KANSAS CITY, Mo. --It took the Broncos quarterback just a few seconds into his post-game press conference to give credit to the team's workhorse in Sunday's victory -- running back Knowshon Moreno.
"I just have to tip my hat off to Knowshon Moreno," Peyton Manning said after Sunday's 17-9 win at Kansas City. "I think after the first two games, he's really been running the scout team, servicing the defense. But, a real credit to him for being a professional, staying in his playbook never knowing when his number was going to be called, and it was called 8-10 weeks later and he stepped up today and did a heck of the job. Really, really impressive effort by him."
Moreno was a gameday inactive for nine straight weeks, his last snap coming in the Week 2 loss at Atlanta. With fellow running back Willis McGahee being placed on injured reserve with a designation for return earlier in the week, Head Coach John Fox called his number. The third-year back took 20 of the team's 23 rushing attempts for a hard-earned 85 yards. He added 26 receiving yards on four catches, which tied for a game high.
While Moreno said he wasn't sure what his workload would be like, the coaching staff knew all along that Moreno had earned a chance as the primary back.
"We kind of knew that – we didn't want to tell a lot of people, but Knowshon has had a great attitude," Fox said. "Things haven't gone perfect for him. I knew he would perform well, his teammates knew he would perform well and he did. We're proud of his effort."
Moreno carried it eight times on the Broncos' back-breaking, fourth-quarter drive that soaked up 6:24 of clock and increased the team's lead to 17-9, giving the Chiefs possession with just 18 seconds left.
To start the drive, he took the ball on four straight plays and picked up two first downs, protecting the football with both hands as Chiefs defenders tried desperately to create a turnover.
Moreno's performance against a stout Chiefs defense was a credit to way the former first-round pick has handled nine weeks of playing on the scout team and being a healthy scratch from the lineup.
"I want to help the team any way I can and my role at that time was just to do practice squad and do whatever I had to do to prepare the 'D,'" Moreno said. "That's the approach I was taking and so I got my chance. I'm very thankful for this opportunity."
Late in third quarter, the Broncos were backed up in their own territory and needed 12 yards to move the chains. Moreno caught a short pass in the middle of the field that left him several yards short of the line to gain with defenders closing in.
"Just trying to get the yards after the catch to help this team and get the first down," Moreno said of his mentality in the receiving game.
He did just that. A Chiefs defender laid a good open-field hit on the running back and sent him stumbling, but not to the ground. He stayed on his feet as he crossed the first down marker and turned a short pass into a 16-yard gain.
"He was hungry," wideout Eric Decker said. "I knew he was going to perform well. He's been having good practices. Obviously his carries and his opportunity to play has been limited, but he's a guy that's been successful when he gets in there. It was good to see him have a good day."
Last November, on the same field, Moreno was on his way to another big day against the Chiefs. He was averaging more than 13 yards per carry in the first half when he left the game with a knee injury that ended his season. The recovery process and transition back into football mode was part of the reason Moreno fell on the depth chart.
It just seemed right that his return to Arrowhead Stadium was a triumphant one.
"It was only fitting that he came back this week and start playing like he did," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "I'm happy for him because I know he works hard. He kept working hard while he was inactive. That's what I expect from him."