(Photo: REUTERS/Rick Wilking)
Denver quarterbacks old and new will collide when Tim Tebow's Broncos battle Kyle Orton's Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
The clash is the latest in a long line of grudge matches between Denver and Kansas City over the NFL's AFC West division championship. What separates it from earlier encounters, however, is a tale of two team leaders.
Orton began the 2011 season as the Broncos' starting quarterback, only for Tebow to replace him following a string of losses. Cut from Denver's roster, Orton's career has since caught a second wind leading the Chiefs while Tebow has taken the Broncos to the top of their division. The two are poised for an all-out clash, and the Broncos' playoffs berth hangs in the balance. Should the Broncos lose, the Denver Post reported, only an Oakland Raiders loss to the San Diego Chargers will keep Denver in the playoffs fighting for a chance at Super Bowl glory.
"The Chiefs/Broncos game is always exciting," said Emilia Huneke-Bergquist, a Berthoud, Colo. native. "Their rivalry has been around as long as I can remember and because of the circumstances, next weekend's game is all the more exciting."
The seeds for Sunday's game were planted last September when Orton began a four-week losing streak. The quarterback went 1-4 before getting replaced by Tebow, who transformed the Broncos' prospects with a mixture of hard work and faith in God.
They next won seven games under their new playmaker, while Orton was tossed overboard in November before resurfacing in Kansas City. He's made big waves ever since, handing the Green Bay Packers their sole defeat this season and battling Oakland in a tough overtime loss last weekend.
"Orton looks better on the Chiefs than he did on the Broncos," said Jacquie Beckvermit, another Berthoud, Colo. native. "I have always thought Orton was a good quarterback who just didn't belong in Denver, and I think that's apparent in how he's played for the Chiefs. Not only are they playing well, but everyone knows Orton will be out for blood against the Broncos."
Tebow's bulldog enthusiasm that helped fuel the Broncos’ mid-season momentum has put other other teams on alert, eager to stop any further success. The New England Patriots ended the team's winning streak two weeks ago, only for the Buffalo Bills to add insult to injury with a 40-14 blowout on Saturday. Tebow suffered one of his worst performances, including three sacks and four interceptions.
"The Broncos offense was pretty anemic for most of the day," said Matthew Warren, editor of the Bills fan website BuffaloRumblings.com. "They came crashing back down to Earth pretty hard after their midseason run."
Tebow took the crushing loss in stride by focusing on his faith. The evangelical athlete said whether he won or lost, he was excited to celebrate one of Christianity's holiest days.
"It's still frustrating," Tebow said of his loss to the Post on Saturday. "Tomorrow, I still get to celebrate my savior's birth. I don't know what the future holds, but I know who holds my future. It's something that gives me a lot of peace and a lot of comfort when there might be lots of turbulence around me."
Huneke-Bergquist said that she admired Tebow's grace under fire. All the same, she said she wanted her team's hard work this season to pay off with a confirmed playoffs spot following Sunday's New Year’s Day game.
"As a Broncos fan, I really appreciate that we've got a quarterback who – rather than sulk or throw a temper tantrum after a tough loss – goes out and gives reporters something positive," she said. "Whether spectators happen to agree or not with his perspective, I think his zeal is respectable. Seeing the Broncos go to the playoffs would be a rewarding end to a slow season."