The Denver Broncos woke up this morning with a one-game lead in the AFC West plus the tiebreaker over the Kansas City Chiefs with four games to play.
That’s a huge lead considering the Broncos have a tissue-soft remaining schedule while Kansas City still has to deal with Andrew Luck and three road games. Denver is now in complete control of the division and is playing for playoff seeding the rest of the way. The Broncos are still one-game clear of New England for the top spot in the AFC and are in position to win out and make the horrible loss to the Pats a meaningless footnote.
There was a time when it was unthinkable a quarterback could go into Arrowhead Stadium and throw for 400 yards and 5 touchdowns, but that’s exactly what Peyton Manning did yesterday in a massive AFC West victory.
The vaunted Chiefs defense from earlier in the season has disappeared after Manning has picked them apart two times in three weeks. In the process he pushed his AFC West record to 10-0 during his time as the Broncos quarterback.
Here are some thoughts on the 35-28 win over the Chiefs:
- The Broncos found themselves down by 14 points in the second quarter and had given up a 108-yard kickoff return earlier. Arrowhead was electrified and everything was going the Chiefs way. Lesser teams would have folded right there, especially after coming off an emotional road loss to the Patriots a week earlier. But the Broncos responded with one of their most impressive offensive showings of the season and fought back for a gritty road win against a divisional opponent. That’s something that championship-caliber teams do.
- Anyone who has doubted Manning’s arm strength needs to go watch the highlights of this game. I was astonished at how perfect his deep throws were and with how much authority he threw them. And he did it over and over again. That was a Manning performance I will never forget.
- The hidden play of the game that you might not remember this morning came early in the third quarter. The Broncos received the second half kickoff and were down by seven points. It was imperative that Denver put some points on the board and set the tone for the rest of the game. Unfortunately they immediately found themselves in a 3rd-and-11 situation and were in danger of giving the ball and the momentum right back to the Chiefs. Manning responded with a beautiful 20-yard strike to Wes Welker who made an equally beautiful diving catch and the Broncos moved the chains. After that conversion they moved the ball down the field with ease and it led to a Decker touchdown that tied things up at 21. Denver never looked back.
- A lot is being made this morning of Knowshon Moreno crying during the national anthem. I loved it. Sometimes you wonder if the players you’re cheering for really do care as much as you do. There is no such doubt with Moreno. He’s a guy you want on your team.
- Eric Decker played the game of his life and has become a Chief-killer over his young career. With Julius Thomas out due to injury the Chiefs defense was intent on locking up Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker while daring Decker to beat them. That’s exactly what he did to the tune of 174 yards and 4 touchdowns.
- With all the offensive fireworks it’s easy to forget about the defensive play of the game that occurred during the very first series. Kansas City came out firing on all cylinders and moved it down to the Denver 2-yard line. On 1st-and-goal Alex Smith tried to hit Anthony Fasano in the back of the end zone but Wesley Woodyard picked it off for the Denver touchback. In a game that was ultimately decided by seven points this wound up being a massive play. I love seeing the defensive captain make the defining defensive play of the game.
- Kansas City started the game full of emotion and gave it everything they had but the Broncos were able to weather the storm. After a shaky start the Denver defense played much better and held KC to a 5 of 13 conversion rate on third downs and five straight punts during the second and third quarters. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out due to injury and Champ Bailey likely being rusty in his first game back I figured the defense would be in for a big challenge, but they responded with a solid effort. Chris Harris in particular played a great game and finished with six tackles and three passes defended. He was the rock the secondary needed with all the injuries they’ve been dealing with.
- The Broncos get to return home next weekend when they host the Tennessee Titans. Win out and they’ll be the one seed for the AFC playoffs, but it all starts against the Titans in what should be a very cold day at Mile High Stadium. Go Broncos!