KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When playing a team like the Denver Broncos and a quarterback with the Hall of Fame credentials of Peyton Manning there is one truism that never changes – don’t help them win a game.
They generally don’t need help; they can do it themselves.
But the Chiefs were giving hosts Thursday night before a raucous crowd at Arrowhead Stadium. They provided Denver with five turnovers and helped the Broncos grab a come-from-behind 31-24 victory to once again take control of the AFC West.
It was the fifth fumble/interception of the night by the Chiefs that provided Denver with the winning outcome. Running back Jamaal Charles fumbled the ball away for a second time, and it was picked up by Denver cornerback Bradley Roby and returned 21 yards for a touchdown that provided the victory margin for the now 2-0 Broncos.
Along with nine penalties for 60 yards, the mistakes killed any chance of a Chiefs victory.
“It’s very tough to win in this league having those kind of stats,” said head coach Andy Reid. “We feel this one.”
No Chiefs player felt it more than Charles.
“I was just trying to make a play and wasn’t careful with the ball and one of the defenders punched it out,” said Charles. “I should have just been smarter and put two hands on the ball. I caused us the loss today. I tried to put the team on my back and I ended up losing the game. It’s all on me tonight.”
Manning had just tied the score with 36 seconds to play with his third touchdown pass of the night, throwing 19 yards to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Chiefs believed they were on the cusp of a rare victory over No. 18 when running back Knile Davis scored on an 8-yard run with 2 minutes, 27 seconds left on the game clock.
But Manning hasn’t built a lifetime record of 14-1 against the Chiefs by making an early walk away from finish. In those remaining 147 seconds, he led Denver to the tying score, completing passes of 15, 17 and 22 yards to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas before finding Sanders for the touchdown.
Overall, Manning completed 26 of his 45 passes (58 percent) for 256 yards, or what for him was a puny 5.7 yards an attempt. But touchdown passes of 16 and 19 yards to Sanders and 1-yard to tight end Virgil Green provided enough evidence that there’s still life left in his 39-year old arm.
“Obviously he’s not done,” Reid said of Manning. “He’s the same old Peyton. He’s what you saw here.”
The victory was the seventh straight for the Broncos over the Chiefs and eighth straight in Arrowhead. Denver has now won 13 consecutive road games in the AFC West, breaking an NFL record for in-division dominance that was previously held by the 1987-90 San Francisco 49ers with 12 straight away from home.
The first half was a mélange of bad football, with turnovers (three by the Chiefs), penalties, multiple replay challenges, poor pass protection for both quarterbacks and some very strange coaching decisions. Quarterback Alex Smith added his second interception of the game in the second half and Charles his game-deciding second fumble in the closing 30 seconds.
The first offensive possession for the Chiefs saw them move to the Broncos 2-yard line, where they had first-and-goal. Reid did not go for running plays, instead calling three consecutive passes. Charles lost three yards on a first-down catch, wide receiver Jerry Maclin dropped a throw from Smith on second down and on the third play Charles caught a pass in the right flat but fumbled with Denver safety Darian Stewart recovering the ball.
Punt returner De’Anthony Thomas owned the second Chiefs turnover, losing control of the ball on a return. Thomas was declared down-by-contact on the field, but a replay challenge by the Broncos gave them possession, as the tape showed Thomas gave up the ball before his knee hit the ground.
Linebacker Todd Davis recovered the fumble for Denver.
The K.C. defense answered the challenge, forcing a fourth-and-one play at the Chiefs 22-yard line. Instead of attempting a high-percentage 40-yard field goal, the Broncos went to the line and called a running play that produced first-down yardage. But before the ball was snapped, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak called for a timeout. When they came back on the field, Denver called an end-around run by Sanders, but he was stopped for no gain by safety Ron Parker.
The Chiefs offense then went 78 yards for the game’s first score, helped by a pair of 15-yard personal foul calls against the Denver defense. The score came on a 34-yard run by Charles, who started right, cut back to his left and reached the end zone.
The Broncos helped produce another Chiefs touchdown on a pick-six interception return from cornerback Marcus Peters. Manning’s pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, was grabbed by Peterson and he had a clean run of 55 yards to the end zone. With just over six minutes to play in the first half, the Chiefs held a 14-0 lead.
That mistake seemed to provide a spark for the Broncos as the offense went 80 yards on 10 plays with Sanders catching a 16-yard touchdown throw from Manning. The Broncos defense quickly provided a big play as cornerback Aqib Talib grabbed a poorly thrown Smith pass intended for Maclin, the third turnover of the half for the Chiefs. Green caught a 1-yard pass from Manning for a touchdown and the teams were tied at 14-14 at the intermission.
The teams traded field goals in the third quarter, with Cairo Santos hitting from 35 yards for the Chiefs and Denver’s Brandon McManus was good from 54 yards.
That set up the fourth quarter drama that again left the Chiefs feeling very sad. Now 1-1 on the season, they will get a few days off to lick their wounds before they face the Packers in Green Bay next Monday night.
“We’ll get over it and get ourselves ready to play Green Bay,” Reid said. “We have a lot of season left.”