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Chiefs-Broncos rapid reaction: Chiefs escape Denver after upset scare

Kansas City had a close call at Mile High.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs held off a comeback scare from the Denver Broncos to win 34-28 at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium on Sunday.

The Chiefs opened the game with a 27-0 lead before surrendering 21 straight points, but Denver couldn’t do enough to reverse its fortunes for a win. The Chiefs improved to 10-3 as the Broncos fell to 3-10.

Division games are never walks in the park

Going into this game, all the talk in Kansas City encompassed the same idea: the Chiefs had the Broncos overmatched, and a 13-game win streak dating back to 2015 would grow to 14. And for much of the first and second quarters, the game followed the script.

But as the cliché goes, “They’re on scholarship, too.”

The Chiefs spend extra time during the offseason, training camp and preseason preparing for division opponents — and it is expected they do the same. Division teams know each other better than any other — and for that reason, you always have to throw the records out when they link up.

There is no doubt that the Broncos are a terrible football team. But Sunday’s game just shows that anything really can happen in a division matchup. It is a point worth remembering when the Chiefs see the Broncos again on January 1 — and then the Las Vegas Raiders a week later.

The Chiefs need to play better than they did

That said, the Chiefs cannot expect to hoist a Lombardi Trophy if they continue to play as they did on Sunday.

With running back Isiah Pacheco looking as good as he had all year, the Chiefs — holding onto a 27-7 lead — called five straight pass plays before quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw his second interception in as many possessions. With only a short field ahead, it took Denver just four plays to make the score 27-14.

The Chiefs were holding the ball while leading 27-0 with less than four minutes to go in the first half. Regardless of the circumstances, that cannot turn into a 27-14 halftime lead.

The defense — while finding ways to get to the quarterback (it collected six sacks in the game) and registering a pick-six, allowed a team that came into the game averaging 13.8 points per game to score more than 23 points for the first time all season.

Tackling continued to be a tremendous issue for many of Kansas City’s defenders — especially in the open field. We know that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo enjoys a timely blitz — but the most important part of a timely blitz is... well... the timing. At certain times on Sunday, blitz calls made the Chiefs’ young secondary vulnerable. Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson attacked in those moments, causing wide receiver Jerry Jeudy to look like an All-Pro.

If Wilson had not been forced out of the game with a concussion, the lowly Broncos might have been able to get it done. When getting back to the Super Bowl requires beating two (or three) of the AFC’s best teams, that’s... scary.

The Kansas City defense is young. At the beginning of the season, that’s a fine thing to highlight. But there are four weeks left in the regular season. The cavalry is not coming.

These are the players with whom Spagnuolo must win.

Patrick Mahomes once again dazzled — but his mistakes almost cost the game

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes added two more Mahomes Magic moments to his future Hall of Fame highlight reel — and fortunately for him, only the good stuff from Sunday will make it in.

While under duress early in the game, Mahomes made an impossible no-look sidearm throw to Jerick McKinnon, who made a nifty catch and took the ball 56 yards for a touchdown.

On his touchdown pass to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mahomes worked a collapsing pocket by running backward and torquing his body to buy time. Smith-Schuster improvised in the end zone — and Mahomes found him just in time.

Those moments noted, Mahomes needed to take better care of the football. The Chiefs were rolling in the first half. They should have been shutting the Broncos out when they went to the halftime locker room. But in back-to-back drives, Mahomes gave Denver short fields that it turned into touchdowns. The defense should have stopped those drives anyway — but it was Mahomes who gave the Broncos the opportunity to fight back.

Mahomes threw yet another interception in the fourth quarter, which gave Denver the ball at its 46-yard with a chance for back quarterback Brett Rypien to put together a game-winning touchdown drive. But defensive tackle Chris Jones — who has been dominant all season — came through for his quarterback, hitting Rypien and causing a floater that dropped right into the hands of cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.

In 76 regular-season games, Mahomes has only had two other three-interception games. So this game is definitely an outlier — not a trend. But just like the defense, Mahomes will need to play his best ball in the coming weeks.

The final word

They say “Any Given Sunday” for one reason: for days like the Chiefs had in Denver. Down the stretch, Kansas City will play other lousy teams — including the Broncos in just three weeks. Hopefully, this will serve to remind them that in the NFL, there are no weeks off.

Just when it seemed like the special teams were playing better, the defense fell apart. It will be quite a teaching week for Spagnuolo — who needs to lean into young players a lot earlier than he prefers.

On Sunday, the Chiefs escaped a potential embarrassment. They have four weeks to turn whatever that was into championship-caliber football.

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