The end to the Broncos' and Tim Tebow's season was only nominally surprising.
On the one hand, no one expected the Patriots' leaky D to bring it like they did; on the other hand, it's not like Fox and McCoy proved particularly adept at modifying their offensive schemes when defenses figured them out.
At the same time, for all the breathless "Tim Tebow vs. Tom Brady!" pregame hype, it's not like Tebow was responsible for Brady and the Pats offense putting up a bazillion points.
I'll stick with the bigger picture: Tebow led a team that was projected in August to win less than a half-dozen games (and predicted in early October to win half of THAT) to the playoffs and a thrilling first-round win over the defending conference champs. It was a smashing success of a season.
And that's why it's so frustrating to get the return of John Elway's underminey schtick yesterday, when he said that Tebow was the team's starting QB... heading into training camp.
For the record, of the 11 other 2011 NFL playoff teams, not a single one would say that their starting QB only has the job heading into training camp. For that matter, of the 20 other teams in the NFL, maybe a half-dozen (bottom-feeders) aren't already committed to a Week 1 starter for 2012.
Would it have been so hard for Elway to have said "Tim Tebow is our starting QB next season." (1) It should be true; he's earned it. (2) It's not like anyone will hold Elway to that in the event something goes horribly awry in training camp.
What you're left with is the feeling we all had after Week 7 or Week 8 or Week 9 or Week 10 or Week 11 (and on and on) -- that Elway isn't committed to Tebow. Not really, in any case. (We already knew Fox wasn't.)
I'll stand by my analysis from October: Staring at a lost season after that 1-4 start, Elway and Fox figured they would start Tebow, he would flail his way to one or two wins over the next 11 games and the team execs would have the air cover to cut Tebow loose. When Tebow won, the execs' plan was spoiled -- even as they tried to enjoy the ride through the playoffs (knowing full well it was creating a problem for them in the longer-term, if they didn't want Tebow).
If Elway and Fox don't see Tebow as the long-term starter, it is the height of disingenuousness for them to string everyone along. It is laughable that they would be so afraid of public reaction and/or media reaction -- let alone that Tebow would sign on elsewhere and have a good NFL career -- that they would leave their principles at the door and continue to claim to work with him if they really don't want to.
I suspect that they will simply collect the house money they won in 2011 and shift their original 2011 strategy to 2012 -- let Tebow start and hope he loses enough that they can justify benching him and, ultimately, letting him go.
The proof will be whether they refine the Tebow offense -- more sophistication, more counters to what defenses do to adapt, more variety of plays as Tebow improves in other areas. Let's remember that they got to the playoffs with an offense that barely scratched the surface of innovation. (Of course, Fox's own myth-making to the contrary, he's not an innovator.)
I don't believe Elway and Fox want to create something long-term and successful with Tebow, both because they don't believe he can pull it off and, without question, because they lack the gumption to try. I do believe that we're in for many many more months of conversations like this. And I do believe that with a commitment to innovation and to Tebow, the Broncos could be even more successful than this season's run into the NFL's Divisional Round.