It takes a lot for a loss to stand out as particularly brutal for a team with a knack for brutal losses. I’d say this—with everything set up for the Chiefs to buck their losing trends against the Broncos and against Peyton Manning, until it was all fumbled away—does nicely.
Denver’s 31-24 win was the Broncos’ seventh straight against Kansas City, and Manning is now 14-1 against the Chiefs. The dominance had no business being extended, not with K.C.’s early 14-point lead and late seven-point lead and Manning’s early ineffectiveness and a crazed crowd that could smell 2-0. But two touchdowns in nine seconds have a way of breaking even the strongest backs.
After Knile Davis found the end zone to put the Chiefs up 24-17 with 2:27 left, Manning—who looked completely washed-up at times in the first half—led a vintage 10-play, 80-yard drive in 1:51. All 10 plays were passes, three of them long completions to Demaryius Thomas before finding Emmanuel Sanders for a 19-yard strike to tie the game. It was Manning in his comfort zone, something the Broncos would be wise to remember: it wasn’t until after he threw a pick-six in the second quarter that Denver gave up on its overhauled run-heavy, play-action offense, returning to the no-huddle, shotgun, three-receiver sets that Manning has favored throughout his career. Maybe this old dog doesn’t need to be taken out with a shotgun behind the barn; maybe he just shouldn’t be trying to learn new tricks.
In a less cruel game, Manning’s drive would be what’s remembered. (In an only slightly less cruel game, maybe we remember Jamaal Charles’s first fumble, which capped off the Chiefs’ squandering a first-and-goal from the two.) But before the shell-shocked crowd could prepare itself for overtime, Brandon Marshall stripped Charles and Bradley Roby returned the ball 21 yards for the score.
That gave Denver the win, and gave us Jim Nantz at his most savage:
It was, thought Andy Reid, a low-risk, high-reward call. With 36 seconds left and the Broncos in prevent, Reid figured the odds of Charles dashing his way into field goal range far outweighed the odds of a worst-case scenario coming to pass.
Reid took the blame for the call, but Charles assumed responsibility for the loss.
“I just don’t feel good right now,” said Charles. “This is one of the hardest feelings I’ve felt in a long time.
“I caused us the loss today. I tried to put the team on my back, and I ended up losing the game. It’s all on me tonight.”
That doesn’t give the Broncos nearly enough credit for the comeback. But one when team so thoroughly owns another for so many years and especially in its own house, it’s absolutely fair to wonder at what point the Chiefs are merely beating themselves.