KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a gas station restaurant, football and pop culture intersected.
A vendor — a woman in her 30s — began talking with enthusiasm reserved for Christmas morning. Decked out in her Kansas City Chiefs gear, she talked excitedly to the clerk about going to the primetime game to see Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift. They were perfect for each other: both famous in their own right, similar in age and love the color red. Great things were in store, she declared.
“Well, the Chiefs are playing the Broncos,” the clerk blurted out.
The Denver Broncos can hold memories of their 2015 Super Bowl season like a grudge. It’s all they have left in this lopsided rivalry. The Chiefs toyed with Denver on Thursday night, before claiming their 16th straight victory over the Broncos, 19-8.
Denver7 Broncos Voicemail Hotline: Call 303-832-0111
The Chiefs led early, 3-0. They led at halftime, 13-0. And they led after three quarters, 16-0. They continued crushing the Broncos’ dreams between their fingers.
There used to be “Bad Blood” in this matchup. Even those moments rarely surfaced.
It is ironic that the Broncos defense was able to “Shake it Off,” playing functional for the first time since the first half of the Washington game. But the offense stunk for three quarters.
Kelce outgained the Broncos 109-94 in the first half alone.
Wilson has not been the problem in the 1-5 start, but he does not look like the solution. He played his worst game of the season, unable to establish a vertical passing game, perhaps because of the 25 mph wind gusts, and had four of his passes deflected.
Watching Thursday, the Broncos suggest it's time for a reset. Outside linebacker Frank Clark could be traded or released as soon as Friday, and it’s fair to wonder if receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton and safety Justin Simmons will follow as collateral for draft picks. There’s nothing about this team that makes sticking with the status quo make sense.
This matches the worst start in franchise history, last done in 1994.
It began with hope. Then the Broncos were Gone With the Wind.
Coach Sean Payton lamented his lack of patience with the run game last week. He refused to repeat the mistake, chugging down field with alternating carries for starter Jaleel McLaughlin and Javonte Williams. The pair combined for 22 yards on four attempts. Fullback Mike Burton added three yards. On fourth-and-3 from the 38-yard line, Wilson avoided a sack and attempted to bully his way to a first down but was thrown for a three-yard loss. The first series was their best until nine minutes remaining in the game. Wilson finished 13 of 22 for 95 yards.
The Chiefs capitalized on the first misstep, though the Broncos showed new wrinkles and improvement on defense. The Broncos opened with three inside linebackers – Alex Singleton, Josey Jewell, and Drew Sanders – and nickel coverage. Nickelback Ja’Quan McMillian looked physical early and backup nose tackle Mike Purcell, paired with Tyler Lancaster upfront, produced a red zone stop as Purell batted down a Patrick Mahomes pass. Harrison Butker drilled a 35-yard field goal through a strong crosswind as the Chiefs secured a 3-0 lead with 5:40 remaining in the first.
Given a chance to respond, the Broncos answered with a thud. Following an 18-yard run by Javonte Williams, Wilson fired an interception on his worst pass of the season. He had Williams wide open in the flat, but he flung the ball in Jeudy’s direction. Linebacker Nick Bolton was standing in front of him after dropping in coverage. The interception, shocking given the state of this rivalry, didn’t singe the Broncos.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes became reckless. With Bonitto wrapped around his ankles, the reigning MVP tried to force a ball to the end zone and slammed Jonathon Cooper’s arm on his follow-through. The duck fluttered harmlessly into Justin Simmons’ hands for his first interception of the season.
The offense could not make matter, despite Kansas City letting Denver linger. The Chiefs got cute in the red zone, eschewing a short field goal for the Tush Push with 8:10 left in the half. The Chiefs lined up for the kick, but reserve tight end Noah Gray motioned and stopped under center and took the snap. He was stuffed for no gain.
The Broncos offense, much like the second half vs. the Jets, failed to counter, the drives a series of short passes, deflected attempts, and punts. Denver trailed 13-0 at intermission, collecting 94 yards. Kelce, with Swift in his suite, had 109 yards on seven receptions.
Worse were the eye-opening decisions.
Beyond his turnover, Wilson had a pass deflected on a sidearm whip, failed on a fourth down and later a bizarre run play around midfield. Wilson finished 7-for-11 — ironic because no one seemed open — for 37 yards over the first 30 minutes. Jeudy, after a pregame dust-up with NFL Network’s Steve Smith, had two receptions for one yard. The cutaways to Swift outnumbered the targets to Jeudy.
The Broncos were also charged with a timeout with 22 seconds remaining in the half before a punt. It made no sense, suggesting Payton lost track of the down. And maybe the Chiefs would have stopped the clock, too. None of it would have mattered if Riley Dixon hadn’t uncorked a 29-yard punt – he has been underwhelming. The Chiefs produced a 15-second drive resulting in Butker’s 60-yarder at the buzzer.
Denver finally made noise with a late fourth-quarter drive, aided by a Wilson run and a roughing the passer penalty that pushed the Broncos into the red zone for the first time.
Courtland Sutton made an acrobatic catch for a touchdown and Javonte Williams' two-point conversion made it 16-8.
Then, Mahomes, who is 12-0 against the victories, led a drive for the clinching field goal. Denver played better. But they "All Too Well" how this story ends.
The Broncos remain thin at outside linebacker. They traded Randy Gregory last week and are expected to deal or release Frank Clark this weekend. It left them with two active OLBs in Jonathon Cooper and Nik Bonitto. Thomas Incoom was inactive. That left Drew Sanders as the possible backup. He played edge at Arkansas but has focused on inside backer duties in the NFL.
Justin Simmons boasts 28 career interceptions. It is ranks first among safeties since 2016.
The Arrowhead Stadium Field looked great, a change from year’s past when the end one looks like painted dirt. New grass was installed after the Beyoncé concert a few weeks ago.