KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With 1:59 to play in the game and the Broncos clinging to a 14-9 lead, quarterback Peyton Manning dropped back to pass on third-and-7.
An incompletion would stop the clock and turn the ball back to the Chiefs with plenty of time to mount a potential game-winning drive.
Instead, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas beat his defender and came down with the reception along the sideline.
Not only did that catch allow the Broncos to extend their drive and take more time off the clock, it also put Thomas over the 1,000 yard threshold for the season – the first time in his career that the third-year wideout has accomplished that milestone.
"It's big," Thomas said of the achievement. "My main thing is to stay healthy and stay focused and just keep grinding. I feel like if I stay healthy, I can do some big things. I got a quarterback, I have a good group of guys around me to help me out."
Thomas credited the attention that his fellow receivers draw with giving him more opportunities to make big plays for the team.
Five different players tied for the team lead with four catches against the Chiefs, making it difficult for the Kansas City defenders to key on taking away any specific player.
"Most of the time, it's not going to be double teams," Thomas said. "So it'll mainly be man coverage because you have (Eric) Decker, you have (Brandon) Stokley and a good group of guys around me in the receiving corps and a great quarterback."
That great quarterback Thomas referred to has accomplished his share of milestones in his stellar 15-year career.
Manning was happy for his teammate – especially since the catch that gave him the mark also helped give the team a road win.
"We are trying to find ways to get him the ball," Manning said. "That was a great catch down the sideline for that touchdown versus tight coverage and like I said, a couple of big third-down conversions when we had to have them. So, all the receivers are doing a good job. Certainly, our timing can get better, our efficiency can get better, but that's a great achievement by Demaryius for sure."
DEFENSE KEEPS CHIEFS OUT
Despite having two opportunities in the red zone, the Chiefs offense had to settle for three points on all of its scoring drives.
The Broncos defense held firm with its backs against the goal line, forcing Kansas City to score its points on three field goals by Ryan Succop.
"That's big, that's huge," defensive captain Elvis Dumervil said. "It's a four-point swing. We can give up a touchdown or give up three points and at the end of the day, those four points matter. They kicked three field goals and that easily could have been 21 points. Give credit to the guys, we fought hard. The coaching staff – we wanted to emphasize on red zone this week and we came out and executed."
Playing stout defense on third downs was a key to getting the Kansas City offense off the field and giving the ball back to Manning and the Broncos offense.
The Chiefs converted just 3-of-14 third downs on the game, and did not convert a single third-down attempt in the second half as the Denver defense stopped Kansas City on its last eight third-down attempts to end the game.
"I thought our defense did a great job on third down," Head Coach John Fox said. "I think the stats were about 3-of-14, which is going to be critical to get it back and eliminate those touchdowns. They had three trips and again, it's something we work really hard on – the red area. Holding them to three field goals was key in the game."
Although the Chiefs were able to move the ball, when it counted the most, the defense stood its ground.
"They got a couple key plays on us, but we didn't give up a touchdown," Dumervil said. "They got a couple of field goals, but we did a good job overall."
NEXT UP: BUCS
With Sunday's win over the Chiefs, the Broncos maintained their first-place standing in the AFC West.
Although they won their Week 12 matchup, the players know there is still room to improve over the final five games of the 2012 season.
With nothing guaranteed, the Broncos know they need to be focused when the 6-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"We have a good team in Tampa coming in," Dumervil said. "Kansas City is over with. We'll enjoy it tonight, but we have to get ready for a good team coming into our house."
Fox likes to break the season down into quarters, with the goal being at least a 3-1 record in each of the four segments.
The team will look at the film together on Monday and see what improvements can be made as they try to go 4-0 in the "third quarter" of the 2012 season next week against the Buccaneers.
"Ultimately players have to hold each other accountable, and you are certainly always trying to get better," Manning said. "You want to get better late in the season. You either get better or stay worse, you don't stay the same. So, certainly our goal is to get better every week."