Chiefs barely need Mahomes while clobbering error-prone Broncos, 43-16

A 50-yard pick six by Sorenson and 102-yard kickoff return by Pringle give Chiefs 14 points while Mahomes was watching in cold, snowy conditions.

DENVER — Patrick Mahomes didn’t need the help.

He was an NFL and Super Bowl MVP through the first two seasons as a starter and he began his next with a contract that averages $45 million a year – and he’s worth darn near every dollar.

Yet, the incredible Mahomes was watching from the sideline for most of the second quarter when his Kansas City Chiefs scored 14 points without him.

Chiefs safety Daniel Sorenson stepped in front of a lazy Drew Lock pass intended for Noah Fant and returned the pick 50 yards for six. And then the Chiefs’ Byron Pringle returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown.

The Chiefs whipped the turnover-prone Broncos, 43-16 on a frigid, late-October Sunday afternoon at Empower Field at Mile High.

And if Mahomes was on the sideline watching all the scoring, so was the Denver defense.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Broncos cornerback A.J. Bouye, who returned after missing the previous four games with a shoulder injury. “The biggest thing that we could do is just stick together. I talked to Drew after the game. I let him know I’ve played against a lot of great quarterbacks that have had bad games. It’s not about that, it’s how you respond, and I just reassured him that the guys are always behind him no matter what and we just going to keep fighting.”

The Broncos committed four turnovers in dropping to 2-4. In so many ways they are a long way from matching the Chiefs, who are 6-1 and running away with their fifth consecutive AFC West Division title.

A limited crowd of 5,700 showed up to see if the Broncos could snap their 9-game losing streak against the four-time defending AFC West champion Chiefs.

There was never much chance. Question: If the Chiefs played the Broncos 100 times, how many times would they win? Here’s a hint: They only have 90 more to go. 

“I think we’re neck-and-neck,” said Broncos’ left tackle Garett Bolles. “That’s just me, personally. I don’t think there’s really anything that makes them more spectacular than us. We have a lot of dogs in this locker room. We have a lot of people. We match them speed for speed. Our defense is probably better than their defense, but it comes down to the little mistakes that we continue to make. We turn over the ball. We turn over the ball with the Super Bowl champs—a team like that with Mahomes—they’re going to put points on them.”

The necks of the giraffes, maybe. Especially on offense, the Broncos aren’t close to the Chiefs. Denver has some nice prospects, players with tools. But they’re not ready to win consistently with the big boys.

“They’re talented but there’s a lot of times where things can be self-inflicted, and I’m talking about all phases of the ball—defense included,” said Broncos safety Justin Simmons, who has never been in the winning locker room against the Chiefs nine tries since he was drafted in 2016. “There were some of those tonight on the defense. I don’t know what the numbers were, but we just didn’t find a way to play enough to win us the game in all three phases. It is what it is, but we have one more shot—we play them later down the road and we’ll have a chance to go play them at their place. We need to be way better.”

Except for providing much needed relief from the state’s wildfires, Colorado’s weather Sunday wasn’t for the feint of heart. The game-time temperature was 14 degrees, which was accompanied by a light snow. Amid these conditions, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio made the unusual decision to receive the ball after the Chiefs lost the coin toss. NFL coaches almost always defer to the second half because it often works out that their team has the ball at the end of the first half, and again to start the second.

Then again, it’s not every day the Broncos go up against Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs’ offense. The strategy didn’t work as the Broncos’ offense started with three-and-outs on their first two series, while Mahomes was efficient in directing a 68-yard touchdown drive the first time he had the ball.

Mahomes had completions of 19 yards to Mecole Hardman and 11 yards to Tyreek Hill before running back Clyde Edwards-Hellaire broke at least two tackles on his way in for an 11-yard touchdown.

The Broncos then made their own break when inside linebacker Alexander Johnson stripped tight end Nick Keizer of the ball after a long gain. Denver had the ball at the Kansas City 37.

