This one is going to hurt forever. The Kansas City Chiefs just wrote a new chapter in the “Most Gut-Punching Losses by a Franchise” Thursday night when they committed a season’s worth of mistakes and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, gift-wrapping a 31-24 win to the visiting Denver Broncos at Arrowhead. Jamaal Charles’ second costly fumble of the night with 27 seconds left in a 24-24 tie game was scooped up by Denver cornerback Bradley Roby for a 21-yard touchdown return that stunned the sell-out crowd and dropped the Chiefs record to 1-1.
Peyton Manning threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns, with the last to Emmanuel Sanders with 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter. It seemed that the two teams would be heading for overtime until Charles’ fumble left a packed house full of red-clad Chiefs fans speechless.
Kansas City turned the ball over five times on their way to this crushing loss. Alex Smith was intercepted twice and sacked four times, while the Chiefs lost three fumbles – one by punt returner De’Anthony Thomas, one by Charles at the Denver 5-yard line that ruined a terrific opening drive by Kansas City, and then the second fumble by Charles that was the game-winner for Denver.
The turnovers and penalties tarnished what could have been a sterling night for the defense, who shut down the Denver running game and pressured Manning all night long. The Chiefs defense played well enough to win, but was let down by an offense that kept shooting itself in the foot. For complete stats on the game, click here for the box score.
The Chiefs defense gave up a 14-yard run to Broncos running back C.J. Anderson on the first play of the game, but then held Denver to 61 net yards rushing and a 2.8 average per carry for the rest of the contest. Last year on that same field, Anderson gashed the Chiefs for 168 yards rushing, but he was a non-factor Thursday night. He possibly was the only Bronco to be a non-factor in the game.
The Chiefs opened the scoring with 9:20 left in the second quarter when Charles, who had 125 rushing yards in the game on 21 carries, weaved his way through the tough Denver defense for a 34-yard touchdown run. Aside from the fumbles, it was vintage Charles who ran hard all night long. On the next series, rookie Marcus Peters stepped in front of a Manning pass intended for Demaryius Thomas at the Chiefs 45-yard line and ran it back untouched for a 55-yard touchdown return that sent the stadium into a frenzy.
But, this is Peyton Manning and he knows that all he has to do is not suffer a heart attack on the field and the Chiefs will find a way to mess things up. Manning went back into the shotgun formation that he has built his Hall of Fame career on and led Denver to their first touchdown drive on offense since last season. Manning ended the 80-yard drive by hitting Emmanuel Sanders for a 16-yard touchdown pass.
It was at this point in the game that Chiefs coach Andy Reid might have made his biggest blunder of the game. With 2:31 left in the first half and holding a 14-7 lead, Reid decided to not play it conservatively and run the ball to kill the clock. The Chiefs were going to get the ball to open the second half, but Reid’s decision and Alex Smith’s poor throw ensured that whatever anxiety Denver might have had by being down at halftime was eliminated.
Facing 2nd-and-10 at their own 20-yard line, Smith’s pass intended for Jeremy Maclin was intercepted by former KU Jayhawk, Aqib Talib, at the 19 and he returned it to the Chiefs 10-yard line. Three plays later, Manning found tight end Virgil Green in the back of the end zone for his second touchdown pass of the game. Suddenly, the raucous Arrowhead crowd was stunned into silence and Denver went into halftime tied with Kansas City. You could practically feel the “deja vu” sense of despair emanate from the crowd.
The two teams traded field goals in the third quarter and went into the wild and crazy fourth quarter tied at 17-17. It would turn out to be seven of the most exciting, excruciating, and heart-breaking minutes Chiefs fans may ever experience outside of the playoffs.
With 6:40 left in the game and the Chiefs once more inside the Denver 20, Alex Smith’s arm was hit as he tried to pass to De’Anthony Thomas to the right side. The ball fluttered in the air like a dying quail and settled into the hands of the other superstar Jayhawk in the Denver secondary, Chris Harris, Jr., who returned the ball back to the Denver 30-yard line.
But the KC defense stepped up again, forcing a three-and-out from Manning. A holding call against Denver on the ensuing punt gave the Chiefs excellent field position at their own 39-yard line with 4:42 left in the game. For all the Alex Smith haters, this was the moment of truth for the Chiefs quarterback – and Smith delivered.
The Chiefs went 61 yards in six plays with Smith doing the throwing and Charles doing the heavy lifting on the ground. Knile Davis came in to give the exhausted Charles a breather and went around left end on a perfectly designed run that fooled the defense for an 8-yard touchdown run with 2:27 left on the clock. Cairo Santos’ extra point put the Chiefs up 24-17, but Chiefs fans just know that you can never count #18 out when he is quarterbacking against KC.
Sure enough, working out of the shotgun, Manning led Denver 80 yards in 10 plays for the game-tying score – a 19-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders – that took 1:51 off the clock. Instead of taking a knee and heading for overtime, Alex Smith ran for 11 yards and then, after a KC time out, Charles’ ill-fated run and fumble guaranteed that Chiefs fans who work with Bronco fans will have a miserable day at the office for the next two months until the teams meet again in Denver.
Maybe the worst thing for the Chiefs and their fans was the sight of Manning running off the field with yet another win against the local team and a grin from ear to ear. Manning is now 14-1 in his career against Kansas City and 5-0 against Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. The glass-half-empty person will be crying in their glass about another loss to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. However, the glass-half-full person will dream that Manning will most likely retire after this year to become a full-time pitchman for every product ever produced, and the Chiefs will not have to ever face him again on the football field.