Still a cheerless celebration for Denver Broncos

The commemorative T-shirts and caps proclaiming the Denver

Broncos 2011 AFC West champions sat mostly untouched in the team’s

locker room Monday.

After watching replays of their 7-3 loss to Kansas City, the

Broncos still weren’t in any mood to celebrate their return to the

playoffs after a six-year absence.

”Nah, we’re not excited about that, man,” linebacker Joe Mays

said. ”It’s like we got the championship by default. You know, you

want to be in control of your own destiny, and we don’t feel like

we played good enough to actually own up to being division

champs.

”We feel we should have at least played good enough to earn

being a champion.”

The keepsakes were handed out Monday at the team’s headquarters

rather than at the stadium Sunday night after the Broncos backed

their way into the postseason party when Oakland lost to San

Diego.

”I wasn’t expecting our locker room yesterday to be jubilant by

any stretch of the imagination,” coach John Fox said. ”I wouldn’t

expect it to be any different because they had to watch it over

again.

”We’ll have time to get them in the right frame of mind.”

The Broncos (8-8) host the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) next

Sunday.

A day after losing to former teammate Kyle Orton and the Chiefs,

Tim Tebow walked through the quiet locker room Monday with a big

ice pack on his right shoulder and guard Chris Kuper hobbled in on

a broken left leg that landed him on injured reserve.

”He’s a real big loss,” rookie right tackle Orlando Franklin

said. ”He definitely was the bus driver on my side. He was making

all the calls, and whatnot. Russ (Hochstein) stepped in and did a

good job yesterday.”

The Broncos fortified their line Monday by signing tackle Ryan

Harris, who was a three-year starter in Denver from 2007-10. He

hurt his back last summer in Philadelphia and reached an injury

settlement with the Eagles.

At the film session, captain Brian Dawkins, who’s been sidelined

by a neck injury, addressed his teammates with a rare speech.

”The primary message coming from that meeting was that the

Kansas City game, it’s gone,” tight end Dante Rosario said. ”We

watched the tape. We studied it. We need to correct our mistakes in

that game to make sure it doesn’t happen this week.”

Linebacker Wesley Woodyard said Dawkins addressed the entire

team one other time, when the Broncos stumbled to a 1-4 start and

made the switch from Orton to Tebow.

Dawkins’ admonition might be the only way he can contribute in

these playoffs. He sat out Sunday and his status for the game this

weekend is uncertain.

The Broncos have lots of flaws that require a quick fix. Among

them: a stagnant offense led by turnover-prone Tebow and a stalled

pass rush stymied by Von Miller’s injured right thumb.

Tebow, the author of a six-game winning streak and five

fourth-quarter comebacks this season, has regressed over the last

month. He’s completed 30 of 74 passes (40.5 percent) for 439 yards

and one touchdown with four interceptions, three lost fumbles and

nine sacks in losses to the Patriots, Bills and Chiefs.

After the first four-turnover game of his career at Buffalo on

Christmas Eve, Tebow looked timid Sunday, unwilling to throw in

tight spaces. Afterward, he looked shaken over his 6-for-22 passing

performance that produced a season-low 60 yards.

”He’s doing the best to help us win and we had a little bit of

a struggle yesterday throwing the ball,” Fox said. ”That happens

sometimes. Credit to the Kansas City Chiefs. They have a pretty

good defense.”

Not as good as Pittsburgh’s.

”It’s going to be tough sledding for sure,” Fox said. ”They

are the No. 1 defense over the regular season in many critical

areas, so there won’t be anything easy against the Pittsburgh

Steelers’ defense.”

The Broncos’ strength is their ground game – they led the NFL in

rushing and set the franchise single-season rushing mark with 2,632

yards, led by Willis McGahee’s 1,199 yards and Tebow’s 660.

The Steelers are stout against the run, and with Rashard

Mendenhall out and Ben Roethlisberger dealing with a bum left

ankle, points are likely going to be at a premium much like they

were Sunday, when the Broncos fell to 86-3 when allowing seven or

fewer points.

Informed that fans are asking why the Broncos don’t try more

short passes and screens, Fox said, ”Their frustrations are

probably similar to mine.”

As boss, though, Fox could call more of those screens and short

passes.

”We do run short passes,” Fox retorted. ”They just didn’t go

so well. We called long ones, and they didn’t go very well,

either.”

When pressed whether that was Tebow’s fault, Fox said there were

”a lot of moving parts in the passing game,” and added, ”the

buck stops here, so you guys can blame me.”

Fox also sidestepped a question whether he’d consider benching

Tebow for backup Brady Quinn if the Broncos fall behind Sunday.

”I don’t do well with hypotheticals,” Fox replied. ”I

anticipate we will play very well this Sunday.”

Fox wouldn’t talk about Tebow’s ailing shoulder, either.

”There are a lot of guys with ice,” Fox said. ”That’s what

happens when you play a physical football game for three

hours.”

Fox did say fullback Spencer Larsen had a sprained MCL in his

left knee. That means Austin Sylvester, who was signed last week,

might get the nod against the Steelers and their dominant

defense.

”Crazy things can happen, big things can happen for an

underdog,” safety David Bruton said. ”We saw the Packers do it

last year when they were the underdog. So, we could definitely turn

the tide and ride a wave through the playoffs.”

Notes: Fox implored Broncos season ticket holders not to sell

their playoff tickets to Steelers fans so the home stadium doesn’t

turn into a sea of black and gold. … The Broncos’ leading WR was

Eric Decker with just 44 catches for 612 yards. Not since the

strike-shortened `82 season did a receiver lead the team with fewer

yards.

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:

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