KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Redemption can be seven years in the making. Or it can come in seven days.
The Broncos' performance to this point in the season offered them the luxury of absorbing one loss in the demanding three-game stretch without losing their grip on the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. But they couldn't afford another.
So redemption couldn't wait. Not with the division on the line, and no margin for error in their duel for position with the New England Patriots.
Not everyone who left Foxborough, Mass. last week pondering how they fell short was able to change their personal narrative. But the Broncos defeated the Chiefs 35-28 at Arrowhead Stadium because the men who had the most to lament were some of the ones who came up the biggest.
Redemption arrived for Eric Decker, who had just one catch for five yards last week and was beaten for an interception that set up a fourth-quarter touchdown. In setting a Broncos single-game touchdown catch record with four, he outpaced his scoring total from the season's first 11 games.
"To be honest, I had a tough month. It was kind of a struggle for me," said Decker, who had averaged a modest 3.3 receptions and 42.5 yards a game with no touchdowns since Week 8.
Sunday was anything but. With Peyton Manning's play-action passes helping to keep Kansas City's safeties from reacting too quickly to deep routes, Decker ran riot past Brandon Flowers and Marcus
Cooper with a variety of routes. On the post, on the flag, on the go, on the sprint down the seam, he executed his routes with equal, devastating efficiency, becoming the receiver he often was last year and earlier this year, but had not appeared to be in six weeks.
"I take my hat off to 'Deck' because he's been working hard," said Demaryius Thomas. "He felt like he hadn't been playing so well but I think he had. I take my hat off to him because he played his butt off today."
Decker helped stake the Broncos to a lead. But so did the defense, which also found redemption after allowing 31 unanswered points last week to allow the Patriots to execute the biggest comeback against the Broncos in a quarter-century.
The defense struggled early as the Chiefs pounded away at the line of scrimmage, rounded into form in the game's middle third, then found itself on its heels again in the fourth quarter as Kansas City's bobble-prone receivers suddenly had a magnetic attraction to the football.
Then it was fourth-and-4 at the Denver 13-yard-line, with 1:51 remaining. The defense had challenged itself after allowing a pair of early touchdown drives and another march that was only saved by Wesley Woodyard's alert end-zone interception. Now, in the darkness, the challenge was laid down again: make one play, one stop.
It helped that it could lean on past end-game successes: Danny Trevathan's alert pick of Tony Romo in Week 5, and even its late-game surge last week that would have resulted in at least a tie if a bouncing punt hadn't collided with Tony Carter.
"We always want to win on defense," said cornerback Chris Harris, Jr., who thought he had a game-winning forced fumble earlier in the drive before it was called otherwise. "Just being selfish, we want to have the end of the game like that."
And when Mike Adams deflected Alex Smith's pass for Dwayne Bowe, it had another clutch success.
And finally, redemption came for running back Montee Ball, someone who may not have had any more second chances, at least not in the short term.
This week, he felt the pressure mounting upon him after a third fumble in 83 touches this season sent him to the bench for the final quarter and a half against the Patriots.
A fumble had helped place Knowshon Moreno on the inactive list for eight games last year; a fumble in a goal-to-go situation sent Ronnie Hillman to the inactives for four consecutive games prior to Sunday. Fumbles have consequences, and Ball knew that another bobble or an otherwise poor performance could send him to the back of the running back line.
It was true, honest adversity, unlike anything Ball had faced in a football journey that had been nothing but a smashing success until he arrived in Denver. That's typical for many players at this level; being the best of the best gets you to the NFL in the first place, but often the league provides the first true football adversity some have faced.
"It's no secret I was struggling a little bit," Ball said.
Plenty of teammates and coaches tried to lift Ball's spirits. But none had a greater impact than Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville.
"He just told me (that) this team -- it's going to need me," Ball said.
But the Broncos needed the Ball that was drafted in the second round, the confident, durable, smart, decisive running back who capitalized off the smallest crease and only fumbled twice in 983 touches at the University of Wisconsin. If that Ball didn't show up -- and fast -- he knew what it could mean for him and the team.
"I told myself today I've got to show up today," Ball said. "Show up today or shut up. It's just that simple.
"I told myself if I don't produce today, I can't get mad at them if they don't play me."
Now they have ample reasons to play him more: as a relief back for Knowshon Moreno, who might be developing into his equal if he has more games like the 117-yard, 9.0-yards-per-carry performance.
The Broncos passed a test Sunday and redeemed themselves. But they needed some to redeem themselves more than others, to find their verve, confidence and a high performance level.
They can't win a title without those attributes from Decker, the defense and Ball. They were needed -- and they delivered.