With the exception of the small skirmish that broke out in the waning minutes of Saturday night's loss to the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos ended the 2012 NFL season with a whimper. The Broncos put up a dud in the 45-10 loss.
It wasn't pretty. Tom Brady passed for touchdowns nearly at will, putting a single-half playoff record of five touchdowns on the board and six touchdowns for the entire game (tying the record). With Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who doubled as a running back for this game, Brady had the weapons to carve up the Broncos defense, just as he did during the team's regular season schedule.
With the exception of two of the team's 13 victories, the Patriots scored at least 30 points in all of them. Brady was one of several quarterbacks to throw for over 5,000 passing yards, and he had 39 touchdowns in the regular season. The Broncos faced an offense that few teams were able to stop this season. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen just joined the line of coaches who couldn't effectively staunch the Patriots offense.
But the Broncos defense was leaps and bounds better than it had been in the past. Elvis Dumervil returned from missing the entire 2010 season to finish with 9.5 sacks in 2011. Robert Ayers has shown progress after moving back to the defensive line. The addition of Von Miller as not only a pass-rushing linebacker (11.5 sacks) but also as a leader on the defense has fueled the turnaround of the defense. And once Miller starts working on his skill moves, he'll be an even greater force.
Defensive tackle is still a concern. Marcus Thomas and Brodrick Bunkley are both free agents, but Ty Warren and Kevin Vickerson will both return from injury. Yet, Warren is the definition of injury-prone. The Broncos will certainly need to think about drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Questions abound in the secondary. After future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, the team was dangerously thin at there for most of the season. Andre Goodman, beaten badly by Deion Branch for a touchdown on Saturday, has failed more than he has succeeded this season. Rookie Chris Harris showed his skill while playing as the nickel back, but will he ever be more than that? Jonathan Wilhite, as well, in non-base formations.
Brian Dawkins will turn 39 in October and is dealing with a serious neck injury. His days in the NFL are numbered, either way. David Bruton has shown that he is better as a special teams player than as a starter (though that was due to Dawkins' injury). Quinton Carter emerged as the rookie starter to garner a starting job, but Rahim Moore needs plenty of improvement to work his way out of the doghouse.
Outside of the Oakland Raiders' kicker and punter duo of Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler, is there another one better than Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt?
Tim Tebow, of course, will be the big storyline for much of the media this offseason. Will the Broncos commit to him? Have John Elway and John Fox decided that he will be the 2012 starting quarterback? And, yes, the final numbers weren't pretty for Tebow. He completed 46.5 percent of his passes during the regular season and averaged 107.4 yards through the air.
Yet, all of this talk about Tim Tebow is misplaced. Yes, he's been in the league for two years, but he's only had one real year of playing (adding up all of the games he has started). He missed an offseason of development with his coaches due to the lockout in 2011, but he'll be working closely with John Elway this offseason (via ESPN's Bill Williamson):
Tebow said Saturday night that he must become more accurate and consistent, and he plans to soon start working on what will be his first full offseason as an NFL player. Legendary Denver quarterback John Elway, who is now the Broncos’ football leader, has said he plans to personally work with Tebow in the offseason, focusing on improving the youngster’s footwork.
Let's put this proposition out there: If John Elway is unable to help Tim Tebow as a passer then no one can. However, the team also needs to give him some weapons on offense. Just like Brady has Gronkowski and Hernandez, Tebow needs some help. He has Demaryius Thomas, but he could use a safety valve at tight end.
Might the Broncos look to drafting someone like Clemson's Dwayne Allen or Stanford's Coby Fleener? Tebow would certainly have better help there if the team brought in a talented, young tight end. Daniel Fells, Dante Rosario and rookie Julius Thomas (who wound up being deactivated on game day for most of the season) didn't cut it this season.
Throw in that the team switched offensive schemes midway through the season and there was a lot of gelling together during the season. Working those things out during offseason workouts will hopefully go a long way in 2012. If Tebow still can't make things work, well, then there should be some real hard decisions for the 2013 season. But for now, Tim Tebow should be the clear choice at quarterback for the Broncos heading into 2012.
Twenty eleven was a year for building foundations. This coming season will be about adding the framework and hopefully much, much more.