There was no mistaking what was on the line on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks were on the move. Across the state, the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos were on the ropes.
As the Chiefs stopped Seattle on fourth and 1 at the Kansas City 36, preserving a 24-20 victory, another score popped up on the video board: St. Louis 22, Denver 7.
Just like that, the Chiefs took their place among the NFL elite.
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The Chiefs’ victory over Seattle was their fifth straight and moved them into a first-place tie in the AFC West with Denver, both with 7-3 records.
The Chiefs will face Denver in prime time on Nov. 30 at Arrowhead Stadium, but can take over first place by themselves when they play at winless Oakland on Thursday night in a nationally televised game.
“I heard about it about 10 seconds ago,” Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe said of the Denver loss. “It’s an even better day now.”
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson had engineered 13 come-from-behind fourth-quarter or overtime wins in his three-year career, but Poe’s sack of Wilson ensured the Chiefs’ seventh victory in their last eight games.
The Chiefs are 2-1 against the NFC West, considered the best division in football, with a game remaining at Arizona on Dec. 7; they’ve swept the AFC East, which could go a long way to determine playoff tie breakers against New England, Miami and Buffalo; and now they’re staring into the teeth of their AFC schedule.
That schedule includes two games against Oakland, 0-10, in the next four weeks.
If the season were to end today, the Chiefs would be the first AFC wild card, because the Broncos beat the Chiefs in week two in Denver. But the Chiefs can supplant the Broncos with a win at Arrowhead.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali. “I’m still making mistakes out there. We want to play as close to a perfect game as we can. We know that’s impossible, but we have a lot of good teams in front of us, and right now, Oakland is sitting on the radar.
“It’s the NFL. Records don’t matter. Teams are good in this league. If you don’t bring your ‘A’ game … Denver found that out (Sunday). We found that out early (in a season-opening loss to Tennessee.”
Hali, like his teammates, monitored the Denver score by glancing at the video board on occasion.
“I was checking that score throughout the game,” he said. “I came in and checked my phone, and they lost. But we’re focused on us. Whatever Denver does, that’s their business. We want to continue to do what we’re doing in Kansas City.”
The Chiefs continued to win by doing what they’ve done throughout this winning streak.
They ran the ball successfully, led by Jamaal Charles’ season-best 159 yards. They were efficient in the red zone, scoring three touchdowns in four trips inside the 20, while limiting Seattle to two touchdowns in five trips.
And the Chiefs, who entered the game ranked second in the league in fewest points allowed per game (16.8), gave up just 20 points — the second-fewest Seattle has scored this season.
“This means a lot,” Poe said of beating the Seahawks. “ … We know what they did last year, and we know they are still a real good football team. For us to get a win, it’s big for us.
“We know where we are, and how much we have to go to get where they were last year.”
About the only negative to the Chiefs’ performance is they committed two turnovers — fumbles by tight end Travis Kelce and Charles — that led to 10 Seattle points without getting a takeaway themselves. During the last 21 years, the Chiefs are now 30-89 when they lose the turnover battle and are minus-2 for the season.
“For us, to get that seventh win, get that momentum going against a really good football team … you can see where you are,” said quarterback Alex Smith, “and as a group, we answered that a little bit, at least this week.”
While preparing last week for Seattle — which beat Oakland 30-24 on Nov. 2 — and for other teams earlier this season, the Chiefs have caught glimpses of the Raiders, so they’re not looking past them before the showdown against Denver.
“They’re a dangerous team,” said right tackle Ryan Harris. “Sometimes those records don’t reflect that.”
Punter Dustin Colquitt recalled 2010 when Oakland went 6-0 in AFC West play but just 8-8 overall.
“We have a division opponent in Oakland that is going to be a tough place to play, especially in a short week,” Colquitt said. “We play every game like it’s our last game. We have to maintain that personality.”
Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, a veteran of games against the Raiders, realizes Oakland has to win a game sometime.
“But not against us … ” Bowe said. We’re playing as a team. We’re playing 60 minutes, and it’s going to be very hard to beat us.”