ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – ** The Broncos got off to a quick start and dominated the Chiefs on Sunday night, moving to 9-3.
SPECIAL TEAMS MAKE BIG IMPACT
In his first game as the Broncos' kicker, Connor Barth converted on 5-of-5 field goals, tying a franchise record for field goals in a single game.
Not a bad start for the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
While all of Barth's attempts were from 37 yards or less, it was still an impressive performance in the freezing temperatures.
"He said he was laying out by the pool this time last week and came in here in zero-degree weather and went 5-for-5 in field goals," Peyton Manning said of Barth's performance. "That was huge. We always try to score touchdowns down there; it wasn't our best night in the red zone but we did come away with points every time and that was the difference in the ball game. He was rock solid."
While Barth accounted for 17 of the Broncos' 29 points, all facets of the Broncos' special teams performed well. After the Broncos' defense forced a second consecutive Chiefs three-and-out to start the game, undrafted rookie Isaiah Burse had a career-high punt return of 22 yards. This put the Broncos at the Kansas City 43. That excellent field position allowed the Broncos to continue their hot start and drive down the field for a second TD.
Omar Bolden, who was a standout on special teams last week as he averaged 20.7 yards on three kickoff returns, led the unit again on Sunday. Early in the second quarter on a punt return, Bolden, the gunner, darted down the field and tackled De'Anthony Thomas immediately after he caught the ball for a loss of one, putting the Chiefs at their own 9.
At the time, it seemed like a huge blow when Andre Caldwell was flagged for going out of bounds on the punt and Andy Reid elected to have the Broncos punt again. But the Broncos took advantage and ran their first fake punt of the season as the ball was snapped to special teams captain David Bruton and he took it around the left edge for 13 yards and the first down.
"Well, we always want to play complementary football," Terrance Knighton said. "We always want the offense to go down and score, and come out and stop them. David Bruton made a great call on that (fake) punt. He actually made that call on his own. So that was brave of him. But he's a captain and he's a leader. If there's anybody on special teams that we trust the most, it's David Bruton. So it was a heck of a play by him, it swung the momentum and, when all phases are hitting, we're a tough team to beat."
Bolden also made a key play at the end of the third quarter with the Broncos up 23-10. Britton Colquitt's punt bounced off the Chiefs' Marcus Cooper, who lost track of the ball, and Bolden immediately recovered it. That play gave his offense the ball back at the KC 37 and Manning drove the offense downfield for a field goal.
TURNOVERS FINALLY GO BRONCOS WAY
The Broncos had been waiting for their break all season. Heading into the game, the Broncos had forced 13 fumbles but only recovered two of them. Against the Dolphins, the defense had a drive where they forced three fumbles – two of them went out of bounds and the other was recovered by the Dolphins.
But turnovers made a big difference for both teams on Sunday.
Bolden's fumble recovery on the punt helped the Broncos solidify their lead at the end of the third quarter, preventing the Chiefs from scoring and giving the offense possession. Earlier in the third, Justin Houston got around Louis Vasquez and chopped Peyton Manning's arm, causing a fumble deep in Broncos territory and the Chiefs settled for a field goal.
While that Manning fumble helped the Chiefs close in on the Broncos, Denver won the turnover battle.
DeMarcus Ware came away with his third interception of his career in the third quarter as Knighton tipped a pass intended for Dwayne Bowe and Ware corralled the ball.
"I told him (Ware) it was an alley-oop," Knighton said. "The guy that always catches the ball, he gets the attention. That's something we actually practice, tipping the ball and the guys going up and getting it. DeMarcus was in the right place at the right time. He challenged the leaders on this team to make plays and they did."
"When I caught the pick," Ware said, "I actually had hardly seen it because it was in the lights, but once I turned around and saw all those red jerseys, I knew I wasn't going to score but I said, 'Let's try to get as many yards as you can."
Late in the fourth quarter, Donnie Avery took the ball downfield for a 20-yard gain. But Rahim Moore was able to strip him of the ball and Bradley Roby was nearby to scoop it up, giving the Broncos the ball back with 3:44 left in the game.
"It's about time," Chris Harris Jr. said of finally having luck with turnovers. "It's been forever. And finally we got a lot of turnovers yesterday. We talked about that. We needed three and we ended up getting that and especially on the road, you've got to have those key plays to put them out, put them quiet real fast, and the big thing we wanted to do was come out and start fast and have them quiet. Getting up 14-0 was huge."
KEY PLAYERS' ABSENCE A NON-FACTOR
As the Broncos march deeper into the season, the injuries continue to pile up. But that didn't seem to matter on Sunday night.
Without Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster in the secondary and the continued absence of linebackers Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving, the Broncos were able to play excellent defense. Bradley Roby and Tony Carter stepped up and the Chiefs were held to 1-of-9 on third down and 151 yards of total offense, both season lows.
Harris said this was the defense's best performance of the season thus far.
"We came together," he said. "It's chemistry that we needed. We just needed to come and play together – have fun together. We had a great week of practice. We've just got to keep that same chemistry and momentum up for the rest of the season."
On the offensive side of the ball, Julius Thomas remained sidelined with an ankle injury as well as the two running backs who sit at the top of the depth chart, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. Virgil Green continued to be solid in blocking and had a 10-yard reception for a first down in the second quarter.
Green's blocking helped the Broncos step up in the run game as C.J. Anderson continued to find holes and break through to the secondary. Anderson rushed for a career-high 168 yards on 32 carries.
"I just do whatever is called," Anderson said. "Our offensive coordinator, Coach (Adam) Gase, he trusts me with the ball in my hand. You've got to give it to the big fellas up front. This is making another statement. We are proving to everybody on the outside that we can run the ball and this is what we can do. At the end of the day we got the W and that is all that matters."