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McGahee knows he can be the difference for Denver

Rocking a South Park hoodie in Denver's locker room after Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Broncos running back Willis McGahee likely had no intentions of sending a message to anyone with the words printed across his chest.

After all, McGahee is more than willing to speak his mind. He doesn't need to subliminally tell his teammates and coaches to "respect my authority," as the character on his shirt, Cartman, so eloquently puts it.

Seriously, just ask him.

Willis, do you feel like there's been something a little bit off with this team over the past month?

"Yeah," McGahee said. "I wasn't playing that much. I wasn't a part of it. I feel like if I'm a part of the game, it's going to be a different story. Even though we didn't get it done today, I think the guys were happy I was out there."

In other words: Respect his authority. And do it now. Against the Steelers. As often as possible. Before it's too late.

As the Broncos prepare for a wild-card game against a Pittsburgh team fully capable of thwarting quarterback Tim Tebow's passing efforts, there's a deafening belief that Denver won't have a chance without an effective running game. McGahee says now that he's feeling healthier, he just might be able to get the Broncos back in business.

Despite Sunday's loss, McGahee was able to put in a full workload for the first time in four weeks, allowing him to get into a groove. He had previously been severely limited by a hamstring injury in back-to-back losses to the Bills and the Patriots.

"We just need to get back to what we were doing: Running the ball," McGahee said before Sunday's game. "That's what we need to get back to. That's the mentality we need to have. We've got three backs -- four backs, when you count the quarterback -- who can run the ball."

Against the Chiefs, he carried 28 times for 145 yards, but his efforts were marginalized by an entirely ineffective passing game. So is this more of a reason for McGahee to get into the coach's ear, to make sure he's using him -- and the ground attack -- more than anything else?

"This football is a team thing," McGahee said. "It's not just me. I can't do it all."

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There's no question that Denver's offense has been turning the ball over far too often during the team's three-game losing streak. Tebow, for instance, has thrown four interceptions and fumbled five times during that span. That might be the biggest difference between the Broncos' 7-1 run and their 0-3 skid, especially because one of Tebow's fumbles came in the red zone during what was ultimately a 7-3 loss to the Chiefs.

First, the Broncos must limit those turnovers. And second, they just might need to ride McGahee as far as he'll take them, or at least as far as they need to get to let Tebow make some fourth-quarter magic.

"Pittsburgh is a team you can run on, but they have a great defense," McGahee said. "It's going to be about whoever gets the best field position. They've got a good defense; we've got a good defense. So it's going to be whoever gets that ball down the field."

McGahee, who has been a critical component of a Broncos team that broke the franchise record for rushing yards in a single season, says he still believes Tebow is capable of getting Denver where it needs to be. But the passing game must be more efficient -- regardless of how many times the team throws it -- for the ground attack to be as effective as possible.

"I think Tim is going to bounce back pretty good," McGahee said.

"This (loss) is behind him. He's starting out fresh coming into this weekend. He's been in these situations before."

So, too, has McGahee. The former Ravens running back has gone up against the Steelers three times in the playoffs, and he knows as much as anyone what's coming from Pittsburgh on Sunday. He knows Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau will have a tough defensive game plan waiting for Denver, and he'll be warning the younger players on his team about the increased speed they should expect from this matchup.

If the Broncos are going to have a chance, the nine-year veteran has to have a big day. McGahee is having his best season as a professional, and, when healthy, has been a major contributor to Denver's success.

He's feeling good. He's experienced. And he knows the Steelers as well as anyone on this roster. So as the Broncos prepare for this tough matchup, they must listen to the cartoon character on McGahee's chest.

It's time for Denver to respect McGahee's authority -- and his ability.

"It's cool that we're in the show," McGahee said. "But it'll feel even better when we win one more game."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington

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