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Peyton's Take: Run game 'up a notch'

KANSAS CITY – It sure seems like Peyton Manning is getting used to handing the ball off.

"I like it," he said after Sunday's 29-16 win over the Chiefs. "I like it. I like winning games. I think we kept their defense kind of on their heels tonight.

"We wanted to come out and establish the run. We thought it was important and we definitely did that and ran it really well the entire night."

Message received.

Facing windy and wintry conditions for the second week in a row, Denver's offense hammered away on the ground and made the running game the backbone of the offense. After the Broncos' season highs in rushing attempts (35) and yards (201) against the Dolphins in Week 12, Adam Gase ramped it up to 45 carries and 214 yards in Arrowhead Stadium. The former total tied the second-highest rush attempts in a game since Manning became a Bronco, exceeded only by last year's overtime game against the Patriots (48 attempts, 10 of which came in overtime).

The emphasis on the run game Sunday was apparent from the start, with C.J. Anderson carrying the ball on eight of the first 10 plays. On the two plays Manning threw, he was deadly: He hit Emmanuel Sanders for 20 yards on third-and-6, and then capped the opening drive on a third-and-5 by dropping a deep ball perfectly in Demaryius Thomas' grasp down the left sideline for a touchdown.

The result was a 14-0 lead before the end of the first quarter, a powerful early impression from a team that has started sluggish on the road several times this season. That the hot start came against a division foe in primetime in one of the tougher road venues in the league couldn't have hurt.

"I thought it was critical to get off to that good start here in a hostile environment, maybe take the crowd out of it a little bit," Manning said.

Unlike last week, when Gase showed commitment to the run game despite an 11-point deficit in the third quarter, the Broncos were able to let the run game to dictate the pace throughout after firing out to the early lead. In the first three quarters, Denver's offense converted 10-of-18 third- and fourth-down attempts, facing an average of 5.7 yards on those attempts thanks to positive runs on early downs. The result was an extremely lopsided time of possession, with the Broncos holding the ball for 31:49 of the first 45 minutes.

With swirling winds and Manning completing 50 percent of his throws – his lowest rate in a game since his third game with the Broncos – the routine chunks that came on the ground were vital in keeping the offense on the field. No. 18 was again effusive with praise for those who cleared the way up front.

See the best shots from the action at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night.

"The offensive line was awesome tonight," Manning said of a unit that played its fourth game in its current configuration, with Louis Vasquez at right tackle, Manny Ramirez at right guard and Will Montgomery at center. "All of them: Will, Manny, Orlando [Franklin], Lou, [Ryan] Clady, Paul [Cornick]'s playing the majority of the time. Virgil [Green] once again blocked great and C.J. was just a workhorse tonight."

When asked if the running game is beginning to click better than it has in recent years, Manning was quick to answer: "I mean C.J., what'd he have 160 yards two weeks in a row? I'd say that's up a notch.

"He's been special, and the offensive line has really created some holes, Virgil, Paul, Jacob [Tamme] at the tight end spots. And it's been huge for us."

If there was one piece missing, it was precision inside the Chiefs 20, where the Broncos settled for five field goals in six ventures (excluding a kneeldown to end the game after a KC turnover on downs).

"The red zone obviously was disappointing," Manning said. "We had some chances probably to put the game away earlier."

Take a look at the best shots from the second half in Arrowhead Stadium, where the Broncos finished off a 29-16 victory.

But the 13-point victory despite a lack of touchdowns bodes well for the future, especially for a team that had come away with seven points on 74.4 percent of trips inside the opposing 20 for the season entering Sunday's game. And it also gave the newest Bronco plenty an opportunity to prove himself. Manning described Connor Barth – who equaled the franchise record for field goals in a game with five – as "rock solid."

"How about that?" Manning said with a smile. "I just had a chance to visit with him and he said he was laying out by the pool this time last week, and then he came in here in zero degree weather and went 5-for-5 on field goals. So that was huge."

Now with consecutive wins since a 22-7 loss in St. Louis and back to .500 on the road for the season, the 9-3 Broncos head to the three-quarter pole in a rhythm that reflects their recently emphasized rushing attack.

"We've certainly kind of answered the challenge the last two weeks against two really good opponents," Manning said. "…We haven't played particularly well on the road and so it was good to get this road victory tonight. Hopefully we can keep that going the rest of the way."

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