The Denver Broncos had a big test in Week 13, as they traveled to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. They were able to pass that test with flying colors, as they beat the Chiefs 35-28 on Sunday. They now sit at the top of the AFC West (and the AFC) with four games remaining.
The Broncos now have a streak of 10 straight wins in AFC West. This represents the second-longest such streak in team history and the longest active streak in the NFL. Denver, which captured a franchise-record 11 consecutive wins against the AFC West from 1997-98, plays two of its final four games this season against divisional opponents.
Peyton Manning bounced back from his season-low 150 yards passing against the Patriots in Week 12 with another 400-yard performance. He was able to find targets quickly and with ease all afternoon long, especially in the second half.
Manning threw five touchdowns against the Chiefs and extends his own franchise record with 41 touchdown passes this season. He also surpassed 4,000 yards passing on the season with his 403 yards passing.
The Broncos offensive line did a good job of protecting Manning on Sunday, and he was only hit three times. Manning was not sacked against the Chiefs for the second time this year. He was comfortable in the pocket most of the day, and that comfort helped Manning slice apart the Chiefs secondary.
Knowshon Moreno was active for this game after being limited all week long in practice with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 12 against the Patriots. He saw a reduced workload on Sunday, and he finished the game with 15 carries for 18 yards. Moreno’s main contribution came as a receiver, as he caught four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Monte Ball was the second-string back for the Broncos in Week 13. The rookie didn’t have any fumbles, and he came through in a big way with the first 100-yard game of his career. Ball finished the game with 13 carries for 117 yards.
The Broncos' passing game was once again on point with Eric Decker leading the way. Decker was nearly unstoppable against the Chiefs, and he hauled in 8 catches for 174 yards and four touchdowns. His performance marked just the 13th time in NFL history a player has totaled at least 170 receiving yards and four touchdowns in a single game.
The Broncos' defense had a different look this time around. They were playing without both Kevin Vickerson (Injured Reserve, hip) and Derek Wolfe (inactive, illness) on Sunday. Both players were greatly missed.
They failed to hold Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles to under 100 all-purpose yards on Sunday. Charles is the centerpiece of the Chiefs’ offense, and he proved difficult to stop in Week 13. He carried the ball 19 times for 93 yards and one touchdown. Charles also contributed with two catches for 27 yards.
After the game, Manning talked about securing this big win.
It was a big win because it was a division game. We played them two weeks ago in a close game, a tough game. We knew coming here it would be tough as well. They’re coming off a disappointing loss last week, and we knew we’d get their best shot. They came out hot and made some plays early, had the kickoff return, and we did a good job of just persevering, handling that and making some adjustments. We were able to take the lead there in the third quarter, and we were able to keep the lead.
Check out the grades for each Broncos player against the Chiefs.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand. Record/Statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Peyton Manning: A+
Peyton Manning is simply one of the best to ever play the game. He showed incredible command of the offense against the Chiefs.
With four games remaining this year, Manning needs nine touchdowns to tie the all-time single season mark of 50 passing touchdowns set by Tom Brady (Patriots) in 2007.
Manning showed off his deep arm on Sunday. Eight of 10 passes of 15 yards or more were completed. Manning had 268 yards passing, three touchdowns and two interceptions on such throws. Since Denver’s bye week, Manning had been off-target on about 60 percent of his deep throws. He was only off target on one of his 10 deep throws against the Chiefs.
Knowshon Moreno: A
Moreno once again proved his value on Sunday. He didn't quite look the same as a runner, averaging only 1.2 yards per carry. However, as a receiver he looked great.
He was able to drag about five Chiefs defenders near the end of a screen pass that he took 31 yards down the field. Moreno's heart and energy have been infectious for his teammates.
Montee Ball: A+
Montee Ball ran hard and appreciated the trust the team had in him on Sunday. After the game, Moreno talked about the performance of the rookie. “Montee did a great job, held onto the ball, ran hard, ran physical and that is just the beginning. He is working on it in practice and we are going to need him to continue those things.”
Ball is running with more patience and decisiveness than he was earlier this season. This has helped him pick up tough yards between the tackles. This attitude also helps him break arm tackles and get to the second level for a big run.
