KANSAS CITY — The Broncos contained Patrick Mahomes.
They held Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to a combined 49 yards, limited the Chiefs to 5-of-12 on third down and 1-of-2 in the red zone and allowed just 16 points defensively.
Offensively, they outgained the Chiefs through the air and on the ground, held the ball longer and pieced together a 20-play drive.
And it wasn't enough in a 22-9 "Sunday Night Football" loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
For each positive that the Broncos recorded — and they did exist — Denver failed to make a critical, much-needed play.
After a 36-yard pass to Jerry Jeudy and a 14-yard Javonte Williams run helped push the Broncos to a first-and-10 at the Kansas City 14-yard line, a pair of penalties pushed Denver backward. First, Courtland Sutton was whistled for pass interference and holding, and Teddy Bridgewater was then called for intentional grounding. The Broncos had to settle for a field goal on the drive.
At the end of the first half, Denver pieced together a 20-play drive — during which the Broncos converted a pair of fourth downs — that was the longest drive in both time of possession and plays since at least 2001. It ended with no points. On fourth-and-2 from the Kansas City 8-yard line, Williams was tackled in the backfield for a 1-yard loss. Instead of fully recovering from a 10-0 first-quarter deficit, the Broncos remained down a touchdown.
Williams would later say there was a "miscommunication" on the play, though Head Coach Vic Fangio said it was too late to call a timeout by the time the miscommunication became apparent.
"I mean, every drive you try to get points," Bridgewater said, "but on a drive like that when you're in the situation [where you're] already starting the drive backed up and you get the ball out of there and you get the ball all the way down the field, you don't score — it just sucks, man.
With the game still in reach — Denver trailed just 10-3 at halftime — the Broncos' offense later turned the ball over twice. The first came as Bridgewater tried to look off the safety on a first-down play in Kansas City territory.
"They guy on the first interception, he had the tight end in man [coverage] and the tight end was in protection, so the guy ended up falling off in the hole," Bridgewater said. "I tried to look him left and anticipate the throw, and he made a play. Wish I could take it back, but I can't."
The second came with the Broncos trailing 16-3 in the fourth quarter, and it ended all hopes of a comeback win. On that play, one of the Broncos' six fourth-down attempts, Bridgewater's pass was deflected at the line and Daniel Sorensen snagged the football and took off for a score.
The pick-six gave Kansas City a 22-3 lead and effectively sealed the game, but that play came only after a muffed punt that handed the Chiefs an extra possession in the red zone.
Rookie running back Javonte Williams was one of the lone bright spots on offense, as he became the first rookie in team history with more than 100 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards in a game. He finished with 23 carries for 102 yards and six receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Still, Denver wasn't able to convert that effort — or those of its other playmakers — often enough into points. Denver has now scored fewer than 10 points in three of its last five losses to Kansas City.
"We've got to be able to score more points, no matter who you're playing — especially the Chiefs at home," Fangio said. "… I thought we did a lot of good things, offensively. That drive at the end of the first half was really good; we just didn't finish it. Couldn't get the last 2 yards to keep the drive going on third-and-2 and fourth-and-2. But, yeah, you're not going to beat many teams, especially the Chiefs, scoring [nine] points and turning it over three times."
The Broncos' defense, as previously noted, did find success. Mahomes was just 15-of-29 for 184 yards, an interception and a 57.3 quarterback rating. After a 10-point opening quarter, Denver forced Kansas City into either a punt or turnover on four of its five possessions from the start of the second quarter until the end of the third frame.
Rookie cornerback Pat Surtain II picked off Mahomes to start the second half, earning his fourth interception of the season. He now ranks second among all AFC cornerbacks in interceptions, and he has the most interceptions by a Broncos rookie since 1973.
Even the defensive players, though, felt like they could have done more to aid the cause.
"I don't think we did — and this is just how I'm wired — I don't think we did enough in order to win the game," Justin Simmons said. "… I know defensively, we didn't leave that game saying, 'Oh, we did our part.' We could've got one more takeaway, set our offense up on a shorter field one time. Those are the sort of things that kind of run through our head and we have those conversations. We just got to find a way to do a little bit more to win those games."
After the loss, the Broncos may find themselves answering the same slew of questions in the leadup to a Week 18 game in Denver against the Chiefs. The streak has grown to 12 games, and the Broncos may well need a win over the Chiefs in the final week of the regular season to earn a playoff bid. Several Broncos said Sunday night that despite the score, they believe they're closing the gap.
"I feel like … the past few times that we played them, we've been in the game … late in the game and we've done some things to either shoot ourselves in the foot or not capitalize on opportunities when they arise," Courtland Sutton said. "Like I said, it's on us to make sure that we capitalize on opportunities when they come, because [when] you play a quality team like the Chiefs, it's important to make sure that we capitalize on those opportunities and not let them slip. And we're going to go in, going to evaluate the film, figure out where we can get better at and move on to the next game."
The Broncos, though, have work to do before Week 18. Safety Kareem Jackson spoke to the team after the loss and stressed a playoff mindset. The Broncos aren't out of the wild-card race, but they'll likely need to finish 4-1 in their final five games to have a chance at the postseason.
"We've just got to rebound and start this last five-game run playing Detroit this Sunday and get back on track," Fangio said. "We're still in the hunt, and we can take care of business."
Sutton said he "1000 percent" believed that the team is still confident in its ability to rebound from a loss in a battle for first place.
"We have five games left," Sutton said. "They're all playoff games. And we have an opportunity. We hold our destiny in our hands, taking these five games, like I said, like playoff games. And it's a win-or-go-home mentality for us. The locker room understands that and everybody is rallying around it. We're going to go in and watch the film tomorrow, put this one to bed and get ready for the Lions."