that means they're pinning their hopes to a guy who won a lot of games for them, but it also means they're pinning their hopes to a guy who was blown out and left looking clueless in four of his last five games.