One of the most memorable moments of the Chiefs’ 29-13 road win over Denver last year did not involve a big play or a touchdown. Instead, it was a penalty.
It came late in the first quarter, with the Chiefs facing third and 7 at their own 39. Quarterback Alex Smith scrambled for a first down but it was wiped away by an unnecessary roughness penalty on right tackle Jah Reid, who shoved Broncos star edge rusher Von Miller to the ground, dived on top of him and delivered a blow to his shoulder and head.
The penalty cost the Chiefs 15 yards and they were forced to punt. Reid was also fined $8,681 by the NFL.
But after losing seven straight games to the Broncos, a team that has established an intimidating, nasty defense in a pass-first era, Reid wanted to sent a message.
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Remember when Denver sent a message with three unnecessary roughness penalties and a roughing the passer penalty in the first half of a 31-24 Chiefs loss in their first meeting last year? Reid sure did.
“This defense thinks they’re a bully,” Reid said recently. “The only way you can stand up to a bully is to be a bully back.”
With an attitude like this, you might assume there’s bad blood between the two sides, which meet again at 7:30 Sunday night in Denver. After all, it is Chiefs-Broncos.
But multiple veteran Chiefs — including safety Eric Berry and linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali — said it isn’t personal and instead chalked up the increased chippiness of the games to the fact both teams have been really good lately and meet twice a year.
“Heck, you know your brother and sometimes when you fight with him? It’s a pretty wild fight for a little bit,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Then, you kind of love each other up afterwards.”
Because both teams basically know each others’ plays, Reid said, their games are less reliant on scheme and more on imposing your will physically.
“We know what’s coming ... it’s almost like, ‘You know I’m hitting you — can you take it?’” Johnson said. “Best man wins.”
Berry agreed, noting that a man-on-man showdown like this has a tendency to bring more out of you.
“Because of some of the things we do, they know we’re going to do it,” he said. “And we know that they know.”
So in the end, guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif said, games like this require 100 percent effort, because the little things add up over the course of 60 minutes.
“Finishing a block down the field, it’s only going to pay off one play out of 20,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “But when it does, you’re actually going to recover a fumble or prevent a hit on your running back.”
For instance, late in the Chiefs’ last game in Denver, Broncos safety T.J. Ward was ejected for taking a swing at receiver Jeremy Maclin, who had sprinted downfield and wiped out Ward near the goal line on a 80-yard touchdown.
Ward complained afterward the Chiefs were doing cheap things all game.
“It was their team as a whole,” Ward said at the time. “They were a pretty dirty team: The O-linemen, receivers and tight ends. They were doing it last game and they continued to do it this game. It took an effect on me.”
Yet, the Broncos play with an edge, too. And their coach, Gary Kubiak, embraces it.
“As a coach you always want your guys to have that edge, you want to look at film and say my team plays with great effort,” Kubiak said. “That’s the ultimate compliment.”
So if you’re going to do that, Kubiak said, you’re going to play to the whistle and finish football plays. And within all that, there are individual battles as well, as one of the Broncos’ primary play-to-the-whistle guys, linebacker Von Miller, explained.
“There’s a game inside the game,” Miller said. “Me and Travis Kelce have always had our battles during the game. I think this one is going to be “Miller-Kelce 7.’”
Technically, it’s only going to be Miller-Kelce 5: Kelce missed most of his rookie season because of a knee injury. But Kelce, who has spent the last two seasons jawing with Miller, is also looking forward to another battle.
“You’re going up against the same guy, a guy who’s at his best in his position in the league, and I feel like their mentality as a defense is how you have to have it; to try and be the intimidator, try and be a bully,” Kelce said. “But you have to come out and smack anybody in the mouth. It doesn’t matter who the bully is.”
Kelce, however, added that the sparring is nothing personal, at least on his end.
“(But) those guys might hate me, you know,” he said with a smirk. “I dance a little more than I should.”
Good luck trying to keep Kelce from celebrating a bit Sunday if he makes a play. Both teams are 7-3, tied for second in the AFC West behind Oakland, 8-2, and with so much on the line, players and coaches know that another emotional, competitive and nasty game is a strong possibility.
“Certain teams, they get together and maybe it’ll be a little more physical than most,” Kubiak said. “This is always one of (those games). That’s just the way it is.”