Broncos, Tebow still control their fate despite Sunday's setback

DENVER -- Walking toward the tunnel that would lead them off the field Sunday, two Broncos players were already trying to spin their season forward during a conversation with one another.

"We can't let this (loss) get us off track!" one of the players said.

In the locker room, a few more players were discussing what they'd heard had occurred in Oakland -- that the Detroit Lions had defeated the Raiderswith a last-minute touchdown. That meant the Broncos would be able to control their own destiny. Word had already spread.

"If we take care of our business, we'll be in control," coach John Fox later told quarterback Tim Tebow during a conversation at Tebow's locker after Sunday's 41-23 loss to the New England Patriots.

The Broncos' six-game winning streak may have ended with that game -- which proved, as cornerback Champ Bailey noted, that Denver has some work to do before it's ready for a playoff run -- but the team's crazy ride is not yet close to its conclusion.

The Broncos have a one-game edge in the AFC West. They close their season with a game on the road in Buffalo and a home finale against the Chiefs. If they beat the Bills, and if the Raiders lose to Kansas City on Saturday, the Broncos will clinch the division.

Otherwise, it'll come down to the Week 17 game in Denver, when Chiefs quarterback Kyle Orton returns to play his former team.

"Our guys understand that we control our own destiny, and we'll see how we do," Fox said Monday.

Tebow has had a calming presence at the end of his comeback wins. He'll need to channel that mentality during the end of this season, too -- especially given the team's recent history. The Broncos haven't been to the postseason since 2005, suffering late-season meltdowns in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

The collapse in 2008 ultimately cost former coach Mike Shanahan his job, while the collapse in 2009 (following a 6-0 start) marked the beginning of the end of Josh McDaniels' two-year stint. The situation this year (no matter the result) won't have the same impact on the coaching staff, but it could nonetheless help dictate some decisions at the quarterback position.

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Tebow doesn't seem concerned at all about such possibilities, instead centering his attention on a potential strong finish. The Broncos began the season with a 1-4 record before Tebow took over as the starter, sparking wins in seven of the next nine games.

"We've got two big games," Tebow said after Sunday night's loss. "We'll prepare extremely hard for each one. We're excited about where we're at. We're going to continue to stay positive and motivated."

While the Broncos could simply make it easy on themselves by wrapping things up Sunday, they can still afford to lose, as long as they then defeat the Chiefs at home -- Denver holds the tiebreaker against the Raiders and the Chargers.

Otherwise, the Broncos would need to rely on a potential wild-card berth to reach the playoffs, something everyone in Denver would prefer to avoid.

"We'll go about our work just as normal," Fox said.

A normal approach -- with plenty on the line.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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