Broncos vs. Chiefs: 8 Takeaways from Denver's 35-28 Victory over Kansas City
With the victory, the Broncos moved to 10-2 on the season. More importantly, the Broncos hold the definitive tiebreaker over the Chiefs and continue to control their own destiny as far as clinching the AFC's top seed for the playoffs.
The Broncos got off to a rocky start in this game, as the Chiefs raced out to a 21-7 lead over Denver after two Peyton Manning turnovers, and a Knile Davis 108-yard kickoff return gave the Chiefs the decided advantage with 10 minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
After entering halftime down 21-14 in favor of the Chiefs, the Broncos outscored their opposition 21-7 in the second half to pull away with a 35-28 victory.
Eric Decker had four touchdown receptions in the game, while Peyton threw five touchdowns to boost his season total to 41.
What are eight takeaways from Sunday's victory?
Eric Decker Stepped Up When Denver Needed Him Most
Decker had just three touchdown receptions entering Week 13—he led the team with 13 last season—and he went the last four games without catching a single touchdown pass. In fact, in last week's stunning loss to the New England Patriots, Decker contributed zilch—he had just one reception for five yards.
In the Broncos' 35-28 victory over the Chiefs, Decker had four touchdown grabs.
With Julius Thomas sidelined for the second straight week and Demaryius struggling with a shoulder injury throughout the evening, Decker stepped up to become Peyton Manning's favorite target again.
The fourth-year pro caught eight passes for 174 yards. Two of his touchdown grabs went for at least 37 yards each.
So how was Decker able to get so open in the Kansas City secondary? Decker gave credit to his fellow receivers, via Joan Niesen of The Denver Post:
"We've got some of the best receivers that you play with, (Wes) Welker and Demaryius," Decker said. "It makes it a little bit easier. I was able to get open on some one-on-one coverage, they threw the ball up, and I was able to get open."
The University of Minnesota product was the Broncos' player of the game.
Peyton Manning Struggles Early—Then Rebounds
Peyton Manning—who entered the game with just seven interceptions on the season—threw interceptions on two of Denver's first three drives, paving the way for Kansas City to race out to a 21-7 lead.
Not the way you want to start the biggest game of the season a week after your team blew a 24-0 lead to the New England Patriots.
To Manning's credit, he bounced back to throw five touchdowns overall—four of them after the two interceptions—to give the Broncos full control of the game in the second half.
For the first quarter-and-a-half, it appeared Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was outplaying the four-time NFL MVP. Smith efficiently moved the Chiefs offense down the field and, at one point, was 11-of-14 for 115 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
Peyton was 11-of-20 with one touchdown and two interceptions.
However, the roles went back to normal, and Denver's offense gained momentum as the game progressed, while Kansas City went five consecutive drives on offense punting the football.
Good job by Peyton in rebounding from a rough start.
Montee Ball Has the Best Game of His NFL Career
It's only 13 weeks into his pro career, but Montee Ball had his most effective game in the Broncos' victory.
Not only did the rookie have his most effective game, but he also played a key role in leading the Broncos to a win.
While starting running back Knowshon Moreno struggled through an ankle injury on his way to 18 yards on 15 carries, Ball ran for 117 yards on 13 carries.
Among Ball's highlights were a 45-yard run that led to the Broncos taking a 35-21 lead early in the fourth quarter and a 28-yard run toward to end of the game to seal the win for the Broncos.
It was the perfect week for the rookie to have his best game.
Von Miller Was a Non-Factor
A week after having a monster game versus the Patriots that saw him force a couple of fumbles while returning one for a touchdown, Von Miller came back down—and he came back down hard.
Outside of one notable quarterback pressure on Chiefs QB Alex Smith, the former Defensive Rookie of the Year had minimal impact on the game—he had two tackles.
Yep, that's it.
Whether it's due to the six-game suspension to start the season, the added muscle or just simple regression in play, the third-year linebacker has made very little impact in the majority of games he has played in since returning in Week 7.
Nobody will notice it due to Denver's victory and 10-2 start, but it's a shocking development, considering the strides he made during his first two seasons in the NFL.
