KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the parking lot five hours before kickoff, a Chiefs fan uttered an expletive about the Broncos, then used a blowtorch to start his grill.
This aptly summed up December in Kansas City for the Broncos.
In a game defined by one of the longest, most pointless drives in franchise history, the Broncos fell to the Chiefs 22-9 before a sold out crowd at Arrowhead Stadium or whatever they are calling it these days.
"The loss makes you feel empty," said coach Vic Fangio.
The name doesn't matter. The results remain the same. The Broncos fell to 3-20 in December in Kansas City.
With a chance to move into first place, the Broncos sunk into last in the AFC West, vexed again by the Chiefs and undermined by their own ineffective offense.
The Broncos have not beaten the Chiefs since Peyton Manning was quarterback. And Teddy Bridgewater wasn't about to change that. He struggled through a difficult night, completing 22 of 40 passes for 257 yards. His four-game turnover-free streak vanished with two interceptions, including a pick six. Other than rookie Javonte Williams — he became the first rookie in Broncos' history to eclipse 100 yards rushing and 75 yards receiving in a single game — the offense was forgettable.
The defense deserved better. Chiefs coach Andy Reid improved to 20-3 after a bye week.
When the Broncos won the coin toss, did they lose the game? Fangio elected to receive. For a blink, it looked wise as rookie Williams pinballed for nine yards. The Broncos collected one yard on their next five plays, following a script in Kansas City that has become more predictable than a Hallmark movie.
The Chiefs accelerated on their first drive like they had a flight to catch. They converted two third downs, Patrick Mahomes looked comfortable before scooting in for a 10-yard touchdown. After a second straight Broncos' three-and-out, the Chiefs' Harrison Butker slammed a wind-aided 56-yard field goal, creating a 10-point cushion.
Tired of playing the role of the tomato can, the Broncos finally punched back. Bridgewater connected with Jerry Jeudy for a 36-yard gain, raising Denver off the mat. The run game gained traction. With first-and-10 on the 14-yard line, the Broncos took two penalties, interference on Courtland Sutton and intentional grounding by Bridgewater.
Field goals lose road games, but the Broncos had to settle for points on Brandon McManus' 42-yarder.
What happened next was as equal parts jaw-dropping and perplexing. The Broncos rolled up their sleeves and went to work. They posted a 20-play, 11-minute, 8-second drive, in time and plays one of the NFL's longest in 20 years. They converted fourth downs of two and seven yards. It was glorious and ominous. The Broncos were playing keepaway, but they couldn't put the march away.
It unraveled on third-and-2 as Bridgewater was pressured into an incompletion. It was an odd choice if the Broncos were never to kick the ball again. With two yards between the Broncos and a first down, they gave the ball to Williams. It made sense, but required context. The Broncos looked confused. Williams was looking towards the sideline, barely set as the ball snapped.
The Chiefs swarmed with a vengeance, Williams smothered for a 1-yard loss by Willie Gay and Melvin Ingram. Fangio admitted the play was out of sync before the snap, but there was no time to call a timeout. He had no regrets going for it rather than taking a chipshot kick.
"You have to score touchdowns to beat that team," he said.
John Elway, in attendance Sunday, grew into NFL royalty with The Drive. The 2021 Broncos could be forever remembered for The Stall.
"To move the ball all the way down the field and not score," Bridgewater said, "it just sucks, man."
Denver had a date, rented the tuxedo and limo, but failed to go to prom. They took 18 percent off the clock and walked away without a parting gift.
It was brilliant, odd and awful. Squirms were tangible. The Broncos needed a touchdown, instead were left wanting. They ran 37 first-half plays to Kansas City's 27. They won time of possession, but that doesn't count in the standings, despite what offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur might have you believe.
Instead, it's cotton candy — empty calories — without touchdowns.
For the second straight season, the Broncos defense played well enough to pull off an upset. For the second straight year, the Broncos offense failed to carry its water, held without a touchdown through three quarters.
Bridgewater has proven he can take care of the ball. However, he has not proven he can take care of the ball and take chances. His streak of four games without a turnover ended when Juan Thornhill intercepted him in the middle of the field, a complete misread.
The Chiefs failed to score on that drive, but capitalized on a special teams mistake. As Diontae Spencer settled under a punt, Caden Sterns collided with him as the Chiefs' Byron Pringle was blocked into them both. The Chiefs took over inside the 20 and added another field goal.
The sobering reality is that 16-3 felt like a 30-point lead given the Broncos' offensive issues.
Kansas City put Denver out of its misery with 9:42 remaining. On fourth-and-2 from the 27-yard line, the Broncos lined up three wide. Blitzing linebacker Ben Niemann deflected Bridgewater's pass intended for a wide open Tim Patrick. It dropped into Daniel Sorensen's hands, and he raced 75 yards for the score. Yes, Bridgewater attempted to tackle him — he bounced off him — and no it didn't matter.
For fantasy owners and pride, Williams added a late fourth quarter touchdown, a deserving prize for his effort.
At that point in three years under Fangio, the Chiefs had outscored the Broncos 140-50. There have been 10 quarterbacks since Manning. None have beaten the Chiefs. The Broncos are not eliminated from the postseason race. At 6-6, they still harbor hope, but will likely have to win four of their final five games.
Based on recent history. that means they will have to win four straight since the Chiefs are waiting in the season finale.
"Kareem Jackson said it best in the locker room. Every game left," Bridgewater said, "is like a playoff game."
The only surprise inactive was nose tackle Mike Purcell. The Broncos used McTelvin Agim in attempt to create a more effective interior pass rush. ...
Pat Surtain II produced his third interception in two games and has four for the season, tied for third most all-time by a Broncos rookie.