The Kansas City Chiefs went into Denver this weekend to battle a Broncos team needing a win to secure a playoff berth. The Broncos didn't get it.
The Chiefs' 44-24 win on Sunday was the franchise's first in Denver in eight years, and the first time they have ever won at Invesco Field at Mile High.
The Chiefs continued to do what they've done well in recent weeks, they handed the ball to Jamaal Charles. Charles, who averaged more than 10 yards per carry on Sunday, racked up a Chiefs' record 259 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Charles cemented his role as the Chiefs' starting running back for 2010, finishing the season with 1,120 yards in just 10 starts.
While the Chiefs put their hopes on Sunday in the hands of Charles, the Broncos' head coach, Josh McDaniels, put his team's playoff hopes in the hands of quarterback Kyle Orton and a slew of backup wide receivers.
In the Broncos' 44-13 thrashing of the Chiefs in Kansas City on Dec. 6, they ran the ball 45 times for 245 yards. In that game, Orton was only asked to throw the ball 25 times to targets that included talented pass-catchers Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, and Tony Scheffler.
On Sunday, minus Marshall, Royal, and Scheffler, it seemed a no-brainer that McDaniels would employ the same offensive philosophy from their win a month ago...run the ball.
He did not.
Instead, McDaniels opted to have Orton throw the ball 56 times to backups Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, and Brandon Stokley. Through two quarters, with the game tied, it appeared that McDaniels' plan might just work.
Then in the second half, Orton threw the ball into the hands of Chiefs' linebacker Derrick Johnson...twice. On both plays, Orton didn't see Johnson in the middle of the Chiefs' zone coverage, and both times Johnson intercepted Orton's passes and returned them for touchdowns.
Unlike Charles, who will go into 2010 as the Chiefs' starter at running back, Johnson needed a big game on Sunday. Having lost his starting job in the Chiefs' base defense, and losing playing time to youngsters Andy Studebaker and Jovan Belcher, Johnson has worked hard to impress head coach Todd Haley whenever he's had an opportunity to get on the field.
On Sunday, Haley was impressed. Of course, only time will tell to see if Johnson, a free agent in 2010, will still be in a Chiefs uniform next season.
The 4-12 Chiefs head into the offseason with the high note of having beaten one of their rivals to end a tough season. The team and its fans also have the benefit of looking forward to the NFL Draft in April, with a top-five pick and three picks in the first two rounds.
The 8-8 Broncos, on the other hand, enter the offseason on the sour note of having missed the playoffs after beginning the season 6-0. The team's fanbase, having watched their team flounder down the stretch to a 2-6 finish, is left to debate the pros and cons of a young but stubborn head coach and an all-pro but unruly wide receiver.
One thing is for certain after Sunday's outcome, I'd rather be a Chiefs' fan.