Ronnie Hillman: n/a
Hillman was active for the first time since fumbling near the goal line in Week 7 against the Colts. He didn't receive any touches, and he was not on the field for a single snap.
Thomas is a beast. He was injured early in this game and wasn't quite the same after that. Thomas did come back into the game, and he was able to secure three passes for 106 yards.
After the game, Manning talked about Thomas.
DT (Demaryius Thomas) got hurt on the first play of the game. That third down to him, in that type of play usually, he can go up and make it. He couldn’t even reach with his other hand. He goes up with one hand and obviously tips it, and it ends up getting intercepted. I probably told him he could have told me that earlier, that he only has one hand and I might not have thrown to him. So I knew he wasn’t 100 percent.
Wes Welker: C+
Welker played against tough coverage on Sunday. There wasn't much room for him to work in as Brandon Flowers played aggressively against him.
He finished the game with only three catches for 38 yards.
Eric Decker: A+
Decker was nearly unstoppable. Manning's favorite target is the open guy, and that guy on Sunday was Decker. He kept getting open against rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, and Manning had no problem finding him on deep throws.
Manning completed five of six passes to Decker at least 15 yards downfield. Three of those five completions were for touchdowns.
After the game, Decker talked about his performance. “In this offense, you get to the spot and if you’re open, he’ll (Peyton Manning) throw it. We try to be complimentary with the run and pass. I thought today was just a good day grinding and pulling out a victory in that fashion.”
Andre Caldwell: C
Caldwell did get a few more snaps after the injury to Thomas. He received only one target, and he caught it for four yards.
Jacob Tamme: C
Tamme once again filled in for an injured Julius Thomas. There weren't a lot of targets for any of the tight ends, and Tamme finished the game with one catch for three yards.
Joel Dreessen: n/a
Dreessen didn’t do much on Sunday. He did not make it into the box score. When he did get on the field, his job was to block.
Virgil Green: C
Green is used primarily as a blocker, and he did a good job of that on Sunday. He caught his lone target for a gain of two yards.
Chris Clark: A
The Chiefs didn’t get much pressure on Manning. For the second game against the Chiefs, the Broncos did not allow a sack. Clark did a good job of handling edge pressure on Sunday. His only gaffe was getting flagged for an illegal shift in the fourth quarter.
Zane Beadles: A
Beadles continues to be a force in the middle of the offensive line. His game is all about strength, leverage and attitude.
These teams don't like each other, and there was quite a bit of smack talk after certain plays. Beadles was talking, and he was backing up his talk with strong play on the football field.
Manny Ramirez: A
He played strong against Dontari Poe on Sunday. He also played with a ton of attitude.
He was flagged for unnecessary roughness after piling into the back of Chiefs defenders trying to bring Knowshon Moreno down after a 31-yard gain. That type of play shows the aggression of the Broncos' offense. They are not a finesse team, and Denver has a physical side to its offense.
Louis Vasquez: A
Outside of Wes Welker, Vasquez may be the most important free-agent addition of the offseason. He helped blast open holes for the ground game in the middle of the line.
Vasquez had a strong game, but there was one play where Derrick Johnson was able to push him to the ground to get to the ball.
Orlando Franklin: A
Franklin looked like a road grader as a run-blocker. As a pass-blocker he didn't allow any sacks, but Franklin was flagged for holding Tamba Hali in the first quarter.
Robert Ayers: C
Without Derek Wolfe on the field, there was more pressure on Ayers. He was playing aggressively and getting up the field. Ayers didn't produce much, and he finished with only one tackle.
Malik Jackson: C
Jackson had a solid game against the Chiefs. Like Ayers, he wasn't that productive and had two tackles. He did play with a high motor, and he proved to be quite disruptive on the line.
Terrance Knighton: C+
“Pot Roast” picked up the slack without Kevin Vickerson on the field. He did a good job of collapsing his blocker into the play, and Knighton finished the game with two tackles.
Sylvester Williams: C-
The rookie struggled to make an impact against the Chiefs. When blocked, he'll pick the wrong shoulder to attack, then he will try to run around the play. This worked in college at North Carolina, but that technique takes you out of the play at the pro level.
We'll see if Williams can get better with more experience. He was credited with one tackle on Sunday.
