Sluggish Chiefs beat Broncos for 15th straight time, 27-24

Dec 31, 2022, 11:27 PM | Updated: Jan 1, 2023, 2:32 pm
Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon (1) celebrates after scoring past Denver Broncos co...

Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon (1) celebrates after scoring past Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II (2) and teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

              Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons, right, intercepts a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Justin Watson (84) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
            
              Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton, left, catches a pass as Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Jaylen Watson defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
            
              Kansas City Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis (56) is congratulated by teammate Carlos Dunlap after sacking Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
            
              Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) is upended trying to leap over Denver Broncos cornerback Damarri Mathis after catching a pass during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
            
              Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) throws as Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton (32) defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
            
              Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons celebrates after intercepting a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
            
              Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, left, is hit by Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark (55) while throwing during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
            
              Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) is stopped by Kansas City Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill (22) and cornerback L'Jarius Sneed (38) after catching a pass during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
            
              Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon (1) celebrates after scoring past Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II (2) and teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes moved into the rarest of company Sunday, joining Tom Brady and Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks with multiple 5,000-yard passing seasons, and the Chiefs overcame another sloppy start to beat the Broncos for the 15th consecutive time and stay alive for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

So everything must be good in Kansas City, right?

“There’s not a lot satisfying for me,” Mahomes said shortly after the 27-24 victory.

There was the pick he threw in the end zone and the mechanics that went awry in the second half. There was the fumbled punt return that led to a Denver touchdown, a sloppy snap on a point-after attempt and even a blocked field goal.

Yet the Chiefs (13-3) still managed to escape a 17-13 third-quarter deficit and rally for their fourth consecutive win.

“When I don’t have my best stuff and guys step up and we still win football games,” said Mahomes, who nevertheless finished with 328 yards passing and three touchdowns, “that’s a good thing.”

Jerick McKinnon had two touchdown catches while Blake Bell and Isiah Pacheco also scored for the Chiefs, who began the day tied with Buffalo for the best record in the AFC; the Bills play Cincinnati on Monday night.

“We’ll watch it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said with a smile.

For a while the Broncos (4-12) looked as if they might cap a chaotic week that began with the firing of first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett in a stunning victory. But a late letdown by one of the league’s best defenses, an another interception from embattled quarterback Russell Wilson, resulted in the first loss for interim coach Jerry Rosburg.

“I saw players and coaches digging in to do all they could possibly do to win that game,” he said. “That all said, it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t good enough and I’m heartbroken for those guys because they deserve a win.”

Wilson threw for 222 yards and a touchdown while also running for a pair of scores, the second of them — after two costly penalties on the Kansas City defense — pulling Denver within 27-24 with 6:14 left in the game.

The Broncos got the ball back with just under four minutes to go, too, and picked up a quick first down. But the Kansas City defense stiffened near midfield, and Chris Jones sacked Wilson on fourth-and-2 to effectively end the game.

The Chiefs’ sluggish start against the downtrodden Broncos wasn’t all that surprising. They’ve habitually played down to the opposition, whether it was in their overtime win at Houston or their 34-28 victory over the Broncos three weeks ago.

But the Chiefs also have proven over the years their ability to strike quickly, and they did that after falling behind for the first time Sunday. Mahomes answered with long passes to Toney and McKinnon, a penalty on third down gave them a fresh set of downs, and McKinnon turned a screen pass into a touchdown reception for the fifth straight game.

That streak is the longest for an NFL running back since Bill Dudley of the Lions in 1947.

“If I would have told you I saw it was coming, nah,” McKinnon said, “but that’s what you put the work in the offseason for, when you’re opportunity comes you’re ready for the moment.”

The Chiefs struggled to maintain momentum after halftime, though, going three-and-out on their first three possessions. And the Broncos, with their third play-caller of the season in offensive coordinator Justin Outten, capitalized with a 63-yard touchdown drive that gave them a 17-13 lead late in the third quarter.

Then the Chiefs began looking like the Chiefs. And the Broncos like the Broncos.

Mahomes led the AFC West champs briskly downfield before hitting Bell from 17 yards for his first regular-season touchdown catch. And on the very next play, Wilson threw a wobbler under pressure that L’Jarius Sneed picked off, setting up McKinnon’s second touchdown catch of the day and his eighth in the past five games.

The Broncos scored in the fourth quarter to give themselves a chance before Kansas City put the game away.

“When you win and you don’t feel like you play you best ball, that’s a really good thing,” Mahomes said. “We have to find a way to, for four quarters, play our best football when we get to the playoffs. And I feel like we haven’t done that.”

STATS AND STREAKS

Mahomes improved to 11-0 against Denver, joining Andrew Luck (11-0 vs Tennessee) as the only QBs in the Super Bowl era with more than 10 wins and no losses against an opponent. … The Chiefs’ 15 straight wins over Denver is tied for the third-longest streak of any team against an opponent in NFL history. The Broncos have not won against the Chiefs since Sept. 17, 2015. … Wilson ran for 27 yards, giving him 4,948 for his career and passing Randall Cunningham for third among quarterbacks.

INJURIES

Broncos: RB Marlon Mack (hamstring) left in the first quarter and LG Dalton Risner (elbow) in the third. CB Damarri Mathis went into the concussion protocol in the second. LB Baron Browning (back) and DL D.J. Jones (knee) were inactive.

Chiefs: LG Joe Thuney (ankle) left late in the third quarter and WR Skyy Moore (hand) in the fourth. Sneed also hurt his hip on his interception return in the fourth.

UP NEXT

The Broncos conclude their season next Sunday against the Chargers.

The Chiefs visit the Raiders on Sunday in their regular-season finale.

___

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Sluggish Chiefs beat Broncos for 15th straight time, 27-24