It is funny how things turn out. The Broncos fired Josh McDaniels as coach last season because they did not share his vision or belief in the Patriot Way, and their fan base had turned against him. They hired John Elway to win back the fans and rebuild the huge mess they thought McDaniels created. That included finding a solution for what to do with the unconventional quarterback McDaniels selected in the first round.
Because of the incredible support Tim Tebow garners, the Broncos and new coach John Fox were forced to play Tebow as their season began to slip away. What did they have to lose was the prevailing thought. Tebow was not the choice of Elway or Fox, and both felt if they let him play, his flaws would be exposed and they would be justified to go find a quarterback of their own. Tebow would play himself out of the league and the new regime finally could move on.
But what Fox and Elway did not foresee was the polarizing support Tebow would gain in his own locker room. His will to win, his work ethic and most importantly his ability to make plays in the clutch has made his teammates believers. Working hard and wanting to succeed is something most players have, but the key is actually producing wins. No one follows any player just because he works hard. Winning creates support and with every victory, Tebow adds more followers and believers.
And it's not just his teammates. With each win, Tebow is gaining more and more fans to the already large base he developed in college at Florida. In fact, after the Broncos beat the Vikings on Sunday, I received four texts from friends all proclaiming their new found devotion to Tim Tebow.
Getting a team to believe it can win is the hardest challenge of any head coach. Fox owes Tebow a big thank you. Now the Broncos' season is not slipping away. Denver could be playoff bound, as Sunday's win put the Broncos in first place in the AFC West. Going from 1-4 to 7-5 is an incredible turnaround. For most of the winning streak, the Broncos defense led the way. But Sunday, the defense was not as good, and the Tebow-led offense found its way and carried the team. In just 49 plays, the Broncos scored 28 points (the other TD came on a pick-six). Tebow threw for 202 yards and the Broncos found another playmaker in wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (another McDaniels' draft pick). When the Broncos needed big plays the most, Thomas came through with three receptions of over 40 yards and two touchdowns.
Now instead of being in rebuilding mode, the Broncos are coming together as a team. Instead of cleaning up the mess created by McDaniels, they are enjoying the fruits of his labor. Though I'm sure no one will admit this.
Tebow showed Sunday he is capable of making some key throws and the Broncos proved they can play from behind. They also proved they are capable of making big plays without running the option. The Vikings might not be a good team, but they are good against the run, therefore it was vital for Tebow to show he could make throws. And once again Tebow proved his doubters wrong.
Can this winning continue? Can the Broncos actually make the playoffs? Without a doubt they can. The fight will be with the Raiders for the division title, and the schedule looks to favor the Broncos. Denver has its next two games at home against the Bears and Patriots. Then off to Buffalo and Kansas City to close the season. Meanwhile, the Raiders head to Green Bay this weekend, then home for Detroit, then a road game in Kansas City, before closing the season at home against the Chargers. The Broncos must go 3-1 over the last quarter of the season. If they can accomplish that goal, America will see Tebow in the playoffs. Can you imagine how much larger the fan base will be then?
The bigger question will be: What will Elway and Fox do long-term if this playoff appearance happens?
With Tebow so firmly embedded as the leader of the resurgence, it would be impossible for Elway or Fox to move on without him. The team would revolt. They would lose their fan base and risk their own futures. If they replaced Tebow, it would have to be a sure thing, and we all know nothing is a sure thing in the NFL. Does this mean they have to be 100 percent sold right now? No, but they need to respect his work and adapt their plan.
The prudent course of action is to embrace Tebowmania and continue to improve the team's overall talent, while making sure there is a plan in case Tebow fails to improve. In other words, the same course of action any front office would do with any player. Building a competitive team is the ultimate goal and having competition at every position will bring out the best in everyone.
The key to being a successful front office is to have options with every decision. Therefore, the Broncos brass should continue to take the best player on the board in the draft and continue to add tough players to the team. Most of all, the Broncos need to understand what Tebow is capable of doing in an unconventional way. Being unconventional can work.
And if they make the playoffs, the Broncos owe a big thank you to Tebow for not letting any of the doubters affect his play. And they owe McDaniels one too, for drafting him.
Things I loved
» I loved watching the Packers-Giants game. So much so that I wanted the Buffalo Wild Wings man to turn on the sprinklers and get the game to overtime. The Packers took the Giants' best shot and found a way to win -- like true champions always do. I love that the Packers told returner Randall Cobb to not take the ball out of the end zone on the kickoff, thus not wasting time on a return and saving the time for their offense. They knew the Giants' Will Blackmon could not cover any receiver and they looked to attack him on each pass play. The Giants are a better team when running back Ahmad Bradshaw plays, and even though they lost they are still in play for the NFC East title and the wild-card, with Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago all losing.
