Hmm, loading up to stop the run against a Peyton Manning-led team? That’s exactly what the Chiefs opted for on Sunday.
The strategy was anything but predictable, but the result was, as the Broncos (10-2) overcame a 21-7 deficit and hung on for a 35-28 (Gamebook) win over the host Chiefs (9-3), completing a season sweep and giving them a commanding advantage atop the AFCW.
It was a record-setting day for Peyton Manning, whose five touchdown passes gave him a new franchise mark of 41 on the season, and for Eric Decker, whose four scores set a new Broncos single-game record.
Kansas City rolled right down the field on its opening drive, even overcoming a 1st-and-20 situation. But Alex Smith made a terrible throw from the two-yard line, and Wesley Woodyard accepted the gift for a touchback.
After Manning threw for a couple of first downs, he added a poor interception of his own, targeting Demaryius Thomas in double coverage. Quintin Demps made a juggling catch, and the Chiefs took over at their own 17.
Big runs by Jamaal Charles, Smith, and Knile Davis promptly got KC inside Denver’s red zone, and Smith delivered a 17-yard laser to Junior Hemingway to put them up 7-0.
Trindon Holliday suffered a shoulder injury on the subsequent kickoff, never to return.
Like the Chiefs had done earlier, Denver overcame a 1st-and-20 of their own, with Knowshon Moreno gaining 34 yards on a beautifully executed screen pass.
On the first play of the second quarter, Manning hit Eric Decker on a 41-yard bomb up the heart of the KC defense, tying the game at seven.
But a moment later, Davis restored the Chiefs’ lead with a 108-yard kick return.
Three plays afterward, Manning floated an atrocious third-down pass in Decker’s direction, and Marcus Cooper brought the interception back to the Denver 22.
Smith delivered with another fine scoring throw, this time from 12 yards out to Anthony Fasano, giving the Chiefs a stunning 21-7 lead.
Denver’s next drive failed after a third-down drop by Thomas, but Britton Colquitt and Omar Bolden pinned the Chiefs at their own three-yard line.
The defense forced a three-and-out, and a booming kick by Britton’s big brother gave Denver the ball at their 30.
From there, Manning & Co. drove 70 yards, including another big throw to Decker, this one a 42-yarder that brought them to the Chiefs three-yard line.
It took until third down, but Peyton hit Knowshon out in the flat, and the back beat Sean Smith to the pylon for his 11th touchdown of the season. For Manning, it was his 38th touchdown pass, breaking the single-season franchise record he’d set in 2012.
The last four minutes of the half were a punt fest, and KC went in with a 21-14 advantage.
In typical fashion, Denver quickly evened things up after halftime, driving 80 yards in seven plays, including another long throw from Manning to Decker - this one a 37-yard score.
After a failed drive, the Chiefs were able to pin the Broncos at their own 10-yard line, but another big throw from Manning brought them into scoring range. The 77-yard catch-and-run by Demaryius Thomas set up a 15-yard throw to Decker, whose third touchdown of the day doubled his prior production for the season and put Denver ahead 28-21.
Another fine punt by the elder Colquitt set the Broncos back a their own five, but a tackle-busting 45-yard run by Montee Ball undid that.
Nine plays later, Manning hit Decker on a one-yard throw to stretch the lead to 35-21.
Decker’s fourth receiving touchdown of the day broke the franchise record previously held by nine other Broncos, including Demaryius, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, Lionel Taylor, and Steve Watson.
From scrimmage, only Clinton Ports (five against KC in 2003) had more touchdowns, while Mike Anderson (2000 at New Orleans) and Portis again (also versus KC, in 2002) are the only other Broncos with four scores in a game.
Smith and the Chiefs responded with a monstrous 80-yard drive, one that consumed 17 plays and 7:44 of game time, capped by a one-yard plunge by Charles.
Their lead down to 35-28, Denver’s next drive got as far as the KC 31, but only momentarily, as a mindless roughness infraction by Manny Ramirez kicked them back out of field goal range.
From there, another gem from Britton Colquitt pinned the Chiefs at their eight.
It was just enough, as Smith moved KC as far as the Denver 13, before his last throw of the day fell incomplete in the end zone.
Denver now has a one-game lead and head-to-head tiebreaker over Kansas City, and will host Tennessee next Sunday. The Chiefs head to the road for three of their final four regular-season games, starting next week at Washington.
Following the Titans game, the Broncos have a quick turnaround for Week 15, when they'll host the Chargers on Thursday night, before closing out the regular-season slate with road games at Houston and Oakland.
They'll likely need to win out to gain home-field advantage, as New England's remaining games are versus Cleveland, at Miami and Baltimore, and against Buffalo.
Denver holds a one-game edge on New England, but last week's overtime nightmare gives the Pats the head-to-head tiebreaker.
- Peyton Manning has 41 touchdown passes on the season, and is on pace for 55, which would shatter Tom Brady’s single-season mark of 50 (2007)
- At 41, Manning is tied with Kurt Warner (1999) and Matthew Stafford (2011) for the eighth most in NFL history
- His own career high is 49, which set the NFL record in 2004 until Brady broke it three years later
- It’s Peyton’s sixth game with at least four TD passes this year
- During his career, he's thrown for at least five touchdowns eight times in a regular-season game, and of course, once in the playoffs (against Denver in the 2003 playoffs)
- With 403 passing yards, Manning now has 4,125 for the season; he's on pace for an even 5,500, which would edge Drew Brees's NFL record of 5,476 (2011)
- It's Peyton's 13th time surpassing the 4,000-yard mark
- Manning needs 535 yards to break his own single-season franchise record
- Eric Decker's big day (eight catches, 174 yards, four TDs) gives him 971 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on the season
- Demaryius Thomas gained 106 yards on three receptions, puts him at 1,061 on the season; that's his second straight year over the 1,000-yard mark
- Montee Ball carried 13 times for 117 yards and added a big four-yard drive-extending reception; his 61 rushing yards against Oakland had been his prior high for both rushing yards and yards from scrimmage
- While Knowshon Moreno's 12 carries netted just 18 yards, he added 72 yards on four receptions; he's now totaled at least 90 yards from scrimmage in eight of Denver's 12 games this season
- Chris Harris defensed three passes; he now has 10 on the season, second on the team only to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who has 14
- Neither team managed a sack, and the Broncos failed to get a hit on Alex Smith
- Denver is now 10-0 against AFCW rivals over the past two seasons; in NFL history among quarterbacks, only Kurt Warner (11-0 with the Rams) has had a better start against division opponents than Peyton Manning
- Along with the Week 4 win over the Eagles, this was only the second game during which the Broncos did not fumble
- Denver gained 535 yards on offense, one fewer than they did against Oakland in Week 3
- The Chiefs have allowed an average of 480.8 yards over their past four games
- Videos: Highlights from BTV and NFLN; the postgame celebration; Jack Del Rio, Peyton Manning, and several others speaks afterward
- Lindsay Jones, Mike Klis, Jeff Legwold, Mark Kiszla, Randy Covitz, and Sam Mellinger recap the game
- It appears Knowshon Moreno hydrates his eyes using the Xanders Method
- Chiefs LT Branden Albert will undergo an MRI tomorrow on his injured left knee