No question about it, the Broncos lost valuable style points Sunday in Kansas City.
Wait, what? There is no column for style points in the standings? Oh, then never mind.
Before complaining about the Broncos’ season-low point total (17) or season-high missed field goal total (2) in their sixth straight win, keep this in mind:
In 2008, a Chiefs team that finished 2-14 beat the Broncos at Arrowhead, 33-19.
A year later, a Chiefs team that was 3-12 at the time came to Denver for the season finale and blew out the Broncos, 44-24.
In their 22 previous visits to Arrowhead, the Broncos were 7-15.
The Chiefs have been dysentery to the Broncos. No matter how bad they are, they can still ruin Denver’s day.
So winning at Arrowhead is its own reward. How the Broncos get there is all fine print. Fortunately, this is not college football. There are no voters to judge the dominance of a win or computer algorithms to assess the margin of victory. In the NFL, as Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are. The Broncos’ record says they are 8-3, six games after starting the season 2-3.
It also says they are 4-0 against division opponents with games at Oakland (3-8) and at home against Kansas City (1-10) still to play. They are already guaranteed a winning record within the AFC West for the first time since 2005.
The game? The game was like watching a power pitcher on a day he lacks command of his fastball. Can he find another way to win? Will he grind it out or flip out?
This was not the finest game Peyton Manning’s receivers have played. With the ball at their own 2-yard line and 8 minutes to play, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fearless, calling three consecutive pass plays. On first down, Manning put the ball on the hands of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on a split screen. On second down, he put it on the hands of tight end Joel Dreessen on a crossing pattern. Neither made the catch.
Still, the defense did its job once more and when the Broncos got it back at their 16 with 6:24 remaining, they put together a 12-play, 68-yard drive that ended in a confidence-restoring field goal for Matt Prater, who had missed twice for the first time all year, and drained all but 14 seconds off the game clock in the process.
“This is the kind of a drive that championship teams put together,” CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf said. “This is just a demonstration of how to win football games, what Denver has done on this drive.”
Here are some reactions to the 17-9 win from Broncos players in their own words, posted on Twitter, with spelling and contractions as posted:
Tight end Jacob Tamme: “Another good team win on the road! Records mean nothing. Hard fought, man.”
Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe: “Def wasnt pretty but a wins a win and we gotta keep on rollin”
Omar Bolden: “Sometimes it’s pretty and sometimes it’s ugly. . . . I really don’t care what it is as long as its a W!!!”
Chris Harris: “Blessed to be able to play in front of my Fam & friends today. I came a long way.”
Eric Decker: “W is a W in this league! What’s better than 5 in a row, #BroncosCountry? 6 in a row!!”
A pattern has emerged in Manning’s post-game ruminations. When outsiders are piling on the praise, Manning responds with caution, emphasizing things his team could do better. When outsiders are critical, Manning defends his guys.
But after praising the work of Knowshon Moreno, who stepped in productively for injured Willis McGahee after spending most of the season on the scout team, Manning made it clear the Broncos will be working on their shortcomings in Kansas City as they prepare for Tampa Bay next week.
“I know Jack Del Rio has high expectations for the defense,” he said. “Mike McCoy has high expectations for the offense. Ultimately, it is about winning the game, but certainly we want to try to fulfill those expectations that the coaches have for us. They set goals for us. There are certain parts of the game, certain goals for the game, they want to accomplish, whether it’s ball security, red zone, third down.
“Sometimes, you won’t hit on all those goals, yet you can still win the game. So when we watch the film, the coaches are very constructive of us and the players are very accountable in wanting to hit those goals and play better. I think that’s the sign of guys that certainly have the right attitude, in my opinion.”
Manning also disclosed that Broncos players have recently added a players-only film session in which they are expected to own up to their own failings.
“Certainly, I think players being accountable is very important,” he said. “These past couple weeks we’ve been watching the game film together — just the players; the coaches aren’t in there. It’s the player’s job to speak up on what he did wrong if there was a mistake he made, and what he can do better.
“I know offensively that’s been productive for us. I know defensively Champ (Bailey) and Elvis (Dumervil) have said the same thing. Ultimately, players have to hold each other accountable. You’re certainly always trying to get better, and you want to get better late in the season. Either you get better or you get worse; you don’t stay the same. So certainly our goal is to get better every week.”
For the first time all year, the Broncos won a game in which they did not score 30 points. The hidden story of the winning streak has been their growing confidence on the defensive side of the ball. Del Rio has taken a unit that finished 20th in total defense a year ago and moved it into the league’s top 10.
Its pash rush couldn’t take over this one because the Chiefs don’t much like to pass. Even in a loss, they ran the ball more often than they threw it. Former Bronco Brady Quinn was accurate early (nine of 11 in the first half) and familiar late (four of 14 and an interception after intermission).
Despite 107 yards rushing from Jamaal Charles, Del Rio’s unit held the Chiefs to 264 yards of offense and kept them out of the end zone all day.
It may not have been a work of art, but it wasn’t an Arrowhead horror movie, either. The Broncos will take it, happily, and move on to the next one.