The first rule of playing football in Denver is that you don’t talk about Tim Tebow. The second rule is that when you do talk about Tim Tebow, Kyle Orton must immediately be referenced, in addition to some talk about learning, maturing, and the always promising future.

This is the code. This is the Bronco way.

It’s not working though. It hasn’t worked since Tebow was drafted, and it’s not about to start now. Tebow has become the proverbial dead horse, only he’s risen from the ashes to be flogged over and over again. Broncos fans are starved for hope, starved for something. Hope is their drug, and a fan base that hasn’t seen a winning season since 2006 needs its fix.

But when they finally come to the realization that the high provided by hope is fleeting, and the reality is bitter, Sundays will be easier. That won’t happen though, and we saw it in Week 1, and again Tuesday afternoon when wide receiver Brandon Lloyd had to go through the weekly Denver ritual of justifying Orton’s continued presence under center.

From ESPN:

“I think it’s all B.S.. I think everybody is just waiting for an opportunity to move (Orton) out and play anybody other than him.”

“That’s the circumstances that we’re in. That’s the climate that we’re in, and we knew we were going to be in — so be it. There’s no being patient with Kyle. Kyle is ready to go. He didn’t perform maybe as well as people expected him to. Whatever. He’s our quarterback, and we’re going to eventually win games.”

As members of the media who infrequently act as actual reporters and journalists, we’re not afraid to in effect blame ourselves for the growth of a story. However, this one isn’t our fault. In fact, here and elsewhere quite the opposite has happened, and Tebow’s talents were insulted, ridiculed and belittled throughout training camp to the point that we genuinely felt sorry for him.

That’s the only misstep by Lloyd in the quote above though. Chanting for Tebow in Denver is as instinctual as bracing yourself while falling to the ground. It’s an instant reaction during times of trouble that’s given little thought, and chants were heard again Sunday.

Let’s be clear in our assessment of Orton, an evaluation that through one week after Denver’s 23-20 loss to Oakland is pretty ugly. Orton completed only 24 of his 46 passes (52.2 percent) with 304 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception, and a sloppy fumble early in the fourth quarter that eventually led to Oakland’s win.

The image of a struggling quarterback provided by those surface numbers is what will be remembered by the orange-wearing faithful chanting Tebow’s name. Orton quickly overcoming his miscues to lead a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive shortly after his fumble to bring the Broncos to within a field goal will be forgotten, along with the fact that with nearly four minutes (3:43) left on the clock and two timeouts in their pocket, the Broncos defense couldn’t stop the Raiders and allowed Michael Bush to run for 26 of his 30 yards.

This is the cycle in Denver. The team fails because of problems completely unrelated to the quarterback, the fans call for Tebow, and the team continues to fall because of problems completely unrelated to the quarterback. Orton’s mistakes are his responsibility, as are the mistakes of any quarterback. But he’s being supported by a rushing offense that’s broken the 60-yard mark only five times in Denver’s last 17 games, three of which weren’t by a running back (hint: the players’ name ended in “bow”).

Defending the run isn’t a popular concept in Denver either, and pass-rushing specialist Von Miller was the only major addition to a unit that surrendered an average of 154.6 yards per game last year, and a league-worst 26 rushing touchdowns. This all leads to a quarterback who’s continually put in vulnerable positions, and asked to carry the more powerful gun in Denver’s weekly shootouts. An environment ripe for quarterback mistakes and magnify those mistakes has been created.

Tebow is the future, or maybe he isn’t. But right now he definitely isn’t the answer. Right now he’s been deemed equal to Brady Quinn on the Broncos’ depth chart, another pivot who’s familiar with a football city being hooked on hope, and failing to feed that addiction.

Orton was booed one game into the 2011 season because he’s not Tim Tebow, he’s not Jesus, and he offers an easily accessible outlet to ignore the team’s other true, glaring problems.