Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Wallace Gilberry (92) in the third quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
DENVER -- Even in defeat, Tim Tebow came out a winner.
Tebow fell short in his latest comeback bid, yet his Denver Broncos still made it to the playoffs Sunday.
As the AFC West champions, no less. Meaning more Tebowmania, at least for another week.
Former Denver quarterback Kyle Orton got his revenge in leading the Kansas City Chiefs over the Broncos 7-3. But the Broncos wound up in the postseason anyway when San Diego knocked off the Raiders minutes later.
"It's obviously a little bittersweet right now," Tebow said. "We would have loved to have won that game to have a little momentum going into the playoffs. But I think it's still a special thing what we accomplished, to come back and win the AFC West is very special."
The Broncos (8-8) will host the wild-card Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) in the first round next Sunday.
"Well, we're AFC West champs," Broncos coach John Fox said. "It doesn't matter how you do it. Once you get into the dance, they can't kick you out."
After begrudgingly congratulating Orton, the Broncos celebrated the end to their six-year playoff drought once the Raiders lost.
The Broncos finished 8-8, same as the Raiders and Chargers. They won their first division title since 2005 on a tiebreaker, going 6-6 against common opponents while the others went 5-7.
So, everybody at Mile High got what they wanted even though Tebow couldn't beat the guy he failed to beat out in trainingcamp.
Orton, who also handed Green Bay its only loss, went 2-1 in Kansas City. His steady play likely raised his stock as he prepares to enter free agency. And he might have secured interim coach Romeo Crennel's future with the Chiefs (7-9).
Best of all, he beat the team that benched him after he finally caved under the weight of Tebowmania and the Broncos stumbled to a 1-4 start.
Orton had kept a low profile all week but finally conceded after the win that this game had special meaning to him even though it was for pride and payback and not the playoffs.
"I can't hide that," he said. "But I congratulate those guys. They're in. I congratulate them, and I look forward to next year."
The Broncos revamped their offense to fit Tebow's unconventional skill set and surged to the top of their division. They released Orton in the midst of a 7-1 run that included a series of fourth-quarter comebacks that captivated the football world.
Never before in the four-plus decades since the AFL-NFL merger has a starting quarterback returned to start a game in the same season against his former team.
Neither quarterback had a great day. The game's only touchdown came on Dexter McCluster's 21-yard run in the first quarter, so this game was as much about the Punting Colquitt brothers, Dustin and Britton, as it was about Orton vs. Tebow.
Tebow finished 6 of 22 for 60 yards and added 16 yards on six carries.
The Broncos saved $2.6 million by releasing Orton just before Thanksgiving, but Orton nearly made them pay an even heftier price for that decision, completing 15 of 29 passes for 180 yards.
"Nobody said how you had to get in," Broncos linebacker Mario Haggan said. "It's what you do with the opportunity once you get there."