The entire NFL had a close watch on the Sunday Night Football game between the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11. The Broncos were able to handle the Chiefs their first loss of the season by winning 27-17 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The win ensured the 26th all-time winning season for the Broncos. It also catapulted them to the top of the AFC West and the best record in football.
Each week, the Broncos seem to be extending or beating some NFL record, and Week 11 was no different. With 27 points against the Chiefs, the Broncos scored 25 or more points for their 15th straight regular season game—a new NFL record.
This victory was their ninth consecutive win in divisional play, good for the second-longest streak in team history. This was also their 12th consecutive victory at home, a mark that is tied for the third-longest streak in team history.
After the game, Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio first commented on the injuries to three key players. "OK, let me discuss the injury list that I have here for you. First, [S] Rahim Moore with a lower leg injury, did not return. [TE] Julius Thomas also had a lower leg injury and then [WR] Wes Welker had a concussion. Those were the three I was given on the injury list."
Del Rio continued, and he talked about how proud he was of the team for beating such a tough opponent.
Great, great night of football. Two very good football teams going at each other. I thought our fans were tremendous. I was told on the way in we only had 74 no-shows, which means that place was full and rocking, and it was awesome. So I appreciate it that the fans were out there. It was a good, hard-fought game. It’s a good football team. We knew that coming in. Again, a good home victory in the division. We know we’re going to see them again in two weeks and we know that will be another tough game, but we’ll enjoy this one tonight.
The Broncos continue to play better on defense, and they showed up in a big way against the Chiefs offense. Jamaal Charles is one of the best running backs in the game today, yet the Broncos kept him from rushing for more than 100 yards on Sunday night.
In fact, the Broncos held Charles below 100 all-purpose yards in Week 11. His 72 total yards were the lowest statistical output of the season (previous low 96 vs. Bills).
Denver's defense was suffocating against the pass as well. They came into the week ranked as the 30th passing defense in the league, allowing an average of 287.9 yards per game. The Broncos were able to hold Alex Smith to only 230 yards in Week 11.
Many questions about the Broncos were answered against the Chiefs. They played hard and beat a quality opponent to set themselves up for playoff positioning.
Check out the grades for each Broncos player against the Chiefs.
Cecil Lammey is a B/R Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained firsthand. Record information was provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Manning once again threw for more than 300 yards in this game. He's done it every week of the year except one (295 versus Jacksonville), and it was business as usual for the veteran quarterback.
Manning completed 60 percent of his passes for 323 yards and one touchdown against the Chiefs.
With his lone touchdown pass, Manning pulled into a tie with Jake Plummer and Brian Griese for the second-most touchdown passes (71) in team history.
The Broncos made sure to take care of the football better for the second week in a row. Manning was credited with a fumble after a bad exchange handing off to rookie running back Montee Ball.
After the game, Manning talked about what happened on that play. "The fumble on the exchange was my fault. I didn’t give him a good handoff."
Manning continued, "Obviously you hate to put the ball on the ground. We preach ball security all week, not having fumbles or any type of turnovers. So I hated that. It was a 3rd-and-1. I was just trying to hurry to get the ball in Montee’s hands. They were kind of blitzing, and I rushed the handoff and didn’t give him a good handoff at all."
The Broncos did an incredible job protecting Manning against the team with more sacks (36) than anyone else in the league. Manning did not get sacked against the Chiefs on Sunday night. In fact, he didn't even get hit in Week 11.
The Chiefs barely pressured Manning, only putting him under duress on 12.5 percent of his dropbacks, their lowest rate in a game this season.
Manning had plenty of time to throw, and the Broncos even used some designed rollouts to get their quarterback away from the pressure. With time, Manning is arguably the most dangerous quarterback in the league.
Knowshon Moreno: B+
Moreno had a massive workload against a tough Chiefs defense. The veteran back finished the game with 27 carries for 79 hard-fought yards in Week 11. Moreno fought hard for the yards he compiled on Sunday night.
After catching eight passes against the Chargers in Week 10, Moreno didn't catch a single pass against the Chiefs in Week 11.
