KANSAS CITY, Mo. --The Broncos knew they would have to match the Chiefs' intensity Sunday night.
The week was emotional for Kansas City following the news that All-Pro safety Eric Berry had a mass in his chest that could be lymphoma and would miss the rest of the season. The Chiefs wore shirts with his name and number in tribute during pre-game warmups. And the Broncos knew that Kansas City would come out with fire that they had to match to extend their Arrowhead Stadium winning streak to four games.
Take a look at the best shots from the second half in Arrowhead Stadium, where the Broncos finished off a 29-16 victory.
But instead, Denver sizzled on the frigid night at Arrowhead Stadium. The defense started with a three-and-out; the offense followed with a march to a 23-yard Peyton Manning-to-Demaryius Thomas touchdown pass, and the team as a whole powered to a comprehensive 29-16 win that kept them atop the AFC West, one game ahead of San Diego.
The Broncos also clinched their 27th winning season in the last 42 years with the win, but that was not of primary concern. That they silenced questions about their ability to defeat tough teams on the road -- and won with a power game on both sides of the football that ground down the Chiefs -- was the story, and the domination was so thorough that it sent most of their fans scurrying toward the exits well before the final gun.
It was not as close as the score indicated, and the Broncos laid the groundwork during the week.
"We started off the first day of practice this week and came out intense, with extreme focus," said safety T.J. Ward. "It kind of carried throughout the week. That's what we needed. You can tell from the results.
"When you practice the way we practiced this week, you usually have a good turnout."
Now, let's look back at how the Broncos fared in the pregame Three Keys.
- STABILITY THROUGH BALANCE.**
The Broncos ran the ball effectively -- and with deep commitment, beginning with their first four plays, all runs, and all with Paul Cornick working as an extra tackle. C.J. Anderson ran the football 32 times -- the second-most for the Broncos in the last 10 years, surpassed only by Knowshon Moreno's 37-carry night on a windy, cold Sunday night in New England last November.
As a result, when the Broncos did pass, the Chiefs tempered their pass rush more often than not. Manning was hit just twice and sacked once, although he did lose a fumble on the strip-sack that led to a Kansas City field goal. But that was an exception, as Manning was rarely under duress when he threw, and the Broncos had firm control of the game's pace from start to finish.
"When we have balance, we're tough to beat," Anderson said.
2. CONTAIN THE CHIEFS UNDERNEATH.
The Broncos neutralized the Chiefs on first and second down, and then unleashed an array of blitzes on third down, exploiting gaps in the Chiefs' blocking scheme and leaving Alex Smith without the time he needed to set up his darts and dodges inside and outside the pocket.
Kansas City's most dangerous underneath targets, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Travis Kelce, never got untracked, combining for 60 yards on seven receptions. None had a gain longer than 19 yards, and only once, on Charles' touchdown reception, did he effectively shed tacklers in the open field.
"We wanted to stop Jamaal Charles and limit him," said tight end Terrance Knighton. "Their tight ends are probably their main targets, and we wanted to get after the quarterback. Everything we set out to do, we did, and it was a good win."
- DON'T ALLOW THE BREAKAWAY RETURN.**
The Broncos prevented Knile Davis and De'Anthony Thomas from the backbreaking returns of 40 or more yards that they notched in recent weeks, holding them to an average of 25.4 yards per return (Albert Wilson added a 21-yard return of a second-quarter kickoff) -- 19.6 yards below their average in the last five games.
Connor Barth's kickoffs were short; none advanced farther than the Kansas City 2-yard-line. Excluding his squib kickoff late in the second quarter, his average kickoff distance was 58.2 yards -- 3.5 yards shorter than the last season in which he handled kickoffs, although that difference can be chalked up to the steady, swirling 18 miles-per-hour winds at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night.
But the Broncos did well at minimizing the damage from Davis and Thomas, and altitude next week and the potential for benign conditions at San Diego in two weeks should allow Barth more distance. The Chiefs' average drive-start position on non-squib kickoffs was at their 32-yard-line; the Broncos hope for better next week.
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