There were clear improvements Sunday from a dismal Week 1 showing.
But the Chiefs are potentially at DEFCON 3 following a 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos that dropped the Chiefs to 0-2 to start the 2014 season.
Sure, the Chiefs gave the Broncos (2-0) all it could handle by outgaining Denver in total net yards 380-325, holding a 28-19 edge in first downs and dominating the time of possession 36:14 to Denver’s 23:46.
While those are solid show-and-tell numbers for bragging rights purposes, all that truly matters is the final score.
“We’re not by any means in the business of moral victories,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters after the game. “We don’t even think that way, but there was great effort there. That can take you a long way.”
Denver struck fast on its first possession after quarterback Peyton Manning went deep on a 48-yard pass to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who beat cornerback Marcus Cooper.
The play led to the Broncos going up 7-0 just seven plays into the game after Manning found tight end Julius Thomas for a 4-yard touchdowns pass.
“We just got to continue to start like that,” Sanders told reporters in the locker room after the game. “It feels good to go down and score on the opening drive.”
The Chiefs weren’t going away and ran off 10 straight points, despite losing running back Jamaal Charles and strong safety Eric Berry in the first half to ankle injuries.
Kicker Cairo Santos got the Chiefs on the board first with a 45-yard field goal, and then running back Knile Davis, subbing for Charles, punched it in from the 2-yard line for a 10-7 edge.
Davis finished the game with 105 total yards (79 rushing) and two touchdowns.
The lead was short lived, however, as Manning engineered two touchdown drives, both capped off with touchdown passes to tight end Jacob Tamme and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, to close the first half.
The Broncos entered halftime with a 21-10 lead behind Manning’s three first-half touchdown passes. Manning finished the contest completing 21-of-26 passes for 242 yards and the three scores.
Meanwhile, Kansas City took the opening kickoff to start the third quarter and kept the ball for 10 minutes, setting up a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line.
The Chiefs, however, ended up going the other direction after rookie right guard Zach Fulton was flagged for holding and quarterback Alex Smith was sacked to set-up a Cairo Santos 37-yard field goal attempt, which Santos missed.
“We’re down at the 4-yard line with a first down and the series of plays that followed weren’t very good plays on my part,” Reid told reporters, “and we weren’t able to punch that thing in. When given an opportunity to make a field goal, you’ve got to make the field goal.”
The Chiefs got a second chance for a time-consuming drive in the fourth quarter, this time capping off a 14-play drive that consumed 7:42 off the clock with a 4-yard touchdown run by Davis to pull within seven points.
Kansas City’s ability to hold the ball led to the Broncos having just two second-half possessions.
“It was a strange second half,” Manning told reporters after the game. “Kansas City made some incredible plays on third down in the second half and stayed on the field for the long time.”
After Broncos kicker Brandon McManus’ 20-yard field goal pushed the lead to 24-17, the Chiefs had a chance to tie the game after taking over with 3:20 remaining in the game.
Smith led the team to a first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, eventually getting to the 2-yard line. But a third-down run by Davis was stuffed and Smith’s fourth-down pass to wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was tipped before falling incomplete.
“It was certainly gloved there pretty good,” Smith told reporters during his postgame media session, “but all the red zone is going to be like that. It’s going to be tight. I was trying to give him a chance. You never really know with the batted ball.”
Smith finished the game completing 26-of-42 passes for 255 yards. He was sacked twice.
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
Rookie kicker Cairo Santos has been shaky through two games and is 2-of-4 on field goal attempts for the season.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters after the game Santos needs to “kick better,” but don’t expect the team to give up on Santos.
“When he settles down he’ll be— he kicks it fine,” Reid said, “he’s just got to do that. We have trust in him.”
Sunday’s loss marks the fourth time Andy Reid has started 0-2 in his 16 years as a head coach.
The previous three times occurred when Reid coached the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
Reid’s 1999 Eagles finished 5-11; the 2003 team finished 12-4, clinched the NFC East and made it to the NFC Conference Championship Game; and the 2007 team finished 8-8.
Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe returned to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse.
“It felt pretty good just to be out there with my teammates,” Bowe told reporters in the locker room after the game, “just letting them feed off my energy and just making plays to help us win. I’m back now, and now it’s going to be about getting into the rhythm and start making some noise.”
Unfortunately, Bowe was targeted just once the entire first half and didn’t record his first catch of the game until the third quarter.
Bowe finished the game with three catches for 40 yards on six targets.
The Chiefs (0-2) travel to Miami to face the Dolphins (1-1) in Week 3.
The game airs at 3:25 p.m. CT on CBS.