Three quarters were all that Peyton Manning needed.
The Denver Broncos' star gunslinger threw two early interceptions during Week 13's crucial rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs and helped dig his team into a 21-7 hole early in the second quarter. But Manning quickly recovered, throwing five touchdowns after the first quarter and leading the Broncos to a thrilling 35-28 win.
Manning finished 22-of-35 for 403 yards, much of which went to Eric Decker, who pulled in eight receptions for 174 yards and a franchise-record four receiving touchdowns:
Eric Decker: sets @Broncos single-game record with 4 TD catches— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 1, 2013
With the win, Denver (10-2) moves one game ahead of the Chiefs (9-3) in the AFC West with the important head-to-head advantage.
Vice president of football operations John Elway presented the game ball to Jack Del Rio, who will return to his defensive coordinator duties with head coach John Fox's impending return:
John Elway presented today's game ball to Jack Del Rio after his final game as the team's interim head coach. #DENvsKC— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 2, 2013
Just 14 days after suffering their first defeat of the season at the hands of this same Broncos team, the Chiefs looked intent on getting revenge and ending a two-game losing streak at Arrowhead.
After Manning connected with Decker seconds into the second quarter to tie the game at seven, rookie running back Knile Davis responded with an electric 108-yard kick return:
Things quickly turned, though.
Manning dumped one off to Knowshon Moreno for a touchdown to end the first-half scoring, and straight out of the locker room, he proceeded to lead scoring drives of 80, 92 and 95 yards. Those ended with 37-, 15- and one-yard scoring throws to Decker, who worked himself open all game long.
Peyton Manning, Broncos: A-
It was a bit of a rough start for Manning, who threw two interceptions (both of which resulted in touchdowns for the Chiefs) on Denver's first three drives and struggled a bit to move the ball with consistency in the first half.
As he tends to do, though, he finished with a staggering 11.5 yards per throw on 35 attempts, a 118.2 QB rating and five touchdowns, including one on this gorgeous toss:
Alex Smith, Chiefs: B+
His interception in the Broncos end zone in the game's opening drive was bad, and there's no defending it, but he made some terrific, accurate throws down the field (26-of-42, 293 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), proved once again to be effective outside the pocket (four carries, 46 yards) and was laser-sharp on the game's final drive, although the comeback came up short.
Moreover, Smith's numbers would have been even better if he wasn't hindered by some untimely drops on deep balls in the second half.
Eric Decker, Broncos: A
The numbers say it all: eight catches, 21.8 yards per reception, four touchdowns. The Chiefs had absolutely no answer for Decker, as he found himself open downfield all night long and even added a score from short distance to prove he must be accounted for in all situations.
Looking to end a three-game losing streak, the Chiefs head to the road to take on the struggling Washington Redskins next Sunday. Denver, meanwhile, hosts the 5-7 Tennessee Titans next week.