Two rushing touchdowns by Drew Lock help offsett sluggish first-half passing. Chiefs’ sensational QB Mahomes made the plays when needed.
DENVER — There was no evidence suggesting the Broncos would give the Chiefs a game.
The Chiefs carried in a 12-game, six-year winning streak against the Broncos. The Chiefs were playing for a No. 1 AFC playoff seed and first-week postseason bye while the Broncos had good reason to keep their cars running in the parking lot.
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was in jeopardy of losing his job while Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was going for his 250th career win, No. 5 on the all-time coaching list.
The Chiefs had sensational quarterback Patrick Mahomes II while the Broncos’ secondary was missing three of their top five cornerbacks in Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby and Nate Hairston, and starting safety Kareem Jackson was aslo out. And for good measure, starting right tackle Bobby Massie slipped on a patch of ice as he getting ready to head to the stadium, a fall that led to a concussion.
All this added up to the oddsmakers listing the Broncos as 10-point home underdogs.
But of course sports being the most unpredictable 3 1/2-hour movie in human history, the Broncos were leading the Chiefs midway through the fourth quarter and were driving for more when a Melvin Gordon III fumble was returned 86 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Nick Bolton.
The gift gave the Chiefs a 28-24 win, their 13th in a row against the fighting Broncos.
“My hat goes off to Vic and the Broncos for the game they played,” Reid said after he had to sweat out his milestone win. “I thought they played with great emotion and effort. I was glad we came out on the right end but Vic does a heckuva job and I respect the heck out of him and his football team. They’re tough.”
The Chiefs finished the regular season with a 12-5 record and currently have the No. 1 AFC playoff seed, although they will fall to No. 2 if Tennessee beats Houston on Sunday.
The Broncos lost their last four games to finish 7-10, their fifth consecutive losing season.
Broncos Country now awaits the decision general manager George Paton will make on Fangio’s job status. Paton is expected to decide whether to keep, or fire Fangio perhaps as soon as Sunday morning but no later than Monday.
Fangio almost seemed resigned to his fate afterwards, skirting a question about his job status and stating “the whole focus is on our players and on this team.”
“I wasn’t surprised at all (the Broncos played hard),” Mahomes said. “I could have told you at the beginning of the week this team that cultural that they have of playing football, they play hard every single snap no matter what the situation is. Coach Fangio does a great job of getting those guys ready to go.”
On an overcast, 44-degree, rare Saturday afternoon game at Empower Field at Mile High, a modest crowd of 61,441 — a season-most 14,571 paid but didn’t show — that was otherwise laced with plenty of Chiefs’ red jerseys watched the all-blue uniformed Broncos flash an upset alert.
The Bronco fans who did show up did their best.
“There’s a lot of hostile environments (in the AFC West) especially Mile High,” Mahomes said. “It’s a great environment for football and they’re loud. They were loud today.”
Almost all games have momentum swings and the Chiefs were in dominant control early until their special teamer Zayne Anderson was flagged for roughing Broncos punter Sam Martin. Which changed momentum.
Until then the Broncos offense had two, three-and-outs as quarterback Drew Lock misfired on some deep throws to Jerry Jeudy.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, methodically went 91 yards over 17 players on their first drive before Mahomes flipped a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Travis Kelce. It was 7-0 Chiefs as Mahomes scrambled for two first downs on the drive and had a 21-yard completion to Mecole Hardman.
“The first drive was disappointing, they kind of nibbled on us the whole way down,” Fangio said. “We had our chances to make some plays, Mahomes made his plays. We had a hard time obviously all night getting the rush going. And he scrambled for several yards all night long in key plays. The plan was it was and it wasn’t good enough in the end but it gave us a chance.”
But after the Kansas City defense stopped Lock and company on the next series, the roughing the punter penalty gave the Broncos a fresh set of downs at midfield. After three Javonte Williams runs picked up a first down, Broncos’ beleaguered offensive play caller Pat Shurmur came up with a ingenius beauty. First he called the Wildcat formation with the direct snap going to Williams. The rookie back then flipped to receiver Courtland Sutton on an end around. Sutton stopped and fired a 16-yard strike to tight end Noah Fant down the middle.
The Broncos had first and goal at the 6. One play later, Lock set up to pass from the pocket only to see the Chiefs’ defense part as if he was striking down Moses staff. Lock ran it up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown.
It was 7-7 with seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The game continued to go the Broncos way. The Chiefs’ offense was playing star receiver Tyreek Hill on a limited basis after he appeared to hurt himself in pregame warmups. TV cameras caught him goofing around with a fellow receiver, leaping up to make a great catch in the end zone but he came to earth and may have jammed his heel. Hill played some but was limping noticeably in the second quarter.
A Shelby Harris sack of Mahomes stopped the Chiefs’ second drive.
The Broncos began the next drive with Melvin Gordon rushing for 29 yards. It ended with Lock sprinting, again through a open middle for a 23-yard touchdown run. The Broncos were up 14-7 midway through the second quarter. Lock was only 6 of 15 passing for 69 yards entering the fourth quarter but his scrambling scores were the difference.
Mahomes was 27 of 44 but for a relatively modest 270 yards and two touchdowns. He made some incredible off-script throws, but the Denver D didn’t break on a first-and-goal at the 6 opportunity in the second quarter and the Chiefs settled for a short Harrison Butker field goal.
“In my career, (Fangio) has been one of the toughest guys I’ve gone up against,” Mahomes said. “He does a lot great things. You see his disciples all around the league. They did a lot of different shells and mixed coverages, brought a couple blitzes here and there and that’s what he does. He keeps you on your toes. He doesn’t stay in one coverage. He does whatever he things is best for his team and whoever’s out there.”
The game opened up offensively in the second half with the Chiefs efficiently going 75 yards on their first drive that was concluded on a 14-yard catch-and-run by Chiefs’ scatback Jerrick McKinney. That put Kansas City up, 17-14.
But the Broncos answered on their first drive of the second half. Lock made his best throw of the game, a 31-yard pass down the hashes to Tim Patrick who caught the ball over his shoulder. Melvin Gordon III then exploded through a huge hole and outsprinted the Chiefs’ secondary for a 47-yard touchdown.
The Broncos were back up, 21-17.
The Chiefs’ Butker drilled a 51-yard field goal a few seconds into the fourth quarter to narrow the score to 21-20.
But Lock started getting hot in the fourth quarter. He mixed in completions to Gordon, Sutton, Patrick and Williams with Williams and Gordon runs to set up second and 2 at the Chiefs 9 with 7:42 left in the game. But a handoff to Gordon, who had 114 yards rushing on 11 carries at that point, was blown up behind the line by Chiefs outside linebacker Melvin Ingram III.
Gordon tried to spin away but the ball popped loose. Bolton picked it up while standing and started to sprint the other way. He easily brushed off a Lock tackle attempt and raced 86 yards for a go-ahead score. Mahomes ran in the 2-point conversion and the Chiefs were up, 28-21.
Lock answered with quick completions of 29 yards to Patrick and 28 yards to Jeudy but the drive stalled in the red zone and the Broncos settled for a short Brandon McManus field goal that narrowed the score to 28-24 with 4:37 remaining.
But the Chiefs were able to eat up the final 4:37 as the Broncos ran out of timeouts while the Chiefs took three knees inside the Denver 10 to end the game.
They fought. They competed. But the better team came out ahead in the end.
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