DENVER- It wasn't the easiest win, but the Broncos came out on top on Sunday, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 24-17.
All week the Broncos emphasized the added intensity that goes along with playing a divisional opponent. Sunday's game was no exception.
After a strong first half by the Broncos, the Chiefs came marching back and only allowed the Broncos two possessions in the final 30 minutes.
On Wednesday, Manning called the AFC West "the toughest division in football."
"The Chiefs are a playoff team coming back," he said after Wednesday's practice. "Just like last year, you throw out what happened last week; you throw it out the window. It's a division game, two teams very familiar with each other, well-coached, talented football teams. It's a physical football game and that's how we have to play Sunday because we know that's how they're going to play."
Going into the locker room at the half, the Broncos were up 21-10, outgaining Alex Smith and Co. 250 yards to 176. Peyton Manning racked up three touchdown passes to three different receivers in the half and the Broncos appeared to be poised to dominate the remainder of the game.
But the second half posed problems for the team as the Chiefs ate up the clock, maintaining possession for 20:54 of the final 30 minutes of the matchup.
Manning, who finished 21-of-26 for 242 yards, described the second half as "strange."
"Kansas City made some incredible plays on third down in the second half and stayed on the field for the long time," he said. "I guess we had the ball twice in the second half. Had some long downs and distances in one scenario and we got it and converted it and then had a third down stop and then had a good drive for a field goal, which was significant because it made them have to score a touchdown just to tie."
"I think that changes an offense's thinking when it's going with a tie as opposed to going in for the win."
He said the team is always aiming to play four quality quarters, which is something they will continue to work towards.
Last week against the Colts, the Broncos totaled 24 points in the first half to go with 17 first downs. In the second half, the offense punted on five of seven drives. In addition, the defense gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns to the Colts to give them the ball with the opportunity to tie, or win with a two-point conversion, at the end of the game.
Similarly on Sunday, the Chiefs had a first-and-goal with less than two minutes left, down by seven. But a pass deflection at the line of scrimmage from Terrance Knighton on fourth down sealed the victory for the Broncos.
What kept the Chiefs alive was their success on third down and penalties called on the Broncos on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs finished 11-of-16 on third down in the game and 7-of-9 in the second half.
"Certainly on third down you get excited when it's third-and-long," Manning said. "You start warming up and you're getting ready to get out there and they were making some plays on third-and-long. Our defense was hanging in there and obviously bending a little bit but certainly not breaking, those long drives and not giving them points on two of them. I thought that was significant so certainly a lot of things we can learn from on this film and that's what we'll start doing tomorrow."
On a Kansas City drive, which ended in a missed field goal, the Chiefs converted on third-and-18, third-and-11 and third-and-13.
While the Chiefs' success on third down helped them maintain possession, the Broncos were penalized 11 times for 71 yards.
Manning said the offense is working to limit the number of penalties.
"The game's hard enough—first-and-10, second-and-10—but when you're having first-and-15's and first-and-20's, those are hard to overcome," Manning said. "So those are things we can correct. Certainly anytime you have a touchdown called back because of a penalty, that's disheartening because it's a huge swing, 14-point swing potentially. So, look, those are things we can correct. We have offensive goals every week and one of those goals is to have few penalties and that's something we can certainly improve on."
Manning was likely referring to a Demaryius Thomas screen pass that was called back after Chris Clark was penalized as an illegal man downfield. Thomas had stepped out of bounds at the Kansas City 25-yard line before he ran into the end zone. Nonetheless, it would have been a 55-yard gain for the Broncos. In addition, Aqib Talib picked off Smith in the fourth quarter and ran it back for a score, but Quanterus Smith was called offsides, negating the play.
While there were some hiccups in the second half, there were things for the team to be proud of. Manning felt that he saw an improvement in the run game and that the team had an excellent fourth-down conversion in the third quarter.
On third-and-24, Manning handed off to Montee Ball, who sprang for a great run, breaking tackles and making moves for an impressive 23 yards.
"You're looking to try and get it fourth-and-reasonable where at least he has to make a decision and so [he] had a pass play called and sometimes [the] defense will pressure you and that situation might give you an eight-man coverage," Manning said. "And in that particular case, they dropped a bunch of guys in coverage looking for a pass and so we changed [to] the run play, hoping to maybe get 5 yards, 10 yards."
He said Head Coach John Fox isn't afraid to go for it on fourth down and he felt the team had positive momentum heading into fourth-and-1. Ball powered down the middle for two yards and the first down.
"Since we had a third down positive play for us where we had a little momentum, I felt good about the decision, too," Manning said. "To keep the pressure on them without having a timeout, keep them from having a chance to go over, visit with their coaches, get everybody exactly on the same page. When you have to huddle up and the crowd was as loud as it was, I think that puts a lot of pressure on the offense. So I thought it was the right move by Coach Fox."
The penalties that plagued the Broncos throughout the game affected them on the following play as a false start called on Julius Thomas put the Broncos at first-and-15 and the Broncos couldn't convert.
But the Broncos started the season as they had hoped: 2-0. The team defeated two 2013 playoff teams in their opening games and can still look to improve upon their solid start. It doesn't get easier as they head to Seattle next week to face the Seahawks.
"We have our own goals and what we're trying to accomplish, certainly offensively we have our goals, defensively we have our goals," he said. "We're playing a lot of good football teams. We played two really good teams, two playoff teams off the bat. [I] feel fortunate to win those games. [We] have another tough game next week, as well, so it's still kind of the goals that you set and the offensive philosophies that you have, if you can achieve those goals, those usually can lead to positive results and so we're hitting some of those goals and some thing we can do a little better job of."