The Broncos gave him a heavy workload on the ground, but they tried to lighten the load by using Montee Ball near the goal line.
Montee Ball: B
The rookie fumbled an exchange with Peyton Manning, but it was Manning who got credit (or blame) for the fumble. This was the third time he's put a ball on the ground this season, but it didn't stop the team from continuing to use Ball as the game rolled on.
After the game, Ball actually took blame for the fumbled exchange.
As a man, I have no problem and will most definitely take the blame for that fumble. It’s his job to hand me the football and it’s my job to get it. I’m going to look and film and correct that, but I think I did a great job of forgetting about it, [QB] Peyton [Manning] did a good job of forgetting about it and just moving on because there is still a game to play.
Ball scored a second-quarter touchdown to put the Broncos ahead 17-7, but he wasn't done there. He scored another touchdown, this time in the third quarter, to put the Broncos ahead 24-10.
He even made a key play on special teams in the fourth quarter by tackling Dexter McCluster on a punt return.
C.J. Anderson: N/A
We saw Anderson active over Ronnie Hillman for the third game in a row. However, we only saw Anderson in the game sparingly. He received no carries against the Chiefs. He did line up as a fullback on Ball's first rushing touchdown, but Anderson motioned out wide before the snap of the ball.
Demaryius Thomas: A+
The Chiefs had a tough time stopping Demaryius Thomas in the first half. He secured his 12th 100-yard regular season receiving game by halftime, going into the locker room with four catches for 116 yards.
Thomas finished the game with five catches for 121 yards. Peyton Manning targeted him a team-high 15 times on Sunday night. Thomas failed to score, but that's not his focus.
After the game, Thomas was asked about tight end Julius Thomas leading the team in touchdown receptions. Demaryius replied, “I don’t care. As long as we win, I’m fine. I just want the ‘W.’”
Wes Welker: A
Welker ended up leaving the game in the second half with a concussion. Before he was knocked from the game, Welker had eight catches for 72 yards. Welker was difficult to cover running jerk routes underneath, and Manning made sure to look for him often.
Before he can return to the field, we'll have to see Welker pass the NFL's protocol for concussions. We'll know more about his condition later in the week.
Eric Decker: B+
Decker came through late in the game with a key first-down catch on a play that moved the chains to keep their clock-draining drive alive. On the night, Decker had five catches for 71 yards.
He was able to take advantage of the single-coverage the Chiefs were giving him and caught five of his six targets on the night.
Decker talked about his performance after the game: "I thought overall offensively we made a lot of big, explosive plays. [WR] Demaryius (Thomas) had a lot of catches… The last one was just a good pick by one of my teammates, and I was able to extend and get the first down and burn some more clock.”
Andre Caldwell: C
Caldwell made a standout special teams play against the Chiefs. He was able to quickly wrap up Dexter McCluster on a punt return in the third quarter. Caldwell was targeted on one pass, but he did not catch it.
Julius Thomas: A
The Chiefs didn't have an answer for Julius Thomas on Sunday night. He caught the first (and only) touchdown pass from Peyton Manning on the night, but he wasn't finished there.
Thomas continued to be a difficult target to match up with and hauled in three catches for 43 yards against the Chiefs.
He could have had more if a lower leg injury hadn't knocked him out of the game. Thomas jogged into the locker room after the injury, but he was in for one play on the next drive. After that, we didn't see much from him.
Thomas now has 10 touchdowns this year, tying former Broncos player Shannon Sharpe for the most by a Denver tight end in a single season.
Virgil Green: C
Green is used mostly as a blocker, and he did a good job of that Sunday night. He also made a nice tackle on special teams, wrapping up Dexter McCluster before he could break a long return.
Joel Dreessen: N/A
Dreessen didn't see the field much even after Thomas was a little banged up. He did draw a false-start penalty late in the fourth quarter.
Jacob Tamme: N/A
Like Dreessen, Tamme didn't see the field much against the Chiefs. He gives them valuable veteran depth at the position.