Kansas City Is Improving on Offense—But It Still Can't Match Denver
As shocked as many were to see Alex Smith and the Chiefs march up and down the field on their first three offensive drives—all of which ended in the Broncos' red zone, maybe we shouldn't have been—after all, the Chiefs scored 38 points versus the San Diego Chargers in Week 12.
It's clear that as the season is coming to a close, head coach Andy Reid is developing more trust in quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith had a great game. With the exception of an interception thrown in the end zone to Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard on the game's first possession, there wasn't much to complain about Smith's performance.
He went 26-of-42 for 293 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The problem is, it's still not good enough to beat a team led by Peyton Manning.
Case in point—with the Chiefs trailing 35-21 and in desperate need of a touchdown, Kansas City got the ball back at their own 20-yard line with 14:16 remaining.
The Chiefs responded—they scored a touchdown to help trim Denver's lead to seven points.
The problem? It took seven minutes and 44 seconds for the Chiefs to score the touchdown.
That is the key difference between the offenses of the Broncos and the Chiefs.
With the Broncos, they are a threat to score at any time. Eric Decker had three receptions that went for over 37 yards.
With Kansas City's offense, it takes the Chiefs half of a quarter to score a much-needed touchdown.
The Chiefs are improving on offense—but it still won't win them games versus the Broncos.
Broncos Show Their Mental Fortitude in Comeback
The Broncos blew a 24-0 halftime lead over the New England Patriots before succumbing to a 34-31 loss in overtime.
It wasn't just how the Broncos lost the game; it was the fact that it came against their biggest threat within the conference, and the fact that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has a history of losing big games versus Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
So when the Broncos trailed 21-7 early on in the second quarter versus the Chiefs, it would have been easy for the Broncos to give up.
Not so fast.
The Broncos scored 28 unanswered points to take control of the game before holding on to a 35-28 victory.
It may not have been as impressive as the Patriots' comeback versus the Broncos from a week prior, but to come back down by 14 points while playing in one of the NFL's toughest stadiums for a visiting opponent?
That is the definition of resiliency.
Defense Has Question Marks as Injuries Pile Up
With the Broncos losing defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson for the season, to go along with the absences of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (shoulder injury) and defensive end Derek Wolfe (illness), it put the Broncos in a rough spot for this week's game versus the Chiefs.
And it showed.
Alex Smith had one of the better games of his NFL career, Jamaal Charles ran for an efficient 93 yards on 19 carries—along with one touchdown—and the Chiefs were able to move the football into Denver territory with ease throughout the first half.
Luckily for the Broncos, the defense got its act together, forcing the Chiefs to punt on five consecutive drives during the second and third quarters. Before the Chiefs finally scored a touchdown to cut the score to 35-28 in favor of Denver in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs had gone over two full quarters without scoring any points.
Though Denver's defense was able to play well enough to give the team a victory, the unit's performance—along with its injuries—is a cause for concern as the regular season comes to a close.
The Broncos Should Be AFC's No. 1 Seed
We've got four weeks to go, and the Broncos stand at 10-2, currently holding the AFC's top spot with a one-game lead over the New England Patriots (9-3).
It's real simple—if the Broncos win out, Denver will be the AFC's top seed when the playoffs begin in January.
If the Broncos don't win out, then gaining the AFC's No. 1 seed is no guarantee. In fact, if Denver slips up one week while the Patriots win—New England would then sit in the driver's seat for the top spot in the AFC as a result of its win over the Broncos in Week 12. New England holds the tiebreaker over the Broncos in the event of a head-to-head tie.
With the adversity the Broncos have faced during the Peyton Manning era, there is no excuse for why the Broncos shouldn't win their remaining four games.
In Week 14, the Broncos host the Tennessee Titans (5-7) before hosting the Chargers (5-7) in Mile High in Week 15. In Week 16, Denver will travel to Houston to face the league-worst Texans (2-10), and a week later, the Broncos will visit Oakland to play the Raiders (4-8) in Week 17.
You do the math—four teams all with losing records.
It's not going to be easy, but there is no reason why the Broncos shouldn't finish the season with the AFC's best record.