Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs Hang on for Week 18 Win over Broncos in Regular-Season Finale

Adam WellsJanuary 9, 2022

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass from quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The Kansas City Chiefs have kept their hopes for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs alive thanks to a 28-24 victory over the Denver Broncos at Empower Field on Saturday.

Coming off a last-second loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and playing on a short week, the Chiefs found themselves in a must-win situation if they wanted to have a shot at a postseason bye for the fourth straight year.

Kansas City still needs the Tennessee Titans to lose to the Houston Texans on Sunday in order to secure the top seed, but the first step in the process was taken care of.

The Broncos will limp into the offseason after four straight losses and a second consecutive last-place finish in the AFC West.

The Chiefs trailed for most of the second half until Melvin Ingram blew up Melvin Gordon III's rushing attempt in the backfield to force a fumble that Nick Bolton returned 86 yards to help take a 28-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Patrick Mahomes didn't have his most efficient game, though he still finished with 270 yards and two touchdowns. Mecole Hardman finished with a season-high 103 receiving yards in the win.

The Broncos' rushing attack kept them in the game. Gordon racked up 110 yards and one touchdown on just 12 carries. Drew Lock only completed 50 percent of his passing attempts, but he did find the end zone twice as a runner.

Notable Game Stats

  • Patrick Mahomes (KC): 27-of-44, 270 yards, 2 TD; 9 carries, 54 yards
  • Jerick McKinnon (KC): 5 carries, 24 yards; 3 receptions, 26 yards, TD
  • Mecole Hardman (KC): 8 receptions, 103 yards
  • Drew Lock (DEN): 12-of-24, 162 yards; 4 carries, 35 yards, 2 TD
  • Melvin Gordon III (DEN): 12 carries, 110 yards, TD; 1 reception, 6 yards
  • Tim Patrick (DEN): 6 receptions, 95 yards

Big Plays Carry Chiefs to Victory

There are times when a playoff team with nothing to play for phones it in in the final game of the regular season.

The Chiefs absolutely had something to play for, but the offense played a totally uninspired game against the Broncos.

Mahomes had his worst completion percentage since the first matchup with Denver in Week 13 (51.7) and fewest yards per attempt since Week 9 (4.5). He didn't throw an interception Saturday, but there were at least two passes the Broncos could have picked off.

Steve Palazzolo @PFF_Steve

Patrick Mahomes has had four interceptions dropped in his last six quarters

It didn't look like this game was going to be a problem for the Chiefs based on the first two drives. Their defense forced a 3-and-out on Denver's opening possession.

On their first offensive possession, Mahomes led the Chiefs 91 yards in 17 plays before finding Travis Kelce for an easy touchdown.


.<a href="https://twitter.com/PatrickMahomes?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PatrickMahomes</a> calls his own number and picks up the first down. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ChiefsKingdom?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ChiefsKingdom</a> <br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/KCvsDEN?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#KCvsDEN</a> on ESPN/ABC<br>📱: <a href="https://t.co/wJgbGtMl5R">https://t.co/wJgbGtMl5R</a> <a href="https://t.co/yZyKF4R4Gq">pic.twitter.com/yZyKF4R4Gq</a>

Kansas City Chiefs @Chiefs

Wiiiiide open to <a href="https://twitter.com/tkelce?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@tkelce</a> for six!<br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/KCvsDEN?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#KCvsDEN</a> on ESPN <a href="https://t.co/MlwNAmgbQT">pic.twitter.com/MlwNAmgbQT</a>

The Chiefs only managed three points and 106 total yards on their next three possessions in the first half.

Things did start to get back to something resembling normalcy in the second half. They took a 17-14 lead on a 75-yard drive to start the third quarter when Mahomes found Jerick McKinnon for his first touchdown of the season.

Kansas City Chiefs @Chiefs

.<a href="https://twitter.com/JetMckinnon1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JetMckinnon1</a> works his way into the endzone 😤<br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/KCvsDEN?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#KCvsDEN</a> on ESPN <a href="https://t.co/m1avklyhMY">pic.twitter.com/m1avklyhMY</a>

Ingram's forced fumble when the Broncos were in the red zone saved Kansas City from a potential upset.

The three-time Pro Bowler's primary impact for the team has been allowing Chris Jones to move back inside, but this was his biggest play of the season so far. 