The offensive line came up huge on Sunday night. They didn't allow Peyton Manning to get sacked or hit against a team who entered the game with more sacks (36) than any other team in the league.
After the game, interim head coach Jack Del Rio complimented the offensive line for their play:
“We talked all week about feeling like we’ve done a pretty good job all year of keeping our quarterback from being hit and being hit very often. I thought they responded well against a very good front. They gave us time and were able to run a little bit and just do things we needed to do to put up points and win. Obviously, the line gets a lot of credit. They were under fire last week because [QB] Peyton [Manning] got hit a few times but they’ve done a great job all year and I was proud of them. We knew this was going to be a game where you had to play well in the trenches to have a chance.”
Chris Clark: A
Clark bounced back in a big way on Sunday night. He had been regularly abused by opponents in recent weeks, but Clark did not give up a sack against the Chiefs.
The Broncos did a good job of using tight ends or running backs to help out Clark against edge pressure.
Zane Beadles: A
Beadles continues his strong play this season, and he had a fantastic game in Week 11. He regularly controlled his man and kept defenders from getting middle pressure on Manning.
I talked to Beadles after the game on the No BS Broncos Post Game Show on ESPN Denver. He described this victory as a “total team win.”
Manny Ramirez: A
Entering this game, many felt edge pressure would be a problem for the Broncos. Some even wondered if Ramirez would be able to handle second-year defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Ramirez quieted those doubters on Sunday night.
Poe was a non-factor in Week 11, as Ramirez did a good job of manhandling the up-and-coming defender. Ramirez also stood up for Knowshon Moreno on a fourth-quarter carry.
The Chiefs stopped the forward progress of Moreno, but they kept swiping at the ball and roughing up the running back after the whistle blew. Ramirez had enough of this tomfoolery and started pushing defenders off of Moreno.
Beadles told me after the game the offensive line had great chemistry and an “Us Against The World” mentality.
Louis Vasquez: A-
Vasquez has the lowest grade on the offensive line, but he still had a great night. The lower grade comes from not handling his man as easily as others did for the Broncos up front. Vasquez still helped blast open holes for the ground game in Week 11.
Orlando Franklin: A
Robert Ayers: C-
Ayers drew a second-quarter penalty when he guessed the snap count and jumped across the line of scrimmage. That was the only play of note for Ayers on the night. He failed to record a tackle or even get into the box score.
Derek Wolfe: B
Wolfe was able to get to Alex Smith for a third-quarter sack. Even when he wasn't getting to the quarterback, Wolfe was still putting Smith under duress. His high motor is difficult to contend with late in games.
Malik Jackson: A
Jackson was able to create pressure on Smith. He finished the game with half a sack, two passes defensed and two quarterback hits.
After the game I talked to Jackson about the development of his pro game. He told me growing up his favorite player was Julius Peppers (Panthers, Bears) and Jackson tries to mold his game after the All-Pro.
Jackson is one of the best young players on the defensive side of the ball.
Kevin Vickerson: BVickerson did a good job controlling his man in the middle of the line. He finished the game with two tackles. In addition to stuffing the run, Vickerson was able to get some push on the middle of the pocket.
Terrance Knighton: B+
Knighton was tough for the Chiefs to handle inside the line. He helped shut down the inside rushing lanes for Jamaal Charles.
Even when plays went away from him, Knighton would run down the ball-carrier. The big man is having a resurgent season this year with the Broncos after getting benched last year for the Jaguars.
Mitch Unrein: C+
Unrein swatted a pass in the first quarter against the Chiefs. He's a hustle player who plays tough as a rotational player for the Broncos.
Von Miller: A-
Miller did a good job playing under control against the Chiefs. Kansas City attempted to screen-pass his way in order to slow him down as a pass-rusher. Miller failed to bite, and he was able to sniff out the screens quickly.
He didn't get any sacks against the Chiefs, but his presence on the field is helping to open up opportunities for the players around him.
Shaun Phillips: A+
Phillips got a key sack late in the second quarter. The Chiefs had just gotten the ball back after Matt Prater missed a 52-yard field goal when Phillips brought Alex Smith down.
