KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Redemption can be seven years in the making. Or it can come in seven days.
The Broncos' performance to this point in the season offered them the luxury of absorbing one loss in the demanding three-game stretch without losing their grip on the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. But they couldn't afford another.
So redemption couldn't wait. Not with the division on the line, and no margin for error in their duel for position with the New England Patriots.
Not everyone who left Foxborough, Mass. last week pondering how they fell short was able to change their personal narrative. But the Broncos defeated the Chiefs 35-28 at Arrowhead Stadium because the men who had the most to lament were some of the ones who came up the biggest.
Redemption arrived for
“To be honest, I had a tough month. It was kind of a struggle for me," said Decker, who had averaged a modest 3.3 receptions and 42.5 yards a game with no touchdowns since Week 8.
Sunday was anything but. With
"I take my hat off to 'Deck' because he’s been working hard," said
Decker helped stake the Broncos to a lead. But so did the defense, which also found redemption after allowing 31 unanswered points last week to allow the Patriots to execute the biggest comeback against the Broncos in a quarter-century.
The defense struggled early as the Chiefs pounded away at the line of scrimmage, rounded into form in the game's middle third, then found itself on its heels again in the fourth quarter as Kansas City's bobble-prone receivers suddenly had a magnetic attraction to the football.
Then it was fourth-and-4 at the Denver 13-yard-line, with 1:51 remaining. The defense had challenged itself after allowing a pair of early touchdown drives and another march that was only saved by
It helped that it could lean on past end-game successes:
"We always want to win on defense," said cornerback Chris Harris, Jr., who thought he had a game-winning forced fumble earlier in the drive before it was called otherwise. "Just being selfish, we want to have the end of the game like that."
And finally, redemption came for running back
This week, he felt the pressure mounting upon him after a third fumble in 83 touches this season sent him to the bench for the final quarter and a half against the Patriots.
A fumble had helped place
It was true, honest adversity, unlike anything Ball had faced in a football journey that had been nothing but a smashing success until he arrived in Denver. That's typical for many players at this level; being the best of the best gets you to the NFL in the first place, but often the league provides the first true football adversity some have faced.
"It's no secret I was struggling a little bit," Ball said.
Plenty of teammates and coaches tried to lift Ball's spirits. But none had a greater impact than Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville.
"He just told me (that) this team -- it's going to need me," Ball said.
But the Broncos needed the Ball that was drafted in the second round, the confident, durable, smart, decisive running back who capitalized off the smallest crease and only fumbled twice in 983 touches at the University of Wisconsin. If that Ball didn't show up -- and fast -- he knew what it could mean for him and the team.
"I told myself today I’ve got to show up today," Ball said. "Show up today or shut up. It’s just that simple.
"I told myself if I don’t produce today, I can’t get mad at them if they don’t play me.”
Now they have ample reasons to play him more: as a relief back for Knowshon Moreno, who might be developing into his equal if he has more games like the 117-yard, 9.0-yards-per-carry performance.
The Broncos passed a test Sunday and redeemed themselves. But they needed some to redeem themselves more than others, to find their verve, confidence and a high performance level.
They can't win a title without those attributes from Decker, the defense and Ball. They were needed -- and they delivered.