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Merilatt: Reason for concern for Broncos fans

Yesterday afternoon, the Broncos beat the Buccaneers. And all of Denver collectively yawned.

On a day when the orange and blue captured the AFC West title, claiming the division in back-to-back years for the first time in a quarter century, the Mile High City seemed genuinely unimpressed by their team’s performance.

The nearly 75,000 fans who witnessed most of the 31-23 victory at Sports Authority Field didn’t revel in Denver’s ninth win, which gave the team its first winning season since 2006. Instead, they were nonchalantly streaming for the exits midway through the fourth quarter.

Callers to post-game talk shows weren’t celebrating the Broncos’ seventh-straight victory, the first such streak for the franchise since their second-consecutive Super Bowl season in 1998. Rather, they were complaining about the manner in which Tampa Bay was dispatched by the home team.

Apparently, winning alone isn’t enough. In 2012, Broncos fans want style points.

Sure, putting 31 points on the scoreboard is a nice day at the office. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Denver could only muster a measly seven points in the first half.

Yes, the Broncos defense dominated the Bucs for most of the game and even scored a touchdown of their own on Von Miller’s pick six in the third quarter. But letting Tampa Bay back into the game in the fourth quarter was troublesome.

And granted, Trindon Holliday is a highlight reel waiting to happen, providing Denver with an explosive dimension on special teams. But Matt Prater, who had garnered a reputation as one of the most clutch kickers in the game, is suddenly about as reliable as a flip of a coin every time he attempts a field goal.

Some would look at these criticisms as fans being spoiled, unable to get excited by a team that many NFL cities would be thrilled to watch week after week. Others would call Denver a little greedy, looking for more than what they’re currently getting. And it can be argued that the orange-and-blue faithful have expectations that are out of whack, looking for perfection in the first year after completely revamping the team with the signing of Peyton Manning.

Phooey. Broncos fans are simply in tune with reality.

It’s not about winning regular season games. It’s not about clinching division titles. It’s not about 10-win seasons. It’s about winning in January. And if all goes well, it’s about winning on the first Sunday in February.

As fun as the recent winning streak has been, as cool as it is to clinch the division title the weekend after Thanksgiving, as nice as it will be to hit a double-digit win total, those watching the games objectively know that Denver isn’t playing well enough right now to win in the postseason.

Dropped passes, turnovers and an inability to convert in short-yardage situations aren’t the recipe for success against the Texans.

It’s impossible to overcome missed tackles, blown assignments and ill-timed penalties when the Patriots are the opponent.

And field goals clanking off the uprights, shanked punts and kick returns to the 18-yard line aren’t going to cut it when the Ravens are on the other sideline.

The fact of the matter is that the Broncos are winning right now in spite of themselves. They repeatedly do things that should get them beat, flirting with disaster on a weekly basis, but manage to overcome the miscues and pull out victory after victory.

That’s certainly worthy of praise; after all, a win is a win. But it’s also cause for concern because at some point, no matter who is under center, unforced errors, mental mistakes and sloppy play will catch up to Denver.

Broncos fans aren’t spoiled, greedy or unrealistic. They just know championship football when they see it.

This year’s team has the potential to reach that level, but they aren’t there yet. And a seven-game winning streak, division title or eventual double-digit victory total don’t hide that fact.

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