KANSAS CITY, Mo. --** If there's one lesson learned in the Broncos' 31-24 win over the Chiefs on Thursday, it is this: Executive Vice President/General Manager John Elway got what he wanted — and perhaps more, much more.
This is not merely a team that will go down kicking and screaming if it succumbs, as he suggested in January. It will do something more, and use that rage-against-the-dying-of-the-light ferocity to turn defeat into victory.
That's what happened in the game's final minutes.
With 2:32 remaining, Chiefs RB Knile Davis raced into the open field for an easy touchdown to put Kansas City up 24-17. It had been more than three years since the Chiefs last found themselves on the winning side, and as they gained a seven-point lead, it seemed as if all they had to do was stop an offense that struggled to find consistency. Broncos fans all over Arrowhead Stadium appeared dejected, while some Chiefs were confident that the game was over.
"We thought we had it won," Davis said.
But with Peyton Manning at the helm and a tenacious defense, the Broncos shocked the Chiefs and their frenzied crowd. They scored two touchdowns in a nine-second span in the last minute of play, beginning with a 19-yard Emmanuel Sanders score that capped a 10-play, 80-yard sprint.
The Broncos defense gave the Chiefs some trouble in their win on Thursday. Both Harris and CB Aqib Talib snagged an interception. Denver also finished with four sacks and three forced fumbles.
But it would be impossible to imagine a defensive play bigger than the Broncos' last forced fumble, when Brandon Marshall pushed his right hand toward the football as Jamaal Charles held it while falling to the ground. The football flew free, and Bradley Roby returned it 21 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 27 seconds remaining.
Arrowhead was catatonic — well, except for Denver's sideline, which erupted in giddiness. The Broncos had their league-record 13th consecutive divisional road win.
"That was a crazy win," Roby said. "As a defense we kept saying that we were going to have to win the game and we made that happen at the end of the game. We can't be anything but happy about it. It's a great way [to] win."
Manning hasn't lost his touch
It may have taken five quarters, but the Broncos offense got to the end zone for the first time of 2015, and they showed their resilience in doing so. With a 34-yard sprint to the goal line from RB Jamaal Charles, followed almost immediately by Marcus Peters' interception returned for a touchdown, the Chiefs had knocked the Broncos down 14-0.
On the team's next possession, Manning took the Broncos on an 80-yard drive that ended with finding WR Emmanuel Sanders crossing inside to put Denver on the board. In Week 1, Manning struggled to consistently connect with his receivers. On Thursday he found Sanders for two touchdowns and 87 receiving yards, while Demaryius Thomas had eight catches for 116 yards.
"During the game you just have to be able to adjust and we were playing against a really good defense," said Manning. "They have some guys back that weren't healthy last year and they're better, they are stout. They are present up front and have the ability to rush the passer.
"It was kind of tough all night, we put together a drive or two in the first half and kind of just plugged along. In the second half, two games in a row, we saved the best drive for last. I think that is something that is positive and we can build on."
With Thursday's win, Manning goes up 14-1 against the Chiefs in his career. He also reached 70,000 career passing yards, joined only by former Packers QB Brett Favre. While doubt has swept up many analysts and fans as of late, Manning's teammates trust he will quiet the skeptics as soon as he feels out the changes on offense.
"He's still got it," said ILB Brandon Marshall. "People are always questioning Peyton. We've got a new, young offensive line and this is just the first two games. He's going to be getting into a rhythm. He's going to start being more consistent and trusting the offense more and those parts are going to start rolling up."
While he'd stepped into the chaotic atmosphere that Arrowhead Stadium boasts many times before, the veteran quarterback admitted that Thursday night's victory might have been the wildest yet.
"I've never been in one quite like that," said Manning. "I have been in a couple of crazy games. But never one quite like that.
Special teams contain explosive Chiefs
With two dynamic threats in both punt and kick returns, the Chiefs' special teams unit is a massive advantage to helping their field position. Last year they were No. 4 and No. 2 in average yards on punt and kick returns.
However, the Broncos did not give De'Anthony Thomas or Knile Davis any breathing room on Thursday. Save for one return, kickoffs sailed through the end zone and the punt team pinned Thomas to the sidelines to keep him from finding open lanes. All told, the Chiefs' drives averaged a starting position of their own 22-yard line. WR Bennie Fowler also forced Thomas to fumble a punt return in the second quarter.
"I had the option get in my golf bag a little bit and throw some different punts at them, and I think for the most part, I executed those well," punter Britton Colquitt said. "The last one I kind of got out of bounds too early, I think, and then one of them that ended up good with a penalty on top of it. I kind of put it in the middle of the field rugby-style punt. I didn't want it in the middle of the field but our coverage guys did their job. Guys getting the ball out on that third punt was incredible."
Thomas was especially contained, returning four punts for just 15 yards. In 2014, Thomas averaged 11.9 yards per punt return with zero fair catches. On Thursday, Thomas called for the first fair catch of his career and averaged 3.8 yards per return.
"We also know if Brandon and I put the ball where we should with hangtime and location and everything like that, guys shouldn't have to do anything," Colquitt said. "But in this league there's guys like this returner that never calls a fair catch. And he's the type that will take it from the one-yard line or get hit while he's catching it. So a really scary guy to go against."
It was also another week with a great performance from Brandon McManus. He only had one field goal attempt, but he hit a 54-yarder with some difficult wind and he continued to boot kickoffs out of the end zone.
"I think we improved special teams-wise from last week to this week," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "One of our goals—their return game was pretty good—we held up pretty good and got a turnover and then Brandon [McManus] continues to be exceptional. The kick he made, there was a question whether we should let him try that. The wind was blowing a little bit, you guys know that. But he's been exceptional."