Kansas City Chiefs @Chiefs

.<a href="https://twitter.com/_nickbolton2?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@_NICKBOLTON2</a> TAKES IT ALL THE WAY‼️ <a href="https://t.co/xWJqOZQc75">pic.twitter.com/xWJqOZQc75</a>

The Broncos were able to get within four points at 28-24 with 4:37 remaining thanks to a field goal after their drive stalled out.

Kansas City's offense was able to ice the game away with a clock-killing drive that was highlighted by a 3rd-and-8 conversion on Kelce's 12-yard reception at the two-minute warning.

Mahomes took three kneel-downs to run out the clock and preserve the win. This wasn't a dominant performance by the Chiefs offense, but that could be a product of the Broncos' defensive talent and how head coach Vic Fangio schemes them up.

The Broncos held Mahomes to 184 yards with one interception when these teams first played six weeks ago.

Now, the Chiefs will turn their attention to the playoffs and trying to reach the Super Bowl for the third consecutive season. They won't know their opponent until after tomorrow's games are complete, but their confidence has to be sky-high after nine wins in their last 10 games.

Broncos' Frustrating Season Ends in Disappointment

This game was a microcosm of Denver's entire 2021 season. There were some fantastic moments with an opportunity to win late, but ultimately not enough plays were made on either side of the ball.

Fangio and the defense did a fantastic job of containing Mahomes in two games this season, but the 63-year-old also showed why his future with the team is in doubt.

Trailing 28-21 late in the fourth quarter, Fangio sent Brandon McManus out for a field goal on 4th-and-9 from Kansas City's 13-yard line rather than try to convert and potentially tie the game.

Benjamin Allbright @AllbrightNFL

The Broncos are lining up for a kick in what has to be the most cowardly display of Vic Fangio's tenure.

Will Brinson @WillBrinson

Rumors SWIRLING about Vic Fangio losing his job and he just kicked down 7 to the Chiefs in a game that is completely meaningless to Denver's season.

nick wright @getnickwright

Kicking a FG from the 13, down 7 with less than 5 minutes left, in Week 18 against your hated rival when you’re already eliminated from the playoffs &amp; are likely going to be fired after the game is an ALL TIME cowardly coaching decision. <br><br>Just utterly baffling by Fangio.

The decision to kick was baffling for many reasons, not least of which being Fangio did it with 4:37 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs had six offensive possessions up to that point, not including one at the end of the second quarter. Five of them took at least three minutes off the clock, and four of them lasted at least four minutes.

There were some positive moments to take away from this game for the Broncos as they evaluate their offseason needs. They ran for 191 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries.

Gordon was gashing Kansas City's defense, tying his season high with 9.2 yards per attempt.

Denver Broncos @Broncos

Take off then, <a href="https://twitter.com/Melvingordon25?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Melvingordon25</a> ⚡️<br><br>📺: ESPN<a href="https://t.co/8JvYMZcsY4">pic.twitter.com/8JvYMZcsY4</a>

Wide receiver Tim Patrick had one of his best games of the season with 95 yards on six receptions. He was targeted a season-high 10 times and caught Lock's best throw of the game.

Denver Broncos @Broncos

.<a href="https://twitter.com/DrewLock23?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DrewLock23</a> droppin’ dimes 🎯 <br><br>📺: ESPN <a href="https://t.co/176QAOb9js">pic.twitter.com/176QAOb9js</a>

The Broncos finished this season with a 7-10 record, with three of their last four losses coming by a total of 13 points. Their defense entered Week 18 ranked third in the NFL with 18.4 points allowed per game.

After the Broncos front office decides whether to bring Fangio back, the next key question for it to address this offseason will be the quarterback position.

Lock hasn't shown himself to be the answer in three seasons since being selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft.

Teddy Bridgewater, who can become an unrestricted free agent in March, played well before suffering a season-ending concussion in Week 15 against the Cincinnati Bengals. He completed 66.9 percent of his attempts for 3,052 yards and 18 touchdowns in 14 starts.

Denver does have additional draft capital to play with thanks to acquiring a second- and third-round pick from the Los Angeles Rams as part of the Von Miller trade.

If an established veteran quarterback becomes available, the Broncos certainly have a roster ready to compete if they can figure out the most important position on the field.

What's Next?

The Chiefs will host their first playoff game against an opponent still to be determined.