DENVER -- The Broncos had the Chiefs exactly where they wanted after 47 minutes and 13 seconds Monday.
They led by 10 points. They had firm control of the pace of the game, as they had racked up 159 rushing yards on 21 carries to that point. They had advantages in first downs (19-14) and total yards (338-276). They had held the Chiefs to a field goal and three punts on their last four drives.
But the final 12 minutes and 47 seconds belonged to Kansas City, as the Chiefs mounted two long drives -- both of which included a pair of penalties -- which sandwiched a Denver three-and-out. The result was a crushing 27-23 Broncos defeat that dropped them two games back of the undefeated Chiefs in the AFC West and extended their losing streak in the series to six games.
"We should have won that game," inside linebacker Brandon Marshall.
So why didn't the Broncos win?
Because Denver let the Chiefs out of second-and-30
After moving the sticks and getting to the Denver 49-yard line with 3:07 remaining, two penalties knocked the Chiefs back to second-and-30 at their 31-yard line. With the home crowd roaring, the Broncos appeared poised for a stop that could have sealed the game.
"I'm thinking like, 'There ain't no way they'd be able to get this,'" outside linebacker Von Miller said. "And then they did."
It happened in two plays. First, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes rolled to his right and found Demarcus Robinson in man-to-man coverage for 23 yards. Then, on third-and-7, the play clock expired before the snap to Mahomes, but no flags flew. Since this was a play that could not be challenged, the ensuring 35-yard pass from Mahomes to Demetrius Harris stood.
"The ref [Craig Wrolstad] came into the huddle that that's his [the back judge's] one job; he just missed it," Marshall said. "And one of our players was like, 'Well, if that's his one job, how did he miss it?' And then he [said], 'Oh, he was also looking at the quarterback.'"
Head Coach Vance Joseph said he asked officials about the non-call.
"I did, and he said he looked up, it was '0' and the ball was gone," Joseph said. "I disagree. I disagree."
Still, it shouldn't have come down to that.
"You can't leave the game in the hands of the ref, and we've just got to do our job and finish it with our own thing," outside linebacker Shane Ray said.
"We've just got to go out and take the game. We've got to take it. We were winning the game all the way until the fourth quarter and we've got to finish, man. Five minutes left, that's a game we've got to take."
Moments later, the Chiefs took it for themselves, as the Chiefs followed the Mahomes-to-Demetrius Harris connection with two runs and a Broncos offside penalty. Kareem Hunt's 4-yard burst into the end zone with 1:39 left gave Kansas City the decisive points.
"We just didn't finish," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We've got to close that game out. We had them second-and-30 and we just let them off the hook."
Because the offense stalled at the worst possible time
For the first 47 minutes of the game, Denver's offense used a powerful rushing attack to wear down the Chiefs and sustain drives.
Just two of the Broncos' first seven possessions ended without a first down, and the Broncos were able to build momentum with four possessions that covered at least 50 yards, which limited the opportunities for Mahomes and Kansas City's offense.
But in a spot where the Broncos succeeded against the Seahawks in Week 1, they failed Monday. There was no clock-chewing drive that drained hope from a visiting foe this time, just a run for no gain, a pass to Emmanuel Sanders for no gain and a sack.
Because Marquette King couldn't deliver a field-flipping blast late
After that three-and-out, the Broncos needed King to crank out a blast that could ensure Tyreek Hill didn't have a return opportunity and put the Chiefs in poor field position. He accomplished the first part, but failed in the second, as the 35-yard punt gave the Chiefs possession at their 40-yard line, effectively putting them two moderate completions away from range of what would have been a game-tying field goal.
King finished the night with a 28.7-yard net average, which was also impacted by Hill's 37-yard return of a 51-yard punt during the first quarter.
"He's got to perform better," Joseph said. "We're at home and it's his job to flip the field. That isn't happening. He's got to play better."
Because the Broncos couldn't cash in on a final touchdown chance
Three plays after a Case Keenum-to-Jeff Heuerman connection moved the Broncos to the Kansas City 28-yard line, Demaryius Thomas sprinted down the sideline and was wide open after Chiefs cornerback Orlando Scandrick released him as part of his cover-two responsibilities. But Keenum overthrew the sprinting Thomas, forcing the Broncos into a fourth-and-10 play that fell incomplete.
"It was close," Keenum said. "I want to watch it on film, but it felt really close. There's a few, especially those type of plays that I'll lose a little sleep over, thinking about it, laying at night in bed. It's a tough one. It stings."
Because the Broncos could not convert their pass rushes into sacks
And that itself was largely due to Mahomes' ability to escape and extend plays time and again. Denver hit Mahomes nine times, but only finished with a single sack by Todd Davis that resulted in no gain.
"We've got to get him down. That's just plain and simple. He's pretty fast," Miller said. "He'll run all day, buy time and especially to the right, deep. I'm talking like 20 yards deep and then he'll throw the ball 40 yards. He's a great quarterback. He did a great job tonight."
Mahomes' scrambling also had another effect: It left the defense fatigued from chasing Chiefs targets around for longer bursts as the second-year quarterback escaped the pocket and kept plays alive.
"It takes a huge toll, because obviously you're tired, you've been playing a long game, and then he's scrambling out, and these receivers are running their routes, and you have to plaster them," Marshall said. "It's tough, man, but it's part of our job."
Because the Chiefs' tight ends dominated after halftime
Neither Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris caught a pass before halftime. They combined for 137 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions in the second half, including three of the Chiefs' four longest pass plays -- 35- and 24-yard connections to Harris and a 29-yard pass to Kelce in the third quarter.
Harris' 35-yard catch past outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett set up the game-winning score.
"I was just covering him and then saw somebody else and I peeked at him, then lost eyes on my man and he kept running," Barrett said. "And that play got off."