The Kansas City Chiefs have gotten all the can handle from the Denver Broncos this year.
Two of Denver’s highest-scoring games of the year have come against Kansas City, including Sunday’s matchup. Both games have come down to the wire, too, with the Chiefs clinging to small leads while the Broncos had chances to pull off an upset in the games’ twilights.
But, as has been the case for now 15 meetings in a row, the Chiefs found a way to come out on top, improving to 13-3 on the year with a 27-24 win over their division rivals.
Kansas City took an early lead in Week 17 thanks to a touchdown run by rookie running back Isiah Pacheco, but Denver stayed within striking distance in the second quarter and into halftime thanks in large part to a series of special teams miscues by the Chiefs.
Kicker Harrison Butker never got a chance to kick an extra point after the Pacheco touchdown because of a botched snap and hold operation. With five minutes left in the second quarter, Kadarius Toney fumbled a punt that the Broncos recovered. To cap it off, Butker had a 51-yard field goal blocked to end the first half.
It didn’t help that quarterback Patrick Mahomes was intercepted in the end zone on another Chiefs drive, killing off a red zone scoring chance.
Even with those mistakes, Chiefs coach Andy Reid was positive about his team’s third phase after the game.
“Special teams, for the most part, with the exception of the field goal that blocked, that got tipped, things were working pretty good there too,” Reid said.
The Broncos took the lead with 6:35 on the clock in the third quarter on a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Albert Okwuegbunam. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Chiefs would finally re-take the lead and put the game out of reach.
Mahomes found tight end Blake Bell for a 17-yard score on the first play of the final period, the latter’s first touchdown of the year. Just 2:14 later, following an interception by cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, Mahomes hooked up with running back Jerick McKinnon for a three-yard score to give the Chiefs a 10-point lead.
The Broncos scored once more on a four-yard run by Wilson, but weren’t able to cash in when given one last opportunity in the final four minutes. Denver ran five plays but moved the ball just 10 yards on its final drive, ending with a sack by defensive tackle Chris Jones to force a turnover on downs and to effectively end the game.
Mahomes posted a passer rating of 106.1 in the victory, his third game in a row with a rating over 100. He completed 29-of-42 passes for 328 yards with three touchdowns and the interception. Two of those touchdown passes went to McKinnon, who set the NFL record for the most consecutive games with a receiving touchdown by a running back with five.
Over the last five weeks, McKinnon has scored eight total touchdowns and has amassed 410 yards from scrimmage.
Mahomes, however, wasn’t impressed with his own performance.
“I just have to be better about stepping up in the pocket, finding that soft spot in the pocket and then making the throw,” Mahomes said.
Kansas City’s running game was mostly ineffective on Sunday. Even with Pacheco’s touchdown, four Chiefs combined for 16 carries and 46 yards with a long of six yards for the day.
“They actually were playing a run defense, so it gave us the opportunity to throw the ball a little bit and that’s how we were moving it up and down the field as quickly as we were,” Reid said.
Denver has the worst scoring offense in the league but has been more successful against Kansas City than any of its other opponents this year. Sunday’s 24 points ties the second-most points scored by the Broncos this year, only behind their 28 points against the Chiefs back in Week 13.
For now, Kansas City holds the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Their position could either change or be strengthened depending on what happens on Monday Night Football between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. If the Bills win, they’ll jump back into the No. 1 seed by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chiefs. If the Bengals win, the Chiefs will stay in the top spot and will just need a win in Week 18 to clinch the first-round playoff bye.
Denver, which fired coach Nathaniel Hackett last week, is now 4-12 this season. Their first-round pick is slotted third overall as of this week, but the Seattle Seahawks own it as part of the Wilson trade this offseason.
The Chiefs will close out the regular season next weekend against the Las Vegas Raiders, who lost to the San Francisco 49ers in overtime this week 37-34. As of publication time, the date and time for that game hasn’t been announced.