» I loved how the entire Miami team -- coaches and players -- has been competing and not letting the rumors of losing their jobs affect their performance. The Dolphins have won four of their past five games and have dominated the past two, with both last week's win over Buffalo and Sunday's win over Oakland being over at halftime. Had the Dolphins found a way to finish their games early in the season against the Browns and Broncos, this team could be in the wild-card race. Whoever takes over for coach Tony Sparano in Miami, they will have some talent to work with as well as a bunch of true competitors.
» I loved that Houston was able to win a game with third-string rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback. The Texans won in large part due to their ability to run the ball and their ability to play really good defense. The Texans ran for 162 yards, shut down the Falcons run game and made Matt Ryan struggle to make plays down the field. His longest pass play was for 26 yards, as he had to deal with constant pressure all day. The Texans are going to have to win games with solid defense and a run game. And they must hope that receiver Andre Johnson is able to come back quickly from another hamstring pull. His presence on the field gives Houston a vertical threat, which then opens the run game.
Things I hated
» I hated watching the Raiders' Richard Seymour have a meltdown on the field, throwing a punch and being thrown out of the game. Will Seymour get suspended like Ndamukong Suh? Seymour has had his share of problems controlling his temper on the field this season, so this will be an interesting decision. The Raiders need Seymour to be a leader, especially as they face the Packers this week. Suh is young and immature, but Seymour knows better than to let his emotions get the best of him. The Raiders need Seymour to play and they need him to play well as they fight for the AFC West title. Seymour must be the leader of the team, not the problem.
» I hated how the Buffalo season has turned so badly. The Bills have an incredible fan base, and it would be great to see the franchise succeed. But the fast start was an illusion, and reality has set in. The Bills are not a talented team, especially on defense, and need more playmakers to compete with the better teams in the AFC. Coach Chan Gailey did a great job of masking the problems, but now after 13 weeks, there is no more hiding. The Bills need to keep adding talent, and they better hope they are right about their decision to reward Ryan Fitzpatrick with a huge contract.
» I hate how inconsistent the Cowboys are as a team. Each time I think they are going to win the East, they stub their toes. In the old days, post-Thanksgiving was when the Cowboys shined. Losing in Arizona is inexcusable, especially late in the season when there is no margin for error. I hated that coach Jason Garrett let the clock run down after getting in field-goal range, instead of calling a timeout and trying to gain more yardage to make the field-goal try more manageable. Even stranger was Garrett's decision to call a timeout and ice his own kicker. Garrett needed to let Tony Romo get the offense closer just like he did the week before against Miami. I hate that I cannot figure out the Cowboys.
Things on my mind
» Congratulations to the 49ers for winning the NFC West. They not only won the division, they dominated it. Every team in the West is a long way, personnel-wise, from physically challenging the 49ers.
» The Rams have major work to do this offseason. Their level of talent is a long way from the 49ers, or any team in the NFC West. Having a potentially great quarterback is a start, but the Rams have many other issues to address.
» Watching Cowboys CB Terrance Newman play makes me feel that every team will continue to attack him, forcing him to prove he can cover man to man. Right now, Newman is a huge liability.
» Even though the Patriots won, this will be a tough week as Bill Belichick cannot be pleased with their fourth-quarter effort. The Pats allowed 16 first downs in the final period and gained zero themselves. This is not the kind of performance the Patriots want in December.
» Have you noticed the amount of 50-plus yard field goals this year? The league is on a record pace. And have you noticed how many kickers and punters are making tackles? Colts punter Pat McAfee leads Indy's special teams in tackles.
» How many times will the Jets muff a punt until they figure out Jim Leonhard is the only one who can catch? Right now, the count is at three: Joe McKnight at Denver, Antonio Cromartie vs. Buffalo and now Jeremy Kerley in Washington.
» The Jets are 7-5 right now and fighting for the wild-card spot, but all five of their losses are AFC losses, which will kill them in tiebreakers. They are going to need to be a full game ahead of the final team for the wild-card spot.
» The Lions got a break with all the potential NFC wild-card teams losing, but it won't matter if they are unable to stop beating themselves.
» Do you think training camp isn't important? Just ask the Titans' Chris Johnson, who finally is running well.
» I knew Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell blamed his players' effort for their loss in New Orleans, but I blame him for thinking corner Will Blackmon could cover anyone on Green Bay. The Packers had Blackmon in their camp and cut him, so they knew he couldn't cover and attacked him relentlessly.
» Steelers WR Hines Ward caught five passes for 30 yards against the Bengals, becoming the 19th player in NFL history to eclipse 12,000 receiving yards. But now, how does he get any playing time? With Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace, the Steelers can't take one of them off the field for Ward.
» Bucs coach Raheem Morris finally got angry. He sent defensive tackle Brian Price to the locker room during the game for a getting a personal foul called against him. Morris said, "That's just selfish behavior. That's all we talk about, that's all we discuss. They're not listening. We have to do a better job coaching." Maybe he should have taken this approach this summer after the Patriots' preseason game? I'm just sayin'.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi