A playoff berth, a commanding victory over a division rival, renewed hope in the AFC West race and a touchdown pass from defensive lineman Dontari Poe—it's safe to say the Kansas City Chiefs had a memorable Christmas.
Kansas City handled the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, 33-10, to move to 11-4 on the season and 6-2 at home. The Broncos lost their third straight game and dropped to 8-7, which eliminated the defending Super Bowl champions from the playoff picture.
The Chiefs announced they clinched the playoffs when the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens earlier in the day, but they are just one game behind the Oakland Raiders with a single game remaining in the AFC West. Kansas City also owns the tiebreaker with two head-to-head wins.
The Chiefs overwhelmed Denver with a 21-point first quarter and never looked back. Alex Smith threw for 244 yards, one touchdown and one interception and added 46 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while tight end Travis Kelce spearheaded the pass-catching attack with 160 receiving yards and a score.
Kelce did something not even the great Tony Gonzalez did, per NFL on ESPN:
Tyreek Hill's breakthrough continued with 95 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Despite the impressive showings from a number of players, Poe's jump-pass touchdown to Demetrius Harris is what turned heads in the closing minutes. It came after Denver called timeout to stop the clock with the game essentially over at 27-10 and less than two minutes left.
The NFL passed along the amusing touchdown:
On the other side, Trevor Siemian threw for 183 yards and an interception. Albert Breer of The MMQB tweeted: "A lot of the blame for Denver's offensive collapse will land on Trevor Siemian's shoulders. I'd argue the line was a MUCH bigger issue."
That line didn't open many holes for the running game, as Devontae Booker's 27 rushing yards were a team high.
Denver was significantly short-handed on the defensive side. Aric DiLalla of the team's website noted defensive back T.J. Ward and linebacker Brandon Marshall were among the inactives. Ben Swanson of the Broncos' website provided updates on cornerback Kayvon Webster and defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, who were ruled out with a concussion and a neck injury, respectively.
BJ Kissel of the Chiefs' official website noted linebacker Justin Houston was among the inactives for the victors.
The Chiefs wasted little time seizing control. They forced a Denver punt on the game's first possession and then marched 77 yards on seven plays for a touchdown. Smith scored on a 10-yard run shortly after Hill dazzled with a 28-yard scamper.
Troy Renck of ABC Denver reacted to the receiver's ability in the open field:
It was on full display again when Hill exploded for a 70-yard touchdown run to give the Chiefs a quick two-score lead. Kelce sprung Hill with a block (after doing the same for Smith on the first touchdown), and the speedster did the rest.
Matt Derrick of the Topeka Capital-Journal said, "Hill's run what happens when you have perfect execution. Everybody block their man, and the [hole] was there. And Hill just needs a crease."
The NFL shared the score:
Rod Mackey of 9News in Denver said the Chiefs scored more points in five minutes than the Broncos did in their past two games, which didn't have the visitors in the holiday spirit:
Denver wouldn't go away quietly, and Justin Simmons intercepted Smith and returned it to Kansas City's 6-yard line. Justin Forsett capitalized with a touchdown run two plays later.
That momentum lasted all of two plays from scrimmage, as Kelce parlayed a short pass from Smith in to an 80-yard touchdown. Denver's defense looked helpless without Ward and Marshall and fell behind 21-7 by the end of the first quarter.
The Chiefs captured Kelce's elusiveness:
Denver climbed within 11 points, 21-10, after Brandon McManus hit a field goal following Cairo Santos' miss, but it missed a chance to draw closer by halftime with a failed fake field goal.
ESPN's Trey Wingo was blunt in his evaluation of the decision:
While the game started with plenty of offensive fireworks, the defenses settled in during the third quarter with four straight stops.
Denver's first drive of the quarter ended when Siemian threw the ball straight into the ground, and Andrew Mason of the Broncos' official website said, "That sequence just summed up the Broncos' December offensive performance right there."
Without much offense to speak of, the crowd was entertained by someone who ran on the field. Cameron Wolfe of the Denver Post noted the fans weren't the only ones amused:
It looked as if the Chiefs gave themselves some breathing room when Smith threw a strike in the end zone to Harris, but the tight end dropped what should have been an easy touchdown and forced his team to settle for a field goal.
However, the Chiefs got the ball right back when Kalif Raymond fumbled the ensuing kickoff and added another field goal to take a commanding three-score lead against the hapless Denver offense.
The Broncos' futility continued when Booker lost a fumble and Donald Stephenson committed an unsportsmanlike penalty. Mason said it was the offensive lineman's fifth penalty of the game.
Wolfe summed things up from Denver's perspective:
With the game well in hand, the Chiefs had some fun with less than two minutes left. They put Poe in, who threw the touchdown pass and inspired plenty of reactions on social media:
Eric Berry intercepted Siemian for good measure on the game's final play after the Broncos used another timeout.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid reflected on his team's effort, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com): "I give the guys a lot of credit for playing hard when they already clinched a playoff spot. That isn't easy to do. They came out and I really thought played aggressive."
Hill talked about the quick start, per the AP: "It felt good to see this offense come out, three possessions in a row and just move the ball. We know what we can do. We still haven't put it all together, but it's coming."
Reid called the touchdown pass from Poe the "Bloated Tebow Pass," per Kissel.
Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak talked about the game, per Mason: "Next week's all geared to next year and our football team moving forward...We need to move on to the next year."
Broncos cornerback Chris Harris wasn't pleased after the contest, per Mason: "The way we played today, we don't deserve to go to the playoffs...We didn't stop anybody today, so we don't deserve to make it."
Defensive back Darian Stewart echoed those sentiments, per Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post: "We got our tail whooped. They were more ready than we were. They came out of the gates, and we gave up three huge plays."
The Chiefs will finish the regular season at the San Diego Chargers, while the Broncos end things at home against the Raiders.
If Kansas City beats the Chargers, Denver can play spoiler for Oakland with a win. Victories from the Chiefs and Broncos in Week 17 would make Kansas City the AFC West champion and give it a first-round bye in the postseason.