DENVER — At one point it seemed the Kansas City Chiefs might beat the Denver Broncos 2-0 by virtue of a safety, with neither offense capable of mounting a serious challenge – but eventually chaos reigned, with the Chiefs pulling out a thrilling 30-27 win as time expired in overtime.
“You can’t really do anything except be happy for yourself and your team,” kicker Cairo Santos said after his game-winning field goal. “It feels like a happy ending in a movie.”
The battle between AFC West rivals unfolded just like a feature film, slowly building to a stunning climax featuring surprise twists, a quarterback hero redeemed and exciting chase scenes, with the Chiefs walking off victorious in the end.
It seems hard to believe this game began as a fierce battle for field position. The two teams exchanged eight punts to start the game before the action began to build.
Midway through the second quarter, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt sent a 53-yard boot angled away from returner Jordan Norwood, who attempted a difficult catch on the run near his own 10-yard line. He juggled the ball, eventually recovering the loose ball and pinning his team at its own 3-yard line.
Three plays later linebacker Justin Houston drilled Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian for a sack in the end zone, jarring the ball loose. Denver tackle Russell Okung recovered the ball in the end zone for a safety, giving the Chiefs a 2-0 lead.
Houston said a coaching adjustment on defense led to the sack and safety.
“I think they did a good job of scheming that up,” Houston said. “They watched film, studied film and helped us on that play.”
Rookie Tyreek Hill then took the ensuing free kick from Broncos punter Riley Dixon 86 yards for a touchdown, boosting the lead to 9-0.
Hill very nearly broke two earlier punt returns, and said he knew a touchdown was within his grasp.
“No doubt,” Hill said. “We’ve been watching film on them. Those guys do a really good job at staying in their lanes. You just have to find a crease, so I did it.”
Following a Denver rally that gave them a 10-9 lead, a huge Broncos miscue provided another scoring opportunity for Hill.
The Chiefs appeared to finish their second drive of the third quarter with a 35-yard Santos field goal. But an illegal formation penalty on the Broncos for having too many players lined up on one of the snapper gifted the Chiefs a first down.
Chiefs coach Reid chose to take the points off the board, and three plays later Hill took a jet sweep handoff from running back Spencer Ware in a Wildcat formation for a 3-yard touchdown run. The Chiefs led 16-10.
Just when victory appeared within the Chiefs’ grasp, Siemian provided the Broncos new life. The Denver quarterback led back-to-back fourth-quarter scoring drives, capped off by a 35-yard touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders and a 76-yard strike to Bennie Fowler, putting the Broncos on top 24-16 with three minutes to play.
Siemian finished the game 20-of-34 passing for 368 yards and three touchdowns.
Now it was time for quarterback Alex Smith to redeem the Kansas City offense.
Smith stood at 14-of-24 passing for 100 yards in leading the Chiefs to 147 yards of total offense heading to the final drive of regulation. But Smith marched the Chiefs on a 75-yard drive, completing 8 of 12 passes for 59 yards. He finished with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Hill.
Officials on the field initially ruled Hill short of the end zone by inches. The clocked stopped with 1 second remaining for an official replay review. After reviewing the play, officials determined Hill indeed broke the plane of the end zone before down by contact. A two-point conversion pass from Smith to tight end Demetrius Harris tied the game at 24.
Smith said the two-point play was specifically designed for just such a situation.
“We were prepared for the two-point play there,” Smith said. “The matchup we wanted was to isolate and we felt good about that.”
Reid said he believes Smith is very under appreciated outside the team, and feels lucky to have him as his quarterback.
“He just kept battling, which he does,” Reid said. “Everybody is down on him but he comes through and he shows his mental toughness and pushes through.”
The touchdown reception along with the kick return score and 3-yard touchdown rush made Hill the first player since Kansas Jayhawk great Gale Sayers in 1965 to score on a pass, rush and kick return in a single NFL game.
“They told me after the game and I was like, ‘Man, that’s great,’” Hill said. “Everybody is going to congratulate me, but it’s more than me out there on that field.”
The two teams exchanged field goals to start overtime, making it a 27-27 game. The Broncos attempted to win the game on a 62-yard field goal try by Brandon McManus. The kicker hit the ground before contacting the ball, sending a low line drive short of its target.
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said he chose the field goal over punting because he did not believe his could get the ball back again with 68 seconds on the clock and no timeouts remaining.
“My thing is that we’re going to try to win around here,” Kubiak said. “I made that decision and it just didn’t work out.”
The missed kick turned the ball over to the Chiefs at the Denver 48-yard line. Two Smith passes to Travis Kelce and Hill picked up 27 yards along with a 5-yard Broncos penalty setup Santos for a 34-yard field goal try.
Santos sent the ball directly at the left upright. The ball kissed off the upright and darted between the two posts for the game-winning score.
“I couldn’t see the referee because I’m kind of short and the line was covering it,” Santos said. “But people started grabbing me and they said, ‘You made it, you made it.’”