ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The opening game of the Broncos' divisional play in 2014 lived up to its billing, as a hard-fought contest took nearly every second to be decided. Ultimately, the Broncos' defense made the game-clinching play for the second week in a row, which was all the more impressive considering how long they spent on the field. That's where we'll start with this week's notebook.
SUSTAINED RESILIENCY ON DEFENSE
With the offense receiving only two possessions (excluding a kneeldown) in the second half, Peyton Manning's pass attempts against the Chiefs totaled just 26. The last time Manning had fewer attempts when playing a full game was Week 2 of 2009, when his Colts had the ball for just 14:53 and still beat the Dolphins 27-23 on a Monday night. Only once before has Manning thrown as few as 26 times in a game as a Bronco: His first game with the team in 2012's season opener against the Steelers.
Being limited to that number was understandable on Sunday, considering the Broncos' offense had just 49 snaps, including the kneeldown. The other side of that coin, however, was Denver's defense being on the field for a whopping 86 snaps, including 20:54 of the final 30 minutes of game time.
"We were on the field for a long time," Terrance Knighton said. "But like [Defensive Coordinator] Jack [Del Rio] always says, 'They're not in until they're in.'"
The unit hung on during a 19-play drive that took up exactly 10 minutes to start the third quarter, yielding no points after a missed field goal. Kansas City followed that possession with a 14-play drive that spanned 7:42.
"When you're out there a long time, you're going to get a little tired, but you've got to have that bend-don't-break mentality and keep rolling," DeMarcus Ware said.
The Chiefs' final drive felt like deja vu all over again, with Denver's D facing 11 more plays and twice having potential game-clinching plays wiped away. A pick-six by Aqib Talib was brought back by an offsides call and Ware's strip sack of Alex Smith was ruled an incomplete pass after review. But even as KC approached the goal line, the Broncos' defense held firm.
"All week we heard about our defense wearing out at the end," Knighton said. "That drive tested us. We didn't want to wither away towards the end; we wanted to get stronger as the game goes on, and I think we did a good job of that, and guys made plays at the end."
"It's good that we're getting this test early and building character for our defense and responding."
RUNNING WITH A PURPOSE
Shrouded by the offense's lack of opportunities was a very strong performance from the running game, which proved very efficient with either Montee Ball or C.J. Anderson in the backfield.
Check out the best shots from the first half of Sunday's game between the Broncos and Chiefs.
Excluding kneeldowns, the Broncos averaged 3.8 yards per carry on 28 attempts against the Colts in Week 1. In Week 2, the offensive line and running backs produced 91 yards on just 17 carries against the Chiefs, good for 5.4 yards a pop.
"We've got some work to do," Ball said. "Every week we're getting better though. It was definitely a better run-game performance this week than last week."
"I felt Montee ran hard," Manning said. "I thought C.J. gave us a nice change of pace, and there were some nice little holes in there. When we could run the ball, that was I think keeping them a little bit off balance."
Anderson now has 58 yards on nine carries through two games, proving he's more than capable as a sub-in back for Ball. And if the Broncos can maintain the efficiency from Sunday over a larger sample size in the future, the run game might prove more lethal than it has in years past.
BOUNCEBACK FOR D.T.
Demaryius Thomas isn't used to dropping multiple passes in a game. Last Sunday's three-drop game was his "first time ever" with that many at any level of football. So with the Chiefs up next — a team he's feasted on for 19 catches, 431 yards and two touchdowns in four games since Manning arrived in Denver — it was fair to expect a strong rebound from the fifth-year wideout.
No. 88 delivered with five receptions for 62 yards and a gorgeous one-handed touchdown on a fade route from Manning that proved to be the game-winning score.
"I think it just stuck there," Thomas said of the catch. He added with a smile, "I think my hands helped too, though. Nice-sized hands."
Thomas' stat line would have been boosted further by a 55-yard catch and run on a screen pass in the first quarter, but the play was called back on an ineligible man downfield penalty. Even without that play on the stat sheet, the performance from the two-time Pro Bowler was certainly encouraging, particularly with the Seahawks, against whom Thomas caught a Super Bowl-record 13 passes, on the schedule next. With Emmanuel Sanders already putting up career performances and the tight ends showing their deadliness, the Broncos' weapons are in top form.