KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It was almost as if the Denver Broncos spotted the Chiefs an early 21-7 lead before they went to work.
And 28 unanswered points later, the Broncos emerged victorious 35-28 and handed the Chiefs a third straight loss.
“We figured they would have a surge early with emotion playing a factor,” Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio said during his postgame media session. “And I love the way our guys responded, the second half, particularly the third quarter, the offense got going, the defense got them off the field. It was a collective team win.”
With Sunday’s victory, the Broncos (10-2) once again have control in the AFC West and hold a one-game lead over the Chiefs (9-3) with four games remaining in the regular season. More importantly, the Broncos hold the tie breaker based on two head-to-head wins.
Meanwhile, how the Chiefs lost Sunday could be dissected in numerous ways.
But the one area that sticks out is a reeling secondary that has now surrendered 1,118 yards passing combined the past three games.
Quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw for 323 yards in the Week 11 meeeting, completed 22-of-35 passes for 403 yards and five touchdowns in Sunday’s encore performance.
Manning’s favorite target proved to be wide receiver Eric Decker, who tormented the Chiefs secondary with eight catches for 174 yards and four touchdowns, the latter a team record.
“In this offense, you get to the spot and if you’re open, he’ll (Manning) throw it,” Decker said. “We try to be complimentary with the run and pass. I thought today was just a good day grinding and pulling out a victory in that fashion.”
The Broncos apparently were more than willing to grind after falling behind by 14 points in the second quarter.
The Chiefs scored first quarterback Alex Smith found wide receiver Junior Hemingway on a 17-yard pass.
Denver quickly tied the score on Decker’s first score, a 41-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, before the Chiefs struck back twice within a span of less than five minutes.
Kansas City moved ahead 14-7 on Knile Davis’ 108-yard return for a touchdown, and then 21-7 when Smith found tight end Anthony Fasano for a 12-yard scoring pass.
“We came out with a mindset that we wanted to attack, attack, attack and we did that,” Hemingway said. “That was our mindset; if we had a chance to play downhill, play downhill.”
The strategy worked before the Broncos offense came alive midway through the second quarter.
Manning shook off two early interceptions and marched the team downfield. The big play of the drive came on a 42-yard strike to Decker before Manning capped off a nine-play, 70-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to running back Knowshon Moreno.
With Manning firmly in control and picking apart the Chiefs secondary, the Broncos turned it on the third quarter with two Decker touchdowns while the Chiefs couldn’t muster the offense.”
“They came out hot and made some plays early, had the kickoff return, and we did a good job of just persevering, handling that and making some adjustments,” Manning said. “We were able to take the lead there in the third quarter, and we were able to keep the lead.”
The third quarter proved the turning point of the game.
“Those guys just executed better on the offensive side of the ball,” Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis said about Denver’s third quarter. “They came out, we gave them our best shot and they just executed their game plan in the second half.”
Denver went up by a score of 35-21 to start the fourth quarter when Manning found Decker for the receiver’s fourth touchdown of the game.
The Chiefs rallied late to pull within seven points when running back Jamaal Charles scored on a 1-yard run to punctuate a 17-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 7:44 off the clock.
Charles finished the game with 93 yards rushing on 19 carries, adding 27 yards receiving on two catches.
Kansas City forced a Denver punt and had an opportunity to potentially tie the game. But a fourth-and-4 play at the Denver 13-yard line failed when Smith’s pass to wide receiver Dwayne Bowe fell incomplete.
Smith finished the game completing 26-of-42 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns against an interception.
“Hard fought game,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Two good football teams playing each other and it came right down to the end there, that last drive, and we were unable to punch it in there.”
Notes: Chiefs tight end Anthony Fasano suffered a concussion and did not finish the game … Chiefs coach Andy Reid said left tackle Branden Albert suffered a knee sprain and X-rays were negative … Albert is scheduled for MRI Monday … Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles eclipsed the 1,000 yards rushing mark and becomes the running back in team to do it four times … Chiefs running back Knile Davis’ 108-yard return for a touchdown is the longest in team history.