He tipped a pass in the third-quarter, which forced a key third down. On the next play, Derek Wolfe got a coverage sack, stopping the drive.
After the game, Phillips talked about how this game helped build confidence. “Whatever the offense does, I can’t control what they do. I rarely even pay attention. All I pay attention to is the defense and how we’re going to do and how we continue to get better.”
Wesley Woodyard: B-
Woodyard was out of position on a few plays in coverage. The Chiefs took advantage by picking on him with tight end Anthony Fasano.
He did fly to the football and did wrap up his man when tackling the ball-carrier.
After the game, Woodyard talked about the defense playing with a chip on their shoulder. “Without a doubt. We heard all this hoopla about which offense is best and which defense is best. We just wanted to get out there and play our style of football and that’s physical. We gave up a few things, but that’s just the game of football. You can coach from there and get better.”
Danny Trevathan: B-
Like Woodyard, we saw Trevathan out of position on a few plays. The Chiefs tried to attack him in coverage, and it worked sometimes.
Trevathan was able to sniff out a screen pass to rookie Knile Davis, and his spinning tackle prevented a touchdown.
Steven Johnson: B
Johnson made a huge hit on Charles near the goal line which forced the Chiefs to kick a second-quarter field goal.
Chris Harris: C+
Harris received a pass interference penalty early against the Chiefs, but he bounced back with a better night after that.
He was swarming to the football on both pass and run plays. Harris even had a tackle for a loss against the Chiefs. He finished the game with three solo tackles.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: B+
Rodgers-Cromartie did not see much action in the first half against the Chiefs. However, he saw more targets thrown his way in the second half.
He was able to break up (and almost intercept) a deep target for Donnie Avery in the third quarter.
Quentin Jammer: C+
Jammer showed good ability early in the game. He put a big hit on fullback Anthony Sherman and gathered in a fumble after the hit.
The veteran has plenty of experience playing in big games in the AFC West. His presence is a calming influence on the rest of the players in the secondary.
Kayvon Webster: C-
Webster was around the ball early, and was able to swat away a would-be touchdown pass intended for Dwayne Bowe.The very next play Bowe got the best of the rookie and scored a touchdown. Webster did go for some big hits, but he's still failing to wrap up properly as a tackler on some plays.
Duke Ihenacho: C
Ihenacho got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after stopping a Jamaal Charles receiving touchdown. The rookie plays with his heart on his sleeve, but he needs to play with a bit more control moving forward.
The first-year player also got a holding penalty in the second quarter.
Ihenacho continued to be an intimidating force on the football field. He made a few big hits and finished the game with three tackles.
Rahim Moore: C
Moore was out of position a few times against the Chiefs. He suffered a lower leg injury in the first half and did not return.
Mike Adams: C+Adams missed Alex Smith on a sack in the second quarter. He was able to bring down Jamaal Charles on a first-down run inside the two-yard line. Adams was always around the football, and he helped the team after Moore was lost for the game.
David Bruton: C+
Bruton's biggest impact was once again felt on special teams. He was able to push out Dexter McCluster on a return that could have been for a touchdown in the first quarter.
After the game, Bruton talked about the defense playing strong. “It’s great. It’s a culmination of what we experienced throughout training camp with the competitive nature that we’ve been in. Every position was up for grabs, everybody was competing through and through, especially at the safety position.”
Trindon Holliday: B
Holliday returned three punts for 17 yards against the Chiefs. He also chipped in with one kick return for 28 yards in Week 11. Holliday didn't score a touchdown, but he's a constant threat with whom opponents have to be concerned.
Matt Prater: B
Prater was the final kicker in the league to miss a field goal in 2013. He missed a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter. Prater went two-of-three field goals on the night. He also chipped in three extra points against the Chiefs.
Britton Colquitt: A
Colquitt punted the ball six times for 275 yards against the Chiefs. His long punt of the night traveled 54 yards, and he did land one punt inside the Chiefs' 20-yard line.