Sure, a few breaks went the Broncos way.
Weren't they due? They had lost 10 in a row to the Kansas City Chiefs and were coming off a most unusual COVID-19 violation the week before.
A 14-point underdog most of the week against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Broncos surprisingly hung tough before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs, 22-16.
“There's no moral victories,'' said Broncos head coach Vic Fangio. "We came here to win. I fully thought we would win. And I'm disappointed that we came up short.”
The Chiefs scored their first touchdown late in the third quarter when their sensational quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambled up before throwing a 20-yard touchdown to his seemingly, uncoverable tight end Travis Kelce. That put Kansas City up 19-16 and a 48-yard field goal by Harrison Butker, his fifth of the game, stretched their lead to 22-16 with 1:04 remaining.
On a chilly December evening before 12,578 fans at Arrowhead Stadium, Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, who was disqualified as a virus close contact last week for not wearing his mask properly during quarterback film sessions (and was spotted multiple times not wearing his mask on the sideline in this game), threw touchdown passes of 5 and 10 yards to Tim Patrick and Brandon McManus hit a 53-yard field goal.
McManus also had a 57-yard field goal attempt hook slightly wide left with 28 seconds remaining in the half. That gave Kansas City the ball near midfield.
Two Mahomes passes – 15 yards to Mecole Hardman and 28 yards to Kelce who abused Broncos safety Alijah Holder with a stiff-arm – set up Harrison Butker’s third field goal and drew the Chiefs within, 10-9.
That 6-point swing -- McManus miss setting up good field position for Butker make -- matched the final-score margin.
The Chiefs misfired all night yet because they have Mahomes, they were able to improve their record to 11-1, which clinched a playoff spot. The Broncos fell to 4-8.
The Broncos were keeping up with the high-powered Chiefs for nearly three quarters but Kansas City wound up with 447 yards in total offense to Denver's 330. After Lock's second touchdown pass to Patrick that put the Broncos up 16-12 with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter, the offense had three more possessions. Punt, punt and pick. Gotta finish better than that to keep up with Mahomes.
"We did play them closer than we have before, but what does that get you? Nothing, '' Lock said. "It gets you an upset locker room, it gets you to a sad flight home, but we'll learn from it and keep getting better and keep focusing on these little things that sometimes bite us in the butt."
Mahomes was 25 of 40 for 318 yards with a touchdown, had another long touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill called back by a holding penalty, and another long scoring pass dropped by Hill -- although replays showed the ball never hit the ground and should have been ruled a touchdown. The Chiefs, though, didn't challenge, and punted on fourth down instead.
Kelce finally hauled in a touchdown late in the third quarter. He had 8 catches for 136 yards.
"Hats off to the Raiders ... '' Kelce said in his postgame TV interview. He didn't seem to disrespect the Broncos on purpose. Next time, maybe the Broncos can get closer to him in coverage so he knows who he's playing.
Lock was 15 of 28 for 151 yards with the two touchdowns and two interceptions -- on the first and last series of the game. Between picks he played OK. But the Chiefs had the better quarterback.
After last week’s no-quarterback embarrassment in a 31-3 home loss to New Orleans, the Broncos came out determined to make amends in front of a nationally televised and KUSA-9News local audience. On the game’s first series, Lock laid in a beautiful 37-yard pass down the left sideline to tight end Noah Fant.
Two plays later, though, Lock scrambled and didn’t throw to a wide open Nick Vannett on a short route, instead throwing deep to another tight end, Troy Fumagalli. The ball was underthrown and Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu intercepted.
But the Chiefs didn’t have it, at least not through the first half and most of the third quarter. They moved the ball with ease but they had scoring drives that reached the Broncos' 17, 5, 1 and 8, only to settle for short Butker field goals each time as they couldn't solve Vic Fangio's renowned red-zone defense.
Denver now ranks No. 1 in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns just 47.2 percent of the time. Still, you know how they say if the two teams played 10 teams, the better team would win nine? This was the Broncos' best chance to win one. Instead, they've lost 11 in a row to Kansas City, dating back to the 2015 season.
After Mahomes made a rare bad pass to miss a wide open Hill deep to end the Chiefs' first offensive possession, Lock regrouped with some nice throws that got the Broncos close enough for McManus to nail a 53-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. That made McManus 22 of 23 in field goals this season, and 8 of 9 from 50 yards or beyond. He would add one more miss, a crucial one, from 57 -- he nailed the kick as it had plenty of distance before drifting left -- near the end of the half.
The heavily-favored Chiefs weren't quite themselves in the first half. Mahomes missed Hill deep. Later in the second quarter, Hill dropped a deep touchdown throw from Mahomes – although replays showed he gathered it in before it hit the ground. The Chiefs didn’t see the replay until late, though – there is a huge TV delay on Sunday Night Football -- and Kansas City coach Andy Reid called for a punt rather than a challenge.
Kansas City began 1 of 4 on third downs, a big reason why the score was 3-3 with 9 minutes left in the second quarter. The Chiefs may have been affected by their wee-hours-of-the-morning scare. They reportedly had 7 positive COVID tests, only to find out 5 hours later all seven were determined to be false positives.
Early in the second quarter, Broncos running back Melvin Gordon burst through a huge hole between center Lloyd Cushenberry III and pulling left guard Dalton Risner and rambled 65 yards to the Chiefs’ 18 yard line. Gordon had 105 yards rushing on just 9 carries at halftime and finished with 131 yards on 15 carries.
"I had a conversation with Von (Miller) and one of the biggest things, I just told him that I kind of made a promise to myself that I would try to do whatever I can to try to put this team in position to win and get him back out here to make a run,'' Gordon said. "I feel like we kind of got screwed last week with the quarterback situation or whatever, so that kind of hurt us. It's about putting everything on the line, that's just how I play. You've just got to go give it your all, regardless of the record."
Lock then hit Fant for 10 yards and Tim Patrick for 5 yards and a touchdown.
The Broncos were leading, 10-3 with 6:26 left in the first half. The league was on upset alert.
Again, the Chiefs misfired late in their next drive. Denver defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones was flagged for a horse collar on running back Le’Veon Bell, which was followed by Hill running for 30 yards on an end around and Mahomes scrambling for 20 to set up first-and-goal at the 4. But from there the Chiefs ran it three straight times – including a strange, third-and-goal from the 1 end around call to Hill, who was forced out by safety Justin Simmons for a 5-yard loss.
The Chiefs again had to settle for a field goal.
In the end, though, no matter how well the Broncos played or how close they came to pulling off an upset, the Chiefs had Mahomes and Denver didn't.
"Mahomes is a different breed,'' Gordon said.
“Our team played extremely hard with a lot of might, and that's what they've been doing all year to be honest with you,'' Fangio said. "I think that's well established here, and that's what they did. We gave ourselves a chance against a really good team by—we made some first downs on offense; we had some good drives. So, a little better performance all around by everybody, but you got to be better than the way we played against this team. They're really, really good.”
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