ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --In one of the defining stretches of the Broncos' 2013 regular season campaign, the team showed its resiliency and character in playing through one of the toughest stretches of the season without Head Coach John Fox and still notching a 3-1 mark. Fox underwent emergency heart valve surgery during the bye week and missed the next four weeks - which entailed a road showdown with the Chargers, a Sunday night date with the unbeaten Chiefs, another Sunday night showdown at New England and a return match with Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium. Under the direction of Interim Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio, the Broncos didn't miss a beat and earned three tough victories, entering the final quarter of the season with a 10-2 record.
Broncos 28, Chargers 20
How it happened: The Broncos struck three times in a span of just over 10 minutes, with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas finding the end zone all three times, in jumping out to a 28-6 lead over the Chargers. Thomas' third touchdown, a 34-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass from quarterback Peyton Manning, moved him into a four-way tie for second in the NFL with nine receiving touchdowns on the season – and it also gave the Broncos a 22-point cushion with 11:34 to play. Although the Chargers narrowed that lead to eight, the Denver defense came through when it mattered most, sacking Rivers twice in the final quarter and keeping the Chargers from crossing midfield on San Diego's final possession.
Key Moment: Thomas' third touchdown of the day gave the Broncos just enough of a cushion to hang on without scoring again the rest of the afternoon.
It was over when: Moreno picked up a first down during the game's final two minutes. Moments prior, Manning converted a key second-and-7 situation when he found Demaryius Thomas for a 9-yard gain.
Key performer: Thomas finished with seven receptions for 108 yards and a hat-trick of touchdowns, which tied a franchise record.
Broncos 27, Chiefs 17
How it happened: Denver jumped out to a 10-0 lead against Kansas City, with a 70-yard strike from Manning to Demaryius Thomas – who broke free down the sideline in single coverage – keying the Broncos' first touchdown drive. Manning capped that drive with a touchdown pass to tight end Julius Thomas – Thomas' 10th touchdown reception of the season – and the Broncos offense continued to produce points on the NFL's top-ranked defense. Rookie running back Montee Ball – the NCAA FBS all-time touchdown leader – found the end zone twice on touchdown runs from 1 and 8 yards out in the second and third quarters, and the Broncos never trailed against the Chiefs.
Key moment: With the Broncos holding a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter, Ball lost a fumble deep in Denver territory. However, on Kansas City's ensuing play, linebacker Danny Trevathan forced an Anthony Sherman fumble that was recovered by cornerback Quentin Jammer at the Denver 16. Five plays later, the Broncos took a 10-0 lead.
It was over when: The Broncos forced the Chiefs to turn the ball over on downs with 2:50 remaining.
Key performer: The entire offensive line. The Chiefs entered the Sunday night showdown with an NFL-best 36 sacks. They walked out of Sports Authority Field at Mile High with the same number. The Denver offensive line kept Kansas City from registering a single quarterback hit on Manning.
Patriots 34, Broncos 31 (OT)
How it happened:** The Broncos' roller coaster of an evening took an unfortunate final turn late in overtime after the Patriots' punt glanced off cornerback Tony Carter deep in New England territory and the Patriots recovered the loose ball. The turnover set up Patriots kicker Stephen Gostowski to kick a game-winning 31-yard field goal, ending a long and dramatic night of football played in frigid temperatures. After jumping out to a 24-0 lead at halftime, the Broncos fell behind 31-24 before Manning and the offense rallied for a game-tying, 10-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 11-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
Key moment: The Patriots' late fumble recovery was the game's decisive play, but equally pivotal was New England's recovery of a Ball fumble with 8:19 to play in the third quarter. The Broncos led 24-7 at that point and had picked up a pair of first downs on the drive, but the Patriots stormed back after the turnover and took the lead.
It was over when: Gostowski's kick sailed through the uprights with 1:56 remaining in overtime.
Key performer: It was a career night for running back Moreno, who rose to the occasion time and time again for the Broncos. Moreno carried the ball 37 times for Denver – a career high, and the fourth-most by a player in franchise history – and his production matched his workload. He finished the game with a career-high 224 rushing yards, the third-highest single-game total in Broncos history, and added a 2-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter.
Broncos 35, Chiefs 28
How it happened: Despite the loud crowd at Arrowhead Stadium, Manning and wide receiver Eric Decker ultimately made the most noise in the Broncos' rematch with the Chiefs. Though their first touchdown connection – a 41-yard scoring strike – got the Broncos on the board with 14:53 remaining in the second quarter, the duo saved their best for after Denver had fallen into a 14-point deficit. Decker's 42-yard catch midway through the second quarter set up Manning's 3-yard touchdown pass to Moreno, cutting the Chiefs' lead to 21-14. In the second half, they clicked three more times for touchdowns – on scoring passes from 37, 15 and 1 yard out.
Key moment: A seesaw afternoon of classic AFC West football culminated when Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith marched the Chiefs down the field late in the fourth quarter with completions of 26, 28 and 23 yards to wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, running back Dexter McCluster and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. However, the Broncos stiffened in the red zone and safety Mike Adams denied Smith's fourth-down pass in the end zone with 1:46 to play, preserving the win.
It was over when: Ball picked up a late first down with his 28-yard scamper, allowing the Broncos to run out the clock.
Key performer: Decker's four touchdown catches set a Broncos franchise record – and the wide receiver totaled a career-high 174 yards on eight receptions for the game.