Marcus Peters lunged at the football in Jamaal Charles’ right arm and tugged and tugged and tugged until he felt it squirt from Charles’ grasp and bounce away. In a flash, Peters flipped his hips, sprinted to the ball, scooped it up and scored.
It was only five minutes into the Chiefs’ 29-19 win over Denver on Monday night, and it was only the first score of the game.
But against an offensively-challenged Broncos team that has struggled to throw the ball or run the ball or generally take advantage of its opponent’s weakness recently, it might as well have been a death knell for a Denver team that fell beneath the weight of five Chiefs field goals — not to mention five turnovers — in front of a crowd of 76,573 at Arrowhead Stadium.
“Those kind of things come in cycles, so that’s how it works,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of his team’s ability to force turnovers. “Players are always trying to make the play; it just happened to happen like that tonight.”
That early seven-point hole soon became 14 points. The Chiefs’ defense smothered the Broncos’ offense on the next drive, as they would do all game, and after an unnecessary roughness penalty against Denver erased a three-and-out and extended the ensuing Chiefs drive, quarterback Alex Smith — who finished 14 of 31 for 202 yards and a touchdown — dropped a downfield dime to tight end Travis Kelce, who smoked safety Darian Stewart one-on-one on a corner route and got behind him for a 29-yard touchdown.
“Route-running wise, he is a tough matchup for safeties and linebackers,” Smith said of Kelce, who caught a team-high seven passes for 133 yards and punctuated the touchdown with a dance.
The score would be a nice harbinger of things to come for the Chiefs, who had the Broncos in a hole only nine minutes into a game that quarterback Trevor Siemian would prove incapable of pulling them out of. His very next throw — a lofted deep ball down the right sideline for tight end Jeff Heuerman — was intercepted by Peters, and Siemian finished the half 5 of 14 for 56 yards.
Fortunately for the Broncos, they were spared a larger deficit due to a curious play call by Reid and the Chiefs’ coaching staff. Facing second and goal at the Denver 9, the Chiefs dialed up a pass by receiver Tyreek Hill, whose wobbly, lofted throw for tight end Ross Travis was intercepted in the end zone by Stewart to give the Broncos new life.
“It’s one of those plays that’s got a chance, it’s hit or miss,” Smith said. “You’re genius when it hits and you’re not when it doesn’t. I love the call. I loved it when it came in, thought it had a great chance.”
Denver then marched down the field, but the Chiefs’ defense tightened up in the red zone and held the Broncos to a field goal that cut the lead to 11.
The Chiefs answered with a field goal of their own, and after another Siemian interception — this one by safety Ron Parker on a deep ball — a promising drive was thwarted by a strip-sack of Smith by outside linebacker Shaq Barrett that not only amounted to Smith’s first turnover of the season, but also ensured the Chiefs couldn’t build on their 17-3 lead before the break.
Denver only gained 108 yards in the first half, compared to the Chiefs’ 199.
“I thought Bob Sutton had a great game plan,” Reid said. “The guys executed like crazy, with fire.”
The Broncos appeared to be on the verge of being blown out when De’Anthony Thomas recovered a muffed Denver punt that gave the Chiefs the ball at the Broncos’ 16-yard line to open the third quarter.
But the Broncos’ defense stiffened, holding the Chiefs — who struggled to run the ball, as Kareem Hunt finished with 46 yards in 22 carries — to a field goal.
“They are gap sound,” Hunt said, referring to the Broncos’ ability to clog rushing lanes. “They have a lot of playmakers up front and guys who just have a knack for the ball.”
The Broncos answered with a field goal of their own, and after a Chiefs three-and-out, they put together their best drive of the day. Siemian, who finished the game 19 of 36 for 198 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, strung together enough throws to set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Devontae Booker that cut the Chiefs’ lead to 20-13 entering the fourth quarter.
That was the closest the Broncos would get, though, as they experienced a death by a thousand paper cuts in the fourth quarter. While Denver’s offense remained stagnant, kicker Harrison Butker added three more field goals to give the Chiefs a 16-point lead and essentially put the game away, though not without some lamentation afterward about their inability to finish some of those drives.
“A lot of field goals, obviously,” Smith said. “If we’re able to capitalize and finish those off, it’s a different story.”
With the win, the Chiefs improved to 6-2 and snapped a two-game losing streak. They also won their fourth straight game against Denver and opened up a 2 1/2 game lead on the Broncos, who remain second in the AFC West behind the Chiefs despite a loss that dropped them to 3-4 on the season.
Now at the midway point of the season, the Chiefs will turn their attention to Dallas. The Cowboys, 4-3, will play host to the Chiefs at 3:25 p.m. Sunday in Kansas City’s final game before the bye week.
Dallas’ offense will certainly pose a bigger threat to the Chiefs’ defense than Denver’s did, despite a federal judge reinstating star running back Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension on Monday night. Between quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver Dez Bryant and one of the league’s better offensive lines, the Cowboys will present plenty of problems.
But for a defense that has largely struggled to create turnovers all season, the Broncos’ five-turnover day certainly isn’t a bad confidence boost.
“I felt like the way we played tonight as a defense, we played great,” outside linebacker Justin Houston said. “The only thing would ask of is a better run defense.”