The hex lives. What in the name of the Orange Crush is going on here?
The Broncos beat Kansas City 31-24 Thursday in such an improbable way that we must consider two things:
1) Maybe Kansas City should quit playing football. I’m serious. At the very least, the Chiefs should unceremoniously surrender whenever Denver comes to town; the Broncos have forgotten how to lose in Arrowhead Stadium. At least until Peyton Manning retires; he’s now 14-1 versus the Chiefs.
2) The Denver defense, which scored its second big touchdown of the season, this time a 21-yard fumble return by Bradley Roby for the winning score against the Chiefs with only 27 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, might be the most unstoppable force of nature to come out of Colorado since Tom Jackson was a young linebacker. The Broncos D is so crazy good that all it’s missing is a nickname. Nominations are now open.
The hex lives. With Kansas City coach Andy Reid trying to run out the clock of a tie game with hopes for the best in overtime, Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall punched the football from the grasp of star KC running back Jamaal Charles, and Roby picked up the fumble to crush the spirit of the home crowd, which was chanting its fool heads off after the Chiefs took a seven-point lead with 2:27 remaining in the final period.
The Broncos, and Manning in particular, looked vulnerable coming into this AFC West showdown. The Chiefs were installed as field-goal favorites. But I guess those wise guys in Las Vegas forgot about the hex. Manning was not always spectacular against Kansas City, although he did throw for 256 yards and three touchdowns. But he beats the Chiefs out of habit.
In his new TV commercial for Nationwide, a perplexed Manning sings: “Haven’t been this lost for years.” It was a cruel joke Manning unwittingly played on himself. It was also the perfect theme music for the start of a struggling quarterback’s 18th NFL season.
The Broncos won their season-opener against Baltimore in spite of Manning. And his start against the Chiefs was inauspicious, at best. At age 39, maybe it takes him a little time to get warmed up. But the NFL does not slow down for anybody, even a QB with Hall of Fame credentials.
Under pressure from a fierce pass rush, when Manning bailed and telegraphed a weak throw intended for Demaryius Thomas, the route was jumped by Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, who returned the interception 55 yards for a touchdown with 6:27 remaining in the second quarter. The home team was ahead 14-0, and the home crowd went wild.
In Kansas City, Manning was in deep barbecue sauce.
Old quarterbacks, however, die hard. Manning responded to the adversity by kicking and screaming. He rallied the Broncos to a 14-14 tie at halftime.
The hex lives. The last time Denver lost in Kansas City was Dec. 5, 2010. Two days later, the Broncos fired their coach. Since the mistake that was Josh McDaniels was erased, there’s no deficit too big for Denver to erase against the Chiefs.
Down 24-17 with only one timeout in his pocket, Manning and the offense took possession of the football 80 long yards from the end zone only 27 seconds before the two-minute warning.
But it was no problem. The hex lives. Manning completed 5-of-10 passes in the drive, including a 19-yard strike to Emmanuel Sanders that provided the tying touchdown.
And before anybody had time to exhale, Charles coughed up the ball, Bradley pounced and the Broncos had won in such a disheartening way that it could make the loser want to quit this stupid game and take up something safer, maybe knitting.
As the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked away, the silence in Arrowhead Stadium felt eerie, with 76,404 Chiefs fans apparently too stunned to cry, or even curse their bad luck.
Near the end zone, Denver defensive end Malik Jackson fell to a knee. And it reminded me of the last time when comebacks by the Broncos were so uplifting that they felt positively spiritual.
This was one of the wildest, craziest wins by Denver since quarterback Tim Tebow gave prayers of thanks at the end of finishes that felt like a miracle.
Tebow was magic. Beautiful, but unsustainable magic.
What beat the Chiefs was more than a hex.
This is a Broncos defense made of such powerful stuff that it never surrenders. This is a Broncos defense that can make old No. 18 feel young again. This is a Broncos defense that can make a city believe that anything’s possible.
Every great NFL defense needs a nickname.
That’s all this Broncos defense is missing.
Mark Kiszla: firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/markkiszla