KANSAS CITY, Mo. --In Christmas night downpour at Arrowhead Stadium, the Broncos' hopes of a sixth consecutive postseason were lost like the proverbial tears in the rain.
Kansas City sprinted out of the gate with three first-quarter touchdowns -- two of which came on the two longest plays from scrimmage allowed by Denver this season -- and the Broncos never recovered, eventually falling 33-10 in a defeat that eliminated them from postseason consideration.
Things went awry at the start for the Broncos. After the offense punted after just one first down on its opening series, the Chiefs sprinted downfield on their opening series, going 77 yards on seven plays in a drive that culminated in a 10-yard Alex Smith touchdown run. The score gave them a lead they never relinquished.
One series later, Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill sprinted 70 yards through a hole around left end for another touchdown. Two possessions after that, Travis Kelce took a screen pass 80 yards through the Broncos' defense for a touchdown that put the Broncos down 21-7. Denver never ran another play with less than an 11-point deficit after that.
"We just got our tail whupped, man," said safety Darian Stewart. "They were more ready than we were. They came out of the gates and we gave up three huge plays -- 21- start. We never recovered."
Kansas City finished the game with 484 yards, becoming the first team in the last two seasons to gain more than 400 yards on the Broncos. Until Sunday night, Denver had been the only team to not allow 400 yards of total offense in a game during the last two seasons.
"We haven't given up that type of ball movement in a while," said Head Coach Gary Kubiak. "I'm disappointed."
The offense's month-long issues continued, as it failed to generate a single drive that covered 40 yards.
One third-quarter sequence encapsulated the offense's frustrating night. Just under five minutes into the quarter, on the Broncos' first second-half possession, Denver elected to an accept an offsides penalty against the Chiefs, taking a 9-yard run by Devontae Booker off the stat sheet. With second-and-5 instead of third-and-1 that they would have had if the penalty had been accepted, the Broncos promptly went backward, thanks to a 5-yard false-start penalty on Donald Stephenson and a 4-yard loss on a pass from Trevor Siemian to Booker. That left the Broncos in third-and-14, and an incompletion followed.
Penalties were a persistent problem, particularly for Stephenson, who was flagged five times -- four of which were accepted for 30 yards.
A look back at how the three keys to the game impacted the eventual result:
- WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE**
Two fourth-quarter fumbles by Kalif Raymond and Devontae Booker and a last-play interception tossed by Siemian ensured that the Broncos had a negative turnover margin, while also ending any hopes of a Broncos comeback.
Until the final quarter, the Broncos' plus-1 turnover margin was all that separated them from facing a three-score deficit.
Justin Simmons returned an errant Alex Smith pass 38 yards to the Kansas City 6-yard line, setting up the Broncos for a Justin Forsett 1-yard touchdown run two plays later. Inside linebacker Corey Nelson forced the errant throw when he raced unblocked through the A-gap, hitting Smith as he threw.
Simmons' interception was the Broncos' first takeaway since late in the Week 13 win at Jacksonville, but it was far from enough, as the Broncos could not sustain momentum after capitalizing, giving up an 80-yard touchdown catch-and-run to Kelce on the next drive.
2. LIMIT HILL AND KELCE
Right from the start, the Broncos struggled to contain Hill and Kelce, who combined for 203 of the Chiefs' 243 yards in the first 15 minutes.
Although the Broncos limited their damage from that point onward, Kelce still finished with 160 yards on 11 receptions, accounting for nearly two-thirds of Alex Smith's 244 passing yards.
Punter Riley Dixon did a good job limiting Hill's opportunities on punt returns, and Hill caught none of the five passes thrown in his direction. But his touchdown sprint negated all of that.
3. PROTECT SIEMIAN
Even without Justin Houston, who missed the game because of swelling in his knee, the Chiefs still put constant pressure on Siemian, hitting him five times.
Kansas City frequently aligned Tamba Hali and Dee Ford on the same side, trying to put pressure on tackles Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson, depending on the play. The tactic worked, particularly with Dee Ford, who hit Siemian three times.
Siemian finished with his lowest completion percentage of the season, connecting on just 17 of 43 passes for a 39.5-percent figure.