Inside the visitor’s tunnel at Sports Authority Field, Jeremy Maclin gathered 10 of his fellow skill players around him.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid signed Maclin this offseason for games like this, and the seven-year vet — who has been through his share of wars in the NFC East during his time with the Eagles — knew exactly what to say to his younger teammates
“Listen up now,” Maclin began. “We’ve got a chance to do something special. Play for each other. Play for yourself. Let’s go out here and fun. Our show on three.
“One, two, three … our show!”
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Turns out it was — for the first time in four years against Denver, no less.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has tortured the Chiefs for the duration of his 18-year career; entering Sunday's showdown, he possessed 14-1 all-time record against the Chiefs, and had guided the Broncos to seven consecutive victories spanning the last four seasons.
But that streak, and whatever myth there might have been surrounding Manning's preordained mastery of the Chiefs, mercifully came to an end, as a dominant defense — and a near-perfect day by kicker Cairo Santos — gave the Chiefs all the ammunition they needed to finally topple the banged-up Broncos 29-13 before a crowd of 76,103.
With the win, the Chiefs — who have now won three straight games — improved to 4-5 and now sit only one game out of the wild card behind the Bills and Dolphins, who both sit 5-4.
“This is part of what we set out to do,” Maclin said afterward. “Unfortunately, we got behind the 8-ball a little bit early, losing some close games. But we’re still in position to do what we want to do.”
Considering the Chiefs' history against the Broncos, 7-2, Sunday's win was also therapeutic, regardless of the different factors that played in the Chiefs' favor, of which there were a few.
For one, the Broncos were without a handful of their star players. Cornerback Aqib Talib was serving a one-game suspension, while outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware sat with a back injury. Both are key cogs in the league's top-ranked defense.
But the biggest factor, by far, that played in the Chiefs' favor was the tormentor's struggles. Manning was listed on the injury report this week with foot and rib injuries, and it showed. His passes lacked zip and accuracy, and though it's unclear how much of that has to do with father time — the 39-year-old is on track for the worst statistical season of his career — that matters little to the Chiefs, who beat Denver for the first time since Jan. 1, 2012.
“I think you might take credit from what we did today if you say 'Oh, Peyton's not the same anymore,” inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “We played really good defense today.
“In his defense, he's not the same. But he's still one of the top-five quarterbacks in the league.”
So yes, Andy Reid — who improved to 1-5 against Denver as the Chiefs' coach — and his squad deserves credit. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton dialed up some effective blitzes — four different Chiefs teamed to record five sacks — and the secondary, which finished with a season-high five interceptions on the day, jumped Manning's routes all day.
“This is the best prepared we've ever been for a division game,” Johnson said.
Manning's first pass — a wobbly floater deep over the middle — was picked off by cornerback Marcus Peters. Five plays later, running back Charcandrick West scored from 4 yards out to give the Chiefs a 7-0 lead.
When the Broncos went three and out again, the Chiefs mounted another scoring drive, this one culminating in a 48-yard field goal by kicker Cairo Santos.
It was a sight the Broncos would be treated to throughout the first half, as Santos — who made five of six field goals, overall — proceeded to convert field goals of 48, 49, 34 and 33 yards to give the Chiefs a 19-0 lead at halftime.
The Chiefs missed a handful of scoring opportunities along the way, too. Early in the second quarter, quarterback Alex Smith missed Travis Kelce running wide open down the left sideline for what should have been a touchdown. And later in the second quarter, Smith misfired on a throw up the seam to Albert Wilson, who was wide open in the end zone and could not pull in a one-handed catch.
But that drive, like so many others, still ended with a Santos field goal that nudged the Chiefs' lead even higher. And given how the Chiefs' defense was performing, it was enough.
“To be sitting there watching on the sidelines was really, really impressive,” Alex Smith said. “it may be one of the (best) defensive performances in a long time.”
Manning became the NFL's all-time passing leader in the first quarter, passing Brett Favre, but that was his only highlight all day. He was intercepted three times in the first half alone — once by cornerback Sean Smith and another time by inside linebacker Josh Mauga — and Peters had the opportunity to come down with at least two more Manning floaters.
And after a three-and-out to open the third quarter, Manning was picked off for the fourth time by safety Ron Parker. At that point, Manning was 5 of 20 for 35 yards, and coach Gary Kubiak made the decision to lift him for backup Brock Osweiler.
Manning finished the game with a quarterback rating of zero for the first time in his career, and Osweiler didn't fare much better, either. His second pass was nearly intercepted by Sean Smith, and when he finally led the Broncos on a decent scoring drive — they advanced all the way to the Chiefs' 20-yard line early in the fourth quarter — his fourth-and-10 pass was intercepted by safety Eric Berry.
That play led to the Chiefs' final score of the day, an 80-yard touchdown throw from Smith to West, which was punctuated by a hustle block inside the 5-yard line by receiver Jeremy Maclin, who wiped out safety T.J. Ward.
Ward followed by delivering a blow to Maclin's head in retaliation — a continuation of the Broncos' ongoing effort to bully the Chiefs. Ward was ejected, however, and the score still put the Broncos in a 29-0 hole they could not dig out of.
“It's important that we understand that this is a nice win against a good football team but it's not the end of the season,” Reid said, looking toward the future.
With the win, the Chiefs significantly improved their playoff odds. Since 1990, 16 teams have gone on to make the playoffs after a 4-5 start, while only four have done so after a 3-6 start.
It's also worth noting that the Chiefs now have games remaining against the Chargers, Bills, Raiders, Ravens and Browns, and those five teams have combined records of 15-31.
After the game, Maclin stressed the importance of taking it one game at a time. But he also noted, with a grin, that his pregame message to his teammates — that they have an opportunity to do something special, to somehow comeback from a 1-5 start after everyone wrote them off — is as true now as it was then.
“(We can) achieve what we want to achieve,” Maclin said. “We’re still in good shape here.
“Everything’s lining up for us.”