Mitch Unrein: B+
The veteran is a fine reserve player, and he received more playing time than usual on Sunday. Unrein responded by playing with a high motor against the Chiefs. He was always around the football and finished the game with three tackles.
Von Miller: B+
Miller continues to draw a lot of attention from opponents. He did not record a sack, but Kansas City asked more than one player to block him on most plays.
He continues to play better as a run defender, and Miller had two tackles. One of those tackles was behind the line of scrimmage.
Shaun Phillips: C-
Like Miller, Phillips failed to record a sack. Phillips was around the ball on a few plays but finished the game with only one tackle.
Wesley Woodyard: B+
There was an extra chip on Woodyard’s shoulder. He didn't have as many troubles in coverage as he did in the last game against the Chiefs. Woodyard was also pushing around some Chiefs after a few plays. His attitude carried over to the rest of the defense.
Woodyard picked off an Alex Smith pass in the end zone to snuff a Chiefs' drive in the first quarter. He also finished the game with five tackles.
After the game, Woodyard talked about how big this win was for the Broncos. “We knew what was at stake when we came in here. The Chiefs are a tough team. A gritty team. It was up to us to control our destiny. It was definitely a win we wanted to get. It was a great team win today.”
Danny Trevathan: C+
The second-year linebacker did a better job in coverage on Sunday. He wasn't outstanding in that area, but he did allow fewer plays to his man than he did in the last game against the Chiefs.
The Broncos had trouble keeping Smith contained when he scrambled. Trevathan had the speed to get to the quarterback when he crossed the line of scrimmage.
Nate Irving: n/a
He is a two-down run-stuffer and special teams player for the Broncos. The only play of note Irving made was when he drew a block in the back penalty on special teams.
Champ Bailey: C+
It was good to see Bailey back out on the field in Week 13. The Chiefs immediately targeted him with the first two passes of the game. Both were complete, and Bailey looked like he got the wind knocked out of him.
He was on a play count and didn't play the full game. He looked more comfortable as the game went on, and his play improved the more he played. Bailey was not in toward the end of the game as the Broncos tried to limit his snaps.
After the game, Bailey talked about playing with a banged-up defense: “We are banged up, but we have some depth. It shows. Not to have (Derek) Wolfe, (Kevin) Vickerson and not to have me the full game, we have lost a lot of players who have played a lot for this defense. It's tough, but we've got some good players in this locker room and they stepped up.”
Chris Harris: C+
Harris struggled at times with covering his man. He was burned in the second quarter by Chiefs' tight end Sean McGrath.
His best play in the game came in the fourth quarter, as he batted a pass down at the line of scrimmage. Harris finished the game with three passes defensed.
Kayvon Webster: C-
The rookie corner continues to look for the big hit first instead of properly wrapping up as a tackler. He lost Jamaal Charles in coverage on a first-quarter pass, and Webster seemed to be out of position on a few throws.
In addition to being out of position, he was also late to a few plays that went to his zone. The rookie will have to clean that up if he wants to receive more playing time moving forward.
Quentin Jammer: C+
Jammer saw more playing time with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie banged up. He was around the football most of the time and did not get burned like the younger corners did.
Duke Ihenacho: C-
There’s little question who the intimidator in the Broncos’ secondary is. However, Ihenacho's aggression can be used against him. The use of play action caused a few players to get open as Ihenacho was peeking in the backfield.
Mike Adams: C
The veteran will continue to start for the Broncos with Rahim Moore out. Adams finished as the leader in tackles against the Chiefs. He had six tackles and one pass defensed.
David Bruton: C-
Bruton is a special teams star but received more playing time on defense. He couldn't run down Knile Davis on his 108-yard return for a touchdown. Bruton also let a pass go over his head that A.J. Jenkins was able to catch in the fourth quarter.
Omar Bolden: n/a
Bolden contributed mostly on special teams.
Trindon Holliday: n/a
Holliday didn’t do much because he got hurt. He was injured on a return when Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman smashed him.
Matt Prater: A
Prater was perfect. He hit all of his extra points, and he now has scored 104 points on the season. This is the fourth 100-point season of his career and the 32nd 100-point season in team history.
Britton Colquitt: A
Colquitt is one of the best punters in the game today. He had three punts for 132 yards with a long punt of 53 yards. Two of his three punts were downed inside the Chiefs' 20-yard line.