The Kansas City Chiefs escaped GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium with a 27-24 win over the Denver Broncos. With the victory, the Chiefs improve to 13-3, as the Broncos fall to 4-12.
The Chiefs have defeated the Broncos 15 straight times.
There’s just something about these Broncos.
The Broncos have had a horrible season. The Russell Wilson trade (and long-term signing) has appeared to be one of the worst personnel decisions in history. They entered Sunday coming off a game in which they gave up 51 points to a Los Angeles Rams team that had won four games. That led to the firing of Denver’s first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett.
But for the second time this season, they played the Chiefs tough. Denver has largely struggled to score 20 points this season — yet against the Chiefs, their scoring outputs were 28 and 24.
It might be that in a season with not much going right, these games against the Chiefs meant a little more — sure, no playoffs, but if we could break the streak, there would be something to build on in 2023.
Due to a lapse in the secondary leading to an Albert Okwuegbunam touchdown, the Broncos had a 17-13 third-quarter lead, giving the Chiefs its second scare in four weeks.
After a solid all-around defensive effort against the Seattle Seahawks, the Chiefs allowed the Broncos to hang around, which wasn’t good. There was, however, some good to be found in several defensive moments. The effort of L’Jarius Sneed led to holding Courtland Sutton to under 44 yards, which should give the Chiefs a really nice option in the playoffs when matched up with Stefon Diggs, Ja’Marr Chase or Mike Williams.
Rookies Trent McDuffie and George Karlaftis are playing like veterans at precisely the right time — with McDuffie registering seven tackles and Karlafts notching his fifth sack in six games. The defensive tackle appeared to be a little less productive than the last game, but he was there to close up shop with a takedown of Wilson to end the game. Giving up 24 points to a demoralized Broncos team doesn’t leave you entirely thrilled — but hey, the home team scored 27.
It’s amazing how productive the Chiefs’ offense can be, even when things seem a little off.
Watching the Chiefs on offense against the Broncos became a little strange. After it seemed to trudge through mid-game mud for the second straight week, you look up. There it is: quarterback Patrick Mahomes still threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns.
There were chunks of the game when Mahomes appeared to be missing his mark — but as head coach Andy Reid always suggests, the quarterback kept firing: 42 times, to be exact. He connected on 29 passes, including four to wide receiver Kadarius Toney for 71 yards. If Toney can stay healthy, it looks like the Chiefs may have stolen one from the New York Giants and the NFL. I’d be curious how good Toney looks after he has a full year with Reid. Right now, we’re seeing plenty of glimpses of why he was a first-rounder.
The legend of running back Jerick McKinnon continues, with another two touchdowns. McKinnon already has a career-high nine total touchdowns on the season. The wild part of that is that eight of those nine have come since the calendar turned to December. There’s an argument to be made that as Kansas City turns to the postseason, there may be no more important player than McKinnon — after Mahomes and Travis Kelce, of course.
And on the topic of running backs — and I have noted this on our podcast and Kansas City airwaves before — the Chiefs tend to have much more offensive consistency when they opt to lean into the running game. This is just an example — but early in the game, on first-and-goal at the Denver 10, the Chiefs opted for three straight passes. The last was an interception on a ball Mahomes tried to force to wide receiver Justin Watson.
Starting running back Isiah Pacheco only had nine carries — and though he wasn’t running at his usual 5 yards a carry (he finished at 3.4), I just find that games don’t feel as easy when the Chiefs seem to forget that running the ball is an option.
The turnover and special teams issues will not work in the postseason.
With the interception (and Toney’s lost fumble), Kansas City’s turnover-free streak ended at one game. The Chiefs have been turnover-free in only three games this season. They have five games with one turnover and eight games with multiple turnovers. Given this, the fact that they are 13-3 is... remarkable.
They are 13-3 because the schedule included many teams with far less talent than they possess. But the problem is that in two to three weeks, the teams will be just as good — or better. In the playoffs — against the likes of the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals — the team simply can’t turn the ball over that much.
And the kicking operation needs to be better. Everyone remembers 13 seconds for Kelce and Mahomes. What’s forgotten is that there was no doubt that kicker Harrison Butker and his specialist teammates would drill a 49-yarder. It sometimes comes down to that.
Right now, the Chiefs are far from no-doubt kicks. During mid-January, Reid will have some difficult choices to make on fourth down.
The final word
Once again, it was an uglier win against the Broncos. Through 17 weeks — like every other team in the league — the Chiefs still have some things to clean up. Whichever team cleans up the best will have the best chance in the postseason.
I’m not sure I’m confident that Kansas City can be that team. But the fact remains: how the wins look does not matter. Whether the score is 51-14 or 27-24, the win counts the same.
And because the Chiefs have 13 of them, they get to sit back on Monday night, watching to see if the Bengals can help them by knocking the Bills from the top.
Kansas City isn’t without flaws. But just the same, the team could be just a day away from once again holding the one-seed — and controlling its own path.