One day, the Chiefs will beat the Denver Broncos again. But it probably won’t happen until Denver quarterback Peyton Manning decides to finally retire.
In a game the Chiefs had everything to play for, they came up woefully short to Manning and the Broncos, falling 29-16 in a nationally televised game Sunday in front of 76,894 frigid fans at Arrowhead Stadium.
Manning, now 13-1 in his career against the Chiefs (including 6-0 as a Bronco), threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns, and third-team running back C.J. Anderson blasted his way for 168 yards rushing as Denver, 9-3, seized control of the AFC West.
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The loss dropped the Chiefs, 7-5, two games behind the Broncos in the standings — but, in effect, three behind because Denver owns the head-to-head tie breaker — with four to play.
The Chiefs also fell a game behind San Diego, 8-4, and into a quagmire with at least four other teams —Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore and Buffalo — for the conference’s second wild card. Miami also can be 7-5 with a win over the New York Jets Monday night.
The Chiefs were culpable in all three phases of their game.
▪ The offense struggled to find a rhythm and produced just 151 yards, their fewest since they had 119 yards against Oakland and Denver under Romeo Crennel in December 2012.
▪ The defense surrendered a season-most 215 yards rushing, two weeks after Seattle gouged the Chiefs with 204 yards and the Raiders rolled up 179 yards. Anderson, who rushed for 167 yards last week against Miami, rushed for the most yards by one player against the Chiefs since Cleveland’s Jerome Harrison had 286 yards on Dec. 20, 2009.
“We’ve got to do a better job of tackling,” coach Andy Reid said in an understatement.
▪ The special teams not only surrendered a fake punt, but also a Denver punt caromed off the leg of the Chiefs’ Marcus Cooper, and the Broncos recovered, setting up Connor Barth’s fourth of five field goals that gave Denver a 26-10 lead with 14:44 left in the game.
“There was not a phase I can point to that was a positive,” Reid said. “We’ll evaluate this … we’ve all got to do better.”
Though the Chiefs expected to come out inspired in a game dedicated to safety Eric Berry, who last week was detected with a mass in his chest feared to be lymphoma, they were totally outplayed in the first half for the second straight week.
Last week, the previously winless Oakland Raiders jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the way to a 24-20 victory.
This week, the Broncos bolted to a 17-0 lead before the Chiefs even had a first down. Denver scored on all four of its first-half possessions and led 20-7 at halftime.
The Chiefs cited the short week of preparation and travel for the Thursday night loss at Oakland, but this time, they had three extra days to get ready for Denver in front of a rowdy home crowd.
“The last two weeks are uncharacteristic of us as a team,” said quarterback Alex Smith. “It’s gut-check time. There’s still a lot of football left for us. It’s a matter of what we do with it.”
The Chiefs drew to within 20-10 in the third quarter after linebacker Justin Houston sacked and stripped Manning of the ball on the first series of the second half, and safety Kurt Coleman recovered at the Denver 23.
But the Chiefs could manage just 2 yards of offense and had to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Cairo Santos.
The Broncos answered with their first turnover of the game when defensive tackle Terrance Knighton deflected a pass by Smith that was intercepted by linebacker DeMarcus Ware. The Broncos converted that into a 30-yard field goal by Barth for a 23-10 lead.
Barth, who signed with the Broncos last week after the club cut rookie Brandon McManus, made all five of his field-goal attempts, tying the franchise record set twice by Jason Elam. It was Barth’s first game in nearly two seasons after an Achilles’ injury suffered in a 2013 charity basketball game while a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Manning, the NFL’s leader with 34 touchdowns coming into the game, opened the scoring by floating a 23-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, who made an over-the-shoulder grab after running past Sean Smith to the end zone.
Anderson, playing in place of injured Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, took a cue from how Seattle and Oakland ran the ball against the Chiefs.
He also proved to be a deft pass receiver.
With Denver facing third and 11 at the Chiefs 15, Anderson slipped out of the backfield and got behind Houston for a 15-yard touchdown with 1:58 to play in the first quarter.
The Chiefs’ offense, meanwhile, was stuck in reverse. They managed negative 10 yards of offense in the first quarter.
The Broncos toyed with the Chiefs’ defense on a second-quarter drive in which they converted two fourth downs — one on a fake punt. Facing fourth and 7 at the Denver 36, the direct snap went to wingback David Bruton, who picked up the first down with a 13-yard run.
When Denver faced fourth and 1 from the Chiefs’ 22, Anderson dashed for 13 yards, keeping the drive alive that ended with a 22-yard field goal by Barth.
The Chiefs finally managed their initial first down on a 10-yard pass from Smith to Dwayne Bowe midway through the second quarter. Smith would complete a 20-yard touchdown pass down the seam to tight end Anthony Fasano, making it 17-7 with 3:02 left in the half.
But the Chiefs couldn’t even make an extra point without hurting themselves. Tackle Donald Stephenson was called for a personal foul while blocking, moving the ensuing kickoff back to the Chiefs 20.
The Broncos, taking advantage of the favorable field position created by the penalty, made it 20-7 on Barth’s 24-yard field goal with 16 seconds left in the half.