As bad as the Chiefs felt last Sunday losing the regular-season opener to Tennessee, it was not nearly as gut wrenching as what happened on this Sunday at Sports Authority Field in Denver.
Down by 11 points at half-time, the Chiefs dominated the ball in the second half, bottled up the Broncos offense and had a chance to push the game into overtime with just seconds left to play and the ball at the Denver 2-yard line.
But a fourth-down throw by Alex Smith to Dwayne Bowe at the goal line was incomplete, tipped by a Denver defensive lineman and spoiling the Chiefs comeback as the Broncos stole away with a 24-17 victory Sunday afternoon.
“It was an intense, physical game, what you expect in a divisional rivalry,” said quarterback Alex Smith. “There are no moral victories; we need to continue to build.”
The Chiefs are now 0-2 and like last Sunday, they face some injury questions involving key players. Running back Jamaal Charles and safety Eric Berry left the game in the first half with ankle injuries and did not return.
“We are not in the business of moral victories; we don’t look at it that way,” said head coach Andy Reid. “But I appreciate the effort. That can take you a long way . . . with that kind of effort we can do some things.”
Denver is 2-0 and headed to Seattle next Sunday to face the defending champion Seahawks. For the second week in a row, they lived in danger of losing a big first-half lead and the victory in the second half. They walked away again against the Chiefs.
Offensively, the Chiefs came alive even without their best player in Charles, as Knile Davis stepped in and handled the duties, touching the ball 28 times for 105 yards and two touchdown runs. Smith was nothing short of sensational as he ran his way out of trouble (five times for 42 yards) and made good decisions in and out of the pocket with 42 passes thrown, none intercepted and 255 passing yards.
But victory escaped them because of poor play in the scoring zone. On four different possessions they got inside the Denver 10-yard line. They scored twice, but got no points out of the other two.
“When you are in the red zone twice you need to make sure you score,” said Reid. “I need to make sure I put guys in position to score and we need to take care of business down there.”
The Chiefs entered the game as a 13-point underdog, the biggest point-spread difference in the league’s second week. Right off the opening kickoff it had the air of a long afternoon. After winning the coin toss the Chiefs deferred their choice to the second half and kicked off to Denver. Normally that’s not the way to go when playing a Peyton Manning-led offense, but Reid made the call and after a touchback, the Broncos started at their 20-yard line.
On the very first play, speedy wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders out ran the coverage of cornerback Marcus Cooper and connected with Manning for a 48-yard play. Six plays later, where Denver mixed the run and pass, Manning hooked up with tight end Julius Thomas in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick by Brandon McManus gave the Broncos the opening 7-0 lead.
Later in the first quarter, the Chiefs moved the ball to the Broncos 27-yard line but had to settle for a 45-yard field goal by Cairo Santos and it was 7-3. On their first possession of the second quarter, Smith led the offense 66 yards on 10 plays as Davis scored on a 2-yard run. Santos’ kick gave the Chiefs a 10-7 lead that shocked everyone but them.
But on his next chance with the ball, Manning directed a 75-yard, seven-play drive where Denver had six first down plays, and only one second-down snap. Manning was five-for- five throwing the ball, including the 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Tamme. He had completions of 16, six, 16 and 12 yards before the scoring throw. Running back Montee Ball added a 17-yard run and the Broncos led for good 14-10, halfway through the second quarter.
Right before intermission, Manning threw his third touchdown pass of the first half, connecting with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on a 12-yard connection with Manning where the quarterback threw a perfect ball that beat cornerback Chris Owens. At half-time it was 21-10.
The Chiefs had the first chance of the second half and they put together one of the best defensive efforts that an offense could provide their teammates. It was a 20-play drive that kept Manning on the sideline for a full 10 minutes, as the Chiefs converted five times on third down plays and moved to the Denver 3-yard line with a first-and-goal situation. But a holding penalty against rookie right guard Zach Fulton and a sack of Smith left them at the 19-yard line.
With a 37-yard field goal attempt, Santos pushed his kick to the right and all that effort produced na-da for the Chiefs.
On the next K.C. possession, Smith drove the offense 90 yards on 14 plays, holding the ball for 7 minutes, 42 seconds and they put points on the with another touchdown from Davis, this time from four yards. The PAT had the scoreboard at 21-17 midway through the fourth quarter.
Denver pushed its lead to seven points on a 20-yard field goal by McManus, after they had a first-and-goal at the Chiefs 10-yard line.
That gave the Chiefs seven points to make up with 3: to play and only one timeout in their pocket, along with the two-minute warning. Twice it looked like the Chiefs had given the ball away on an interception by Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and what was ruled on the field a Smith fumble. But the interception was wiped out by a Denver offside penalty, and the fumble was overturned on a replay review, as the officials ruled the play an incomplete forward pass by Smith.
The Chiefs sat first-and-goal at the Broncos 9-yard line with to play. Davis ran for two yards and Smith threw three yards to wide receiver Donnie Avery moving the ball to the 4-yard line. On third down, Denver defensive end DeMarcus Ware was flagged for being offside, moving the ball half-the-distance to the 2-yard line.
Davis was held to no gain on a run, and then on fourth down, Smith’s throw to Bowe at the goal line was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and the ball fluttered behind Bowe, ending the possession and the Chiefs dreams of pushing the game into overtime.
“It’s a game we can learn from,” said Smith. “We improved in some areas, like third downs (converting 11 of 16); there are other things we did better than we did last week.
“We just have to keep working.”