ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's been a bit of a bumpy ride for the Denver Broncos' special teams units so far this season.
Kicker Matt Prater was suspended for four games to start the regular season. The Colts recovered an on-side kick in the season opener. The Patriots' Julian Edelman returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown. They've been decidedly so-so in the return game for much of the season. Brandon McManus missed four kicks as Prater's replacement.
So, Sunday night's performance was a much-needed one in the kicking game for the Broncos.
"It's great because we've been striving for a game like that all season," said safety David Bruton Jr., the Broncos special teams captain. "That all three units are clicking, not just the defense clicking and holding opponents to 17 points or less, or the offense putting up 30 to 40 points and special teams just being out there in the mix."
Connor Barth made five field goals in his first game as McManus' replacement and cornerback Omar Bolden recovered a Broncos punt that deflected off the Chiefs' Marcus Cooper. But it was Bruton Jr. who really kick-started the evening with an audible to a fake punt early in the second quarter.
After a Britton Colquitt punt had pinned the Chiefs at their own 9-yard line, Denver's Andre Caldwell was flagged for running out of bounds during punt coverage and not returning to the playing field quickly enough. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid elected to accept and penalty, move the Broncos back 5 yards, to the Denver 36-yard line, and force the Broncos to kick again.
But Bruton Jr. has the freedom to audible to a fake punt if he gets the right alignment from the opposing return team. And he got just that from the Chiefs, who had just one player wide to the left.
"After the penalty, we were actually supposed to kick it," Bruton Jr. said. "I just knew that they were going to give us a look, so I made the audible myself to make the play. It's just been a thing a lot of teams practice, and that we have practiced for a while, and no better time than on "Sunday Night Football" against a division rival and you get the right look for that situation. I definitely felt it provided some form of boost for the team. And then our special teams entirely played lights out for the most part. It led to some points."
Bruton Jr., who is the punt protector, made the call, took the direct snap from Aaron Brewer and went around the left end for 13 yards and a first down. Eleven plays later Barth kicked a 22-yard field goal.
"David is a very smart player that takes a lot of pride in his whole (game), not just as a defensive player but as a special teams player," said Broncos head coach John Fox. " … With that experience and with us and our staff, there is a lot of trust there. It's an audible that can occur and we trust him enough to add that responsibility. He chose wisely."
Asked if there are any constraints on when Bruton Jr. could use the audible, Fox said: "We have parameters, I would say. … He's a very trustworthy player."
Bruton took a fake punt around the left side in the 2013 season as well, a 35-yard run against the Jacksonville Jaguars.