For years what had been an impossible task for the Kansas City Chiefs was suddenly doable.
On Sunday afternoon they went to Sports Authority Field in Denver and not only beat the division leading Broncos 29-13, but in doing so dominated quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw four interceptions and was eventually benched.
It was a single victory on one day in the 2015 NFL season. No trophy was awarded and there was not a ticket punched for the AFC playoffs.
But the outcome was momentous for a Chiefs team that has been dwarfed for decades in the AFC West by the Broncos.
“Any time you can come up here and get a win against a good team like they have, you are going to enjoy it,” coach Andy Reid said. “Defense, defense, defense. They did a tremendous job.”
Reid’s team is now 4-5 on the season and sporting a three-game winning streak after suffering through a miserable five-game losing skid that began with a last-minute 31-24 defeat at Arrowhead Stadium by Denver, now 7-2 and losers of two straight.
“This isn’t the end of the season; this is a nice win against a good football team,” Reid said. “We have to keep building. We are not near what we can be. We can be better than we are now. We have to keep the right frame of mind. “
The victory ended a seven-game losing streak to the Broncos that went back to a 7-3 Chiefs’ win in Denver at the close of the 2011 season. It was only the second time in 16 games that the Chiefs were able to beat a team quarterbacked by Manning, and the first time since 2004.
The loss ended the Broncos 11-game winning streak at Sports Authority Field; that was the longest active streak in the AFC. It was only the fifth loss Denver has suffered in the AFC West over the last five seasons.
“We knew this was going to be a playoff-like atmosphere; it was a must win,” inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “The pressure was on. It’s a hard way to do it, but you’ve got to beat Denver up here. We came out with a lot of energy at the start of the game.”
The Chiefs offense did not have a memorable performance, squandering outstanding field position throughout the game that came courtesy of the defense and special teams. In 14 possessions, they started in Denver territory six times and only once began a drive inside their 27-yard line.
This was a victory built by the defense that sent Manning to the bench early in the second half, and allowed just 221 offensive yards with five interceptions and five sacks. Denver did not score until the outcome of the game was obvious.
“It was a real tribute to our defense,” Reid said. “They were able to keep the pressure on. There were plays down the field that could have gone either way, but our guys went up and got them … we made plays.”
It was such a good performance, the Chiefs offense enjoyed sitting on the sideline watching them stifle Manning and the Broncos.
“Watching on the sidelines was really, really impressive,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “It may be one of the best defensive performances in a long time. I think they got some touchdowns there in the fourth (quarter) with just kind of clean up time. To get the turnovers, just to be that dominant, to get pressure, giving us great field position the entire game was just really, really impressive.”
The Chiefs defense had a tour de force performance in the first half, one of the best 30-minute efforts in franchise history:
–Denver had just 40 offensive yards on 24 snaps, an average of 1.7 yards per play.
–The Broncos running game managed just 19 yards on seven carries, a 2.7-yard average.
–Manning connected on just four of 15 throws (completion rate of 26.7 percent) for 30 yards, an average of 2 yards per attempt.
–He threw three interceptions, picked off by cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Sean Smith, and linebacker Josh Mauga. The Chiefs put 13 points on the scoreboard after those turnovers.
–Although the Chiefs posted just two sacks in the first half, Manning was under pressure every time he set up to throw the ball. Defensive tackle Jaye Howard and inside linebacker Derrick Johnson had the sacks.
–In seven first half possessions Denver did not cross the 50-yard line into Chiefs territory. They had two snaps at midfield, with Manning throwing incomplete and then Smith grabbed his interception on the second play.
The only thing Manning accomplished in the first half was capturing the NFL record for career passing yards with a 4-yard completion to running back Ronnie Hillman. That moved the Broncos quarterback to 71,840 yards, topping previous record holder Brett Favre (71,838). He was also attempting to grab another NFL career mark, this one for most victories by a starting quarterback. But he’ll continue to share that mark of 186 with Favre.
The Chiefs used the short field that came courtesy of the interception by Peters to reach the end zone, with West scoring on a 4-yard run. The second-year back had 25 of the 31 yards in the possession and after the PAT kick from Santos, the Chiefs were up 7-0 and were never tied or trailed going forward.
Smith and the offense kept getting great field position, but they were unable to find the end zone until the fourth quarter. They relied on kicker Cairo Santos, who hit field goals of 33, 34, 48, 49 and 50 yards, before missing a late 48-yard attempt due to a high snap.
Denver head coach Gary Kubiak pulled the cord on Manning after he threw his fourth interception when safety Ron Parker picked off the throw with about six minutes into the third quarter. The next time the Broncos had the ball, Osweiler entered the game.
“I didn’t play well, I had a bad game and I’m not sure what else you can say about that,” said Manning. “Whether it was because of my injuries or my poor decision making, I tend to lean on the poor decision making and some bad throws. I had some under throws to some guys, so I wish I would have played better.”
Afterwards, Kubiak questioned his decision to play Manning, who was dealing with foot and rib injuries, and missed practice time last week.
“I am disappointed in myself,” Kubiak said. “I probably should have made the decision to not play him in the game. When Saturday there were more (problems with his ribs) I should have said right there ‘No, he’s not going to go this week.’ He’s a competitor; he wanted to play. I should have made the decision yesterday to not play him.”
Osweiler threw the Broncos fifth interception, as safety Eric Berry grabbed a ball that was tipped by Sean Smith in the end zone. But the fourth-year quarterback did lead Denver to its first score of the game, ending a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard run for a touchdown by Hillman.
The Chiefs stopped Osweiler on a running play as the Broncos went for the two-point conversion. Denver then connected with wide receiver Andre Caldwell for a 7-yard touchdown pass.
The Chiefs offensive struggles against the Denver defense continued until early in the fourth quarter. That’s when Smith connected with West on what became an 80-yard pass and run to the end zone. Smith’s throw found a streaking West all alone at the K.C. 35-yard line and he ran the next 65 yards untouched for his second touchdown of the day.
A schedule that has been no friend to the Chiefs in 2015 continues to make life difficult, as they must turn around and head to San Diego to play the 2-7 Chargers next Sunday.
But right now, the Chiefs aren’t talking about the schedule. They are talking about winning.
“It gets even bigger from here,” Johnson said. “We have to keep digging out of this hole, but things are looking up right now.”