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Three Keys Unlocked: Broncos-Chiefs

DENVER -- I can't say that the Broncos' 27-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs went exactly as I thought it would, but at least on the scoreboard, it held true to the form I foresaw:

Do you call 27-17 close? That's my pick. RT @Great13: picturesque! Big statement game today. I don't think it will be close. You? — Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) November 18, 2013

That's one exactly right, and hundreds of others wrong. How the teams got to that point might have been a bit unexpected, but given the teams' performance to date relative to their opponents, the game was close to in line with what could have been expected. Denver's improving and healthier defense continued putting its September and October struggles behind it, and the Chiefs' defense made life a bit more difficult than usual for the Broncos, who were held to 65.5 percent of their usual scoring output -- not far off the 60.6-percent output of offenses against the Chiefs' defense in Weeks 1-9.

Football has the capacity to surprise; it has before in this Broncos season, and it will again. But Sunday night went as well as the Broncos could have hoped, and for the moment, they have the upper hand in the races for the AFC West and the top seed in the AFC playoffs.

And now, a look back at how the three keys unfolded Sunday:


Sunday's game wasn't flawless, but the Chiefs only got one takeaway -- well off their pace heading into the game -- and it wasn't one they forced, but a mistimed handoff from Peyton Manning to Montee Ball.

That ended up costing the Broncos nothing when Danny Trevathan jarred the football loose from Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman, allowing Quentin Jammer to recover and bail out the offense. With that, the turnover phase of the game ended.

"Obviously, you're not feeling real good leaving the field, and then they turn around and fumble right away and we go on and score," said Manning.

When Jammer recovered the football, there was a palpable sense of relief among most of the 77,002 fans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, most of whom were well aware of the Chiefs' predilection for turning takeaways and short fields into points. Five plays and 84 yards later, the Broncos had their first touchdown of the day, and the Chiefs never again ran a play where they had a chance to take the lead when the ball was snapped.


No sacks -- and no hits. In fact, Manning absorbed more punishment from his tackle after the fumbled handoff than from the Chiefs' vaunted pass rush, which has been limited to one sack in the last three games.

This was arguably the best game for an offensive line that has endured its share of pain to get to this point: the rehabilitations of current backups J.D. Walton and Chris Kuper from fractured ankles and subsequent surgeries, the season-ending Lisfranc injury to left tackle Ryan Clady, and most recently the sprained ankle Orlando Franklin suffered against Jacksonville that sidelined him the next game and continues to place him on the weekly injury reports.

"To go sackless against the leading sack defense in the NFL -- that is a great testament to those guys," Manning said.


What was unusual was the number of long drives the Chiefs amassed. All three of their scores came on drives of at least 79 yards; only Steven Johnson's stop of Jamaal Charles at the 1-yard-line on third-and-goal with 2:55 remaining in the second quarter prevented a third 80-yard march. Going into Sunday, just 27.3 percent of the Chiefs' scoring drives covered at least 70 yards.

But that was the only blight for a defense that has accounted for 51 points allowed in the last three games -- an average of 17.0 per outing -- after conceding 27.0 points per game in Weeks 1-7. It held the Chiefs to 4.17 yards per pass play -- 20.3 percent below their season average coming into Sunday --  and was more susceptible to the run than the pass. But by the offense building leads of 14 and 17 points in the second half, the Chiefs did not have the luxury of grinding, and were forced to throw more often than they preferred. One dimension would not be enough.

"If you take out the run game and they've got to play from behind, something like that is always going to happen," said defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson.