Denver Broncos move into tie with Kansas City atop AFC West

1:07 AM, Nov 18, 2013   |    comments
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Nov 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) pressures Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (28) in the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

KUSA - All the hoopla of Peyton Manning's ankle versus the Kansas City sack-fest didn't come to fruition Sunday night as the Denver Broncos quarterback stayed clear of the rush en route to a 27-17 win.

Manning, who had a brace on his right ankle, finished 24-of-40 passing for 323 yards and one touchdown pass. But the sack-happy Chiefs, who came into the game with 36 sacks, barely touched Manning. He was never sacked or knocked down. He was hit just twice.

"Pass protection was great. The running game was solid. We had a good mix," Manning said. "But really guys up front did a great job, answered the bell. They had a great challenge against an excellent defense and an excellent pass rush. Those guys did an outstanding job. It was critical to the game tonight."

Perhaps Manning's biggest hit of the game was when he made a TD-saving tackle on Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson at the Broncos' 18-yard line after a fumbled hand off.

"I was kind of right there," Manning said of his tackle. "You don't feel good about leaving the field. They turn around and fumble right away and we go and score. That's a pretty critical series right there."

The 37-year-old Manning re-aggravated the high-ankle sprain late in last week's win at San Diego and took a day off practice this past week to help the healing process.

"They were under fire last week because Peyton got hit a few times, but they've done a great job all year," said Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio. "We knew this was going to be a game you had to play well in the trenches to have a chance."

After the game, Manning would not talk about how his ankle fared or felt. "I'm not during weekly check-ups on this," Manning said.

Holding opponents to just 12.3 points (second in the NFL), the Chiefs' defense gave up 17 points in the first half. Denver averaged a league-best 41.2 points in the first nine games.

With Knowshon Moreno running a season-high 27 times and rookie running back Monte Ball scoring his second and third career touchdowns, the Broncos' offense was more balanced to take pressure off Manning's passing game.

With Denver and Kansas City tied at 9-1 atop the AFC West standings, the rematch Dec. 1 in Kansas City becomes even more intriguing.

"They ran the ball a lot tonight and they got the ball out of Peyton's hands," Johnson said. "If we can get up on them or keep the score down a little bit (next time) ... they're coming to our house so it will be a lot better."

Both teams face just two teams with winning records in their final six games. Both of Denver's are in the coming two weeks when the Broncos play at New England next Sunday in another NBC Sunday Night Football game - then at Arrowhead Stadium (with a kickoff that was moved to 2:25 p.m.).

The biggest question for next week's game will be the availability of Broncos receiver Wes Welker, who spent six seasons with the Patriots. Welker left the game against the Chiefs because of a concussion.

Kansas City coach Andy Reid lost for just the second time after a bye. In 14 seasons in Philadelphia, Andy Reid was 13-1 coming off a bye week. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith struggled most of the game and finished 21-of-44 passing for 230 yards. Running back Jamaal Charles finished with 78 yards on 16 carries.

After taking a 17-10 lead at halftime, the Broncos offense struggled out of the break as Manning was 1-of-7 for nine yards in their first three drives of the third quarter. But a brisk six-play, 65-yard drive, that ended with Ball's second TD of the game gave Denver plenty of breathing room with a 24-10 lead with 2½ minutes left in the third quarter.

Matt Prater, who missed a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter, added a 36-yarder in the fourth quarter for a 27-10 lead. It was Prater's first miss this season.

There wasn't a lot of scoring in the first quarter with Denver taking a 10-0 lead, as Manning was just 3-of-8 passing for 17 yards in Denver's first three possessions. But there was a bit of excitement on back-to-back fumbles.

Denver lost the ball first when Manning's handoff to Ball hit the ground and was recovered by Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson, who was stopped by Manning at the Broncos' 18-yard line. Both players took the blame for the fumble.

"It's his job to hand me the football and it's my job to get it," Ball said. "I'm going to look and film and correct that, but I think I did a great job of forgetting about it, Peyton did a good job of forgetting about it and just moving on because there is still a game to play."

Said Manning: "That fumble exchange was my fault. I didn't give him a good handoff. ... That was an interesting turn of events."

On the Chiefs' first play, Anthony Sherman fumbled a catch at the 16-yard line, and Broncos cornerback Quentin Jammer recovered.

The Broncos scored five plays later on Manning's 9-yard pass to tight end Julius Thomas for a 10-0 lead. The drive was sparked by Manning's 69-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas on third down.

Thomas has 10 TD catches this season, which ties the team record for a tight end (Shannon Sharpe in 1996 and '98). Coming into this season, the third-year Thomas had one career catch, and it was not for a touchdown.

The Chiefs scored early in the second quarter in a drive that was helped by Duke Ihenacho's taunting penalty. After he broke up a second-down pass in the end zone intended for Charles, Ihenacho was flagged after he jawed with Charles and bumped him as they went back to the line of scrimmage.

With a fresh set of downs starting at the Broncos' 6-yard line, the Chiefs scored on Alex Smith's 6-yard pass to Dwayne Bowe on third down to pull within 17-7.

But Denver responded on the ensuing drive and Manning took them 79 yards in 10 plays for a 17-7 lead on Ball's 1-yard run with 9:05 left in the first half.

The Chiefs had to settle for a short field goal to pull within 17-10 after the Broncos' defense had a big goal-line stand. With first-and-goal at Denver's 2-yard line, the Chiefs ran three times and linebacker Steven Johnson had a big stop on Charles on third down. Johnson came in after Danny Trevathan was injured just before the goal-line stand.

The 77,002 fans were the second-most at Sports Authority Field at Mile High behind a 2007 Monday night game against Green Bay.

"I thought our fans were tremendous," Del Rio said. "I was told on the way in we only had 74 no-shows, which means that place was full and rocking, and it was awesome."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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