*DENVER -- *A frustrating season came to a bitter end on a frigid afternoon as the Chiefs escaped from Denver with a 27-24 win on Harrison Butker's game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired Sunday.
Denver dropped to 5-11 with the loss, which was their 10th in the final 12 games to close the campaign.
Quarterback Paxton Lynch completed 21 of 31 passes for 254 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and running back C.J. Anderson ran for 61 yards on 18 carries to finish with the first 1,000-yard season of his career, but it was not enough to prevent the defeat.
Why did the Broncos fall?
Because the Chiefs pounced early**
Kansas City used a 51-yard connection from Patrick Mahomes II to Demetrius Harris on the third play of the game as the primary propulsion to a game-opening touchdown drive that put the Chiefs on the board just 57 seconds into the contest.
Kareem Hunt scored on a 35-yard run two plays later to put the Chiefs in front 7-0.
Because a penalty resuscitated the Chiefs late**
Denver had rallied thanks to a 38-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Zaire Anderson, a quick three-and-out and then a 13-play, 62-yard march to a 6-yard Lynch-to-Demaryius Thomas touchdown that tied the score at 24-24. The Broncos' rally had coincided with the Chiefs' decision to insert Tyler Bray in place of Mahomes, as their 14-point lead with 7:02 remaining seemed safe.
The Broncos got off to a good start when Mahomes came back into the game, as DeMarcus Walker sacked him for a 7-yard loss on first-and-10 to begin a final drive. But a potential three-and-out was wiped off the books because of an offsides penalty against Walker.
The Chiefs promptly pounced on the good fortune, marching to Butker's game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired. Mahomes completed three passes for 39 yards after the penalty to move the Chiefs into field-goral range.
"He came out and made some great throws," outside linebacker Von Miller said. "He's a rookie still, and he got out there and played lights out. We had some [first-teamers] out there and he still came through and played."
Because the turnover issues returned**
Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave gave Paxton Lynch a game plan in which he could be effective early, relying on a series of short slants and quick reads that allowed him to get comfortable and find a rhythm that allowed Denver to crank out drives of 72 and 80 yards in the first half. Those possessions pushed the Broncos to a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.
But with a 14-10 deficit and the chance to narrow the gap to one point or take the lead before halftime, Chiefs linebacker Terrance Smith intercepted a pass that was intended for Jordan Taylor, ending the Broncos' scoring threat. It was the first of three giveaways by the Broncos. A strip-sack fumble off of Lynch was returned 11 yards for a touchdown by Ramik Wilson with 3:04 left in the third quarter, and a fourth-quarter interception off Lynch cost the Broncos another scoring chance.
Because the Chiefs were able to control the clock in the third quarter
Although Denver's defense came up with a goal-line stand to hold the Chiefs to a 20-yard Harrison Butker field goal with 3:58 remaining in the third quarter, the Chiefs were able to chew up eight minutes, 46 seconds of clock time on the 18-play, 90-yard drive.
Kansas City converted a third-and-8 on a 14-yard pass from Mahomes to Albert Wilson and a fourth-and-1 on a 5-yard run by Anthony Sherman to keep the drive alive. Denver's defense came up big with a pair of stops near the goal line to limit the damage, but the drive further closed the Broncos' window for a rally.
Photos of game action from the Broncos' Week 17 game against the Chiefs. (Photos by Gabriel Christus unless noted)