Momentum instantly changed. Lock rolled right and hit his new favorite receiver Tim Patrick for a 27-yard gain to the Chiefs’ 10. Lock eventually took it in a 2-yard, option keeper around right end, pointing his finger at Chiefs defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon on his way in.

Clearly, the Chiefs would have many laughs back, as well as the last one.

Surprisingly, Brandon McManus, coming off back-to-back AFC Special Teams Player of the Week performances, missed the extra point.

The Chiefs answered with a nice drive until Bradley Chubb sacked Mahomes, leaving Kansas City to settle for a 40-yard Harrison Butker field goal. It stayed 10-6 until Lock telegraphed his  pass to Fant in the flat, which the safety Sorenson read, stole and returned 50 yards for a pick six touchdown. It was 17-6 Chiefs.

A field goal drive set up by Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay led to a 43-yard field goal by McManus, but his kickoff was returned the other way by Pringle.

Mahomes threw a touchdown pass to Hill in the fourth quarter to boost his stats to 15 of 23 passing for 200 yards but he didn’t have to carry his team in this one. Denver’s D held the Chiefs to 0 for 8 on third down conversions. Yet, according to Elias Sports Bureau, the Chiefs became only the second NFL team of the past 50 years to win by at least 27 points while failing to convert a third down. (Tampa Bay lost to Carolina by 32 points (48-16) in a 2011 game even though the Panthers were 0 for 6 on third down).

“It’s definitely nice for me,” Mahomes said. “It’s nice that we’re able to go out there and win in several different ways and I think that we kind of found our footing on that at the end of last year and it has kind of continued into this year.

“When we kind of feel the temperature of the game —offense, defense, and special teams — obviously, we want to score every drive but when it’s not there and the defense is playing like they did today then just don’t make anything worse and punt and let the special teams work and then let the defense go out there and make plays.”

He was replaced late in the game by backup Chad Henne with the Chiefs up 37-16.

Lock was 24 of 40 for 254 yards with two interceptions. He has three interceptions with zero touchdown throws in the two games since returning from a four-week shoulder injury.

“There’s a fine line between taking what the defense gives you and then when they don’t give you what you want, trying to make a play,” Lock said. “I can make the plays when they’re there, but I’ve just got to get a little better judgment on when it’s time to make that play or say, ‘You know what, they got us.’ Eventually we’ll stop having this conversation, but it needs to happen faster than later, and it will.”

Lindsay had 79 yards on 9 carries but is likely out for the game with a concussion. His replacement, Melvin Gordon, had two lost fumbles while rushing for 68 yards on 17 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown after the outcome had been decided.

The Broncos host the Chargers next week at Empower Field in a matchup of divisional 2-4 cellar-dwellers.

“We’ve got to absorb the hurt and the disappointment,” Fangio said. “By Wednesday when we come back in and start our preparation for the next game, it’s got to be flushed out and we’ve got to get rolling.”

BRONCO BITS

Besides Lindsay, the Broncos lost nose tackle Mike Purcell (foot) and special teamer Derrek Tuszka (hamstring) to game-ending injuries. Tim Patrick (hamstring) and Shelby Harris (wrist) were also hurt.

Harris returned only to receive an unsportsmanlike penalty for yelling at the ref which helped set up a touchdown run by Henne. Harris even started yelling at his own coaches who were trying to calm him down.

“I was just really disappointed that we would get an unsportsmanlike penalty there at that point in the game when the game’s out of hand,” Fangio said. “I just don’t want us to be a team that gets those kinds of things late in games or anytime in a game, especially a game that turned out the way that one was.”…

Lock came out for one play as his left knee brace busted or locked up as he took a slide off a scramble. “That was weird,” Lock said. “I’ve worn that brace for three years now and never once has that happened to me, so that was different. I tried to stand up and the brace was locked so that’s why I had to fall back down because if I were to keep trying to stand up then then both ends of that brace were going to cut me. That was really, really weird.” … 

Besides Chubb, Malik Reed and Dre’Mont Jones also had sacks on Mahomes. Reed also sacked Henne giving him his second consecutive two-sack game. …

Rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam led all Broncos receivers with 7 catches for 60 yards.

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