DENVER- Winning in the NFL isn't easy. That maxim has never been more apparent for the Denver Broncos than it was today. In a game dominated in time of possession by the Kansas City Chiefs (36:14 to 23:46), the Broncos eked out a victory in the closing seconds of the game.
Watching this AFC West divisional throwdown, an objective viewer would never have suspected that the Broncos were favored to win by two touchdowns. When the Broncos watch film of this game, they will kick themselves for opportunities lost and and for an overall lack of intensity and killer instinct.
Just like last week, Peyton Manning and the offense got out to a fast start, putting up 21 first half points. But the echoes of last week, where they hit a wall in the second half, haunted them again in week 2. I've said it before, but the seeming reversal of tradition is striking. Since Manning arrived in Denver, the Broncos have been slow starters. But after halftime, typically they make their adjustments and come out firing on all cylinders in the second. So far this season, it has been just the opposite. Hot first half. Cold second.
In 8 full quarters of play, the offense has yet to put together a complete game. And this inconsistency is eventually going dig a hole that they will not be able to get out of. Tonight, on both sides of the ball, execution was lacking. They looked lackadaisical, almost, and without discipline.
On the ground, the Broncos rushed for only 88 yards, in a game where they were protecting a lead from the first score. That makes it two straight weeks that they were unable to get over 100 yards rushing. The offensive line still looks like they're trying to gel. And that showed itself especially in the run game. Again.
Wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas, had a much a better outing in week 2 vs the Chiefs. He had 5 receptions for 62 yards and an acrobatic over-the-shoulder touchdown grab, where he used his shoulder to secure the catch in double coverage. He also had a long screen play, that would have likely been a TD, called back by a penalty on right tackle, Chris Clark.
Emmanuel Sanders, for the first time in his career (believe it or not), went over 100 yards receiving. With 8 receptions, for 108 yards, he led all Broncos receivers in catches and yards. Manning opened the game with a beautiful play-action deep ball to Sanders for a 48 yard gain. On their first drive, the Broncos imposed their will on the Chiefs defense through the air and it looked like this was going to be "one of those days" for the Chiefs. But even though the Broncos made some great plays on offense, where they really failed was on third down, going 3-8. This gave the Chiefs more opportunities than they should have had.
Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense, did an excellent job of possessing the ball and moving down the field. The Broncos defense, in the most critical of situations, just couldn't get off the field. Smith was his usual self, extending plays and gashing the Broncos on the ground. He had 5 rushes for 42 yards. Each one of those rushing yards for Smith came at the most opportune time.
On the day, the Chiefs rushed for 133 yards. Only 4 of those came from running back, Jamaal Charles. After his first carry, Charles left the game with a lower leg injury, never to return. In his stead, Knile Davis had an amazing game, rushing for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns. Although Davis only averaged 3.59 yards per carry, he was his most elusive in the redzone.
As mentioned above, the Chiefs dominated the time of possession battle. Andy Reid called one of his most brilliant games since coming to Kansas City. The Broncos were on their heels all game long. Alex Smith deserves a lot of the credit for the Chiefs winning the TOP battle, and quarterbacking the offense to 380 yards of total offense.
Chiefs fans might concur, but alas for them, at the very end, Smith couldn't close the Broncos one-score lead. With less than 30 seconds to go, the Chiefs had 4th and goal from the 2-yard line. The Broncos were protecting a 7 point lead. Smith dropped back to pass, targeting Dwayne Bowe on an inside curl route. Smith released the pass, but defensive tackle, Terrance Knighton, tipped it, causing it to fall incomplete. Game over.
Smith was close, but no cigar. Just like last week vs the Indianapolis Colts, the Broncos held on in the closing seconds of the game, to emerge victorious. Despite a sloppy performance, replete with penalties and mental errors, I suppose that the Broncos defense does deserve some credit for that fact.
DeMarcus Ware almost ended the Chiefs comeback hopes a couple of plays earlier, when it appeared that he strip-sacked Smith; the ball being recovered by the Broncos. But inexplicably, and I mean that, I still haven't heard a satisfactory explanation for the call on the field, the officials determined that Smith's arm was moving forward. Thus, no sack/fumble. Incomplete.
However, if you closely watch the play, Smith's arm was indeed going forward, but he was attempting to bring the ball back into this body, not trying to throw the ball forward. Even though the call went back to the NFL's officiating headquarters and was scrutinized, I think the call was wrong. Maybe I'm seeing that through Orange and Blue glasses, but I thought it was a classic example of the "tuck rule".
Nevertheless, it gave the Chiefs new life. But they squandered it. At the end of the day, the Broncos emerged victorious. Peyton Manning went 21/26, for 242 yards and 3 touchdowns, and kept his undefeated streak as a Bronco vs the Chiefs. 5-0. But those stats could have easily been 4 touchdowns, had the Broncos offense executed in the redzone in the 4th quarter. They could have put the game out of reach, but failed to convert. That killer instinct was nowhere to be found.
At 2-0, the Broncos sit alone atop the AFC West. But now they must turn their attention to the defending league champion Seattle Seahawks. The team who embarrassed them in the Super Bowl back in February, will not be as forgiving of the Broncos' mental errors and lack of execution. Coming off of a disappointing loss to the San Diego Chargers, the Seahawks will be looking to get back on track at home vs the Broncos.
If the Broncos hope to go into their week 4 bye at 3-0, they have a lot of work to do. Jack Del Rio, the team's defensive coordinator, has to reevaluate his calls on the field. His calls were questionable at best, but it didn't help that the defense lacked execution. Despite the win today, that's the best way to describe the Broncos as a team. Lack of execution. And no killer instinct.
You can find Chad Jensen on Twitter @CJ_Broncos.