DENVER – There are so many reasons misery pulls down the Broncos like gravity when they face the Chiefs. They have missed plays – Case Keenum overthrowing Demaryius Thomas – had bad calls go against them – a play clock expiring or Courtland Sutton’s offensive pass interference last year – or lacked talent to counter Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce.
Sunday, Mahomes woke up with the flu and the Broncos seemed sick and tired of their 16-game losing streak to Kansas City. There comes a point when you don’t want to be a homecoming opponent, when the insults become offense, when the disrespect – Mahomes and Kelce attended Game 1 of the World Series in Texas on Friday – becomes real.
Playing inspired and angry, the Broncos fought through their clumsy mistakes to a 24-9 victory.
The Broncos followed a blueprint, taking their cues from their loss 17 days ago in Kansas City. This is the Chiefs’ best defense during their seven-year dominance of the AFC West. But Kansas City is vulnerable against the run. Javonte Williams, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry, delivered the best performance since his rookie season. The offense held the ball like a grudge, and the defense produced three takeaways through three quarters. In fact, through the first seven quarters this season against the Broncos, the Chiefs had one touchdown.
So it was that the Broncos owned a 14-9 lead after three quarters. It marked the fourth time during this skid that the Broncos held an advantage entering the final period. Their largest was seven in 2018. It should have been eight on Sunday, but Kansas City’s Justin Reid spoiled a 38-yard Wil Lutz field goal, practically catching the snap as he raced around Lloyd Cushenberry on the left flank.
All missed scoring opportunities sting. This one felt hollow. The Broncos opened the second half by draining 8:26 but came away pointless. Though not hopeless. Kansas City felt off and anxious. With 10:33 left in the game, Kansas City took over with its second possession of the half. That’s playing keep away and benefiting from a Mecole Hardman brain freeze. After the Chiefs sacked Wilson, shoving Denver out of field goal range, he fielded a punt at the 5-yard line. Or attempted to. Riley Dixon’s kick slid down the front of his jersey as rookie Drew Sanders pounced on it.
Given a Halloween treat, the Broncos devoured it. On second down from the 6-yard line, Wilson climbed the pocket and eschewed the run for a touchdown toss to Courtland Sutton. All Sutton does is score touchdowns this season. He has six in eight games after having two in his previous 26.
Urgency enveloped the Chiefs. They raced down the field with Mahomes showing off Harry Potter wizardry on a day when costumes decorated the crowd. But on fourth-and-2 from the 27-yard line, the Chiefs got greedy. They went for the touchdown and Skyy Moore couldn’t haul it in, setting up Denver to ice the game on a refrigerator cold day.
Form follows function. The Broncos built their team this offseason to make running “part of their DNA.” Yet, they entered Sunday ranked fourth in yards per carry (5.1) and 24th in attempts. It was counterintuitive, especially for a team with leaky pass protection. Denver played to its strength on the first drive, running nine times for 44 yards. They ran on first down and third down. And when they stopped running, Russell Wilson used misdirection – scrambling right and throwing back left – to connect with Javonte Williams for a 4-yard score. Williams continues to get stronger the longer the season goes, looking fully recovered from ACL surgery nearly 13 months ago.
The Broncos played with an edge, an intensity, too often absent during the first month. It seemed personal, warming the hearts and hands of the sellout crowd in the 25-degree chill. Denver forced a three-and-out, and Nik Bonitto let Patrick Mahomes know about it as the two jawed before going to the sidelines.
Mahomes woke up with the flu and was getting sick and tired of the Broncos early momentum. The Chiefs answered with a 12-play, 71-yard drive, shaving the deficit to 7-3 with 1:11 left in the opening period. However, it proved a victory for a Broncos defense that has become stingy in the red zone, save for the Dolphins debacle. This is the part of the movie for the last nine years where the Broncos wilted in the spotlight, fell into the fetal position, demoralized by 16 straight losses to their rival.
The Broncos have no player on their roster who has been a part of all of them and none were around when Denver last beat the Chiefs at home in 2014.
When Denver took a 14-3 advantage – hard to recall such a cushion over the last nine years – it was hard to reconcile. Jerry Jeudy caught a 39-yard leaping reception – his longest of the season – setting up the red zone attempt. Moments later, Wilson lofted a rainbow to Jeudy streaking across the back of the end zone for his first touchdown of the season. That came two days before the trading deadline was not lost on many, but coincidence or not, the Broncos welcomed his production.
Presented an opportunity to spook the Chiefs, the Broncos refused to play scared. They went for it on fourth-and-2 from the 40-yard line. Lining up with Marvin Mims Jr. and Samaje Perine screamed it wasn’t a run play, and left the Chiefs thinking as much. Mims raced into the flat, the Chiefs covered him, and when Wilson scrambled, he fumbled before the line.
The Chiefs capitalized, though Denver remain firm inside the 20, forcing another short field goal.
It appeared the Broncos would enter half with a 14-6 lead after Baron Browning’s strip sack on Mahomes, followed by a fancy Carlton Dance. But Kansas City’s confidence showed, calling timeouts despite three first-half turnovers as Denver looked to soak the clock.
With 16 seconds left from the 49, Denver’s bid for a field goal turned awful. Wilson ducked out of pressure as Garett Bolles was beaten, but then held onto the ball, lacking situational awareness. He was sacked and fumbled. The Chiefs took over with nine seconds. An 11-yard completion later, Harrison Butker was drilling a 56-yarder at the buzzer.
The good news is that Broncos led at half at home for all five games this season. The bad news is that they had surrendered the lead in four of them.
Not this time. Not this team. Ding, dong, the streak is dead.
The Broncos' inactive list featured no surprises and the return of cornerback Riley Moss. The inactives: JL Skinner, Thomas Incoom, Alex Forysth, Keondre Coburn and Elijah Garcia.