Peyton Manning benched, Broncos' offense struggles in loss to Chiefs

DENVER -- The questions will come this week and the Denver Broncos will have to come up with answers.

Not about the 29-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

But questions about Peyton Manning, questions about whether Manning should, or shouldn’t have, played with injuries to his foot and rib cage. And, the biggest of all, questions about whether or not Brock Osweiler replaced Manning to spare him an even worse day or if Manning’s injuries were a far bigger concern than the Broncos let on last week.

It will all come to a boil with the Broncos set to play their former coach, John Fox, and Manning’s former offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, next Sunday in Chicago.

But on a day when Manning sent a football to the Hall of Fame by breaking the NFL’s career passing yards record on a 4-yard completion to Ronnie Hillman in the first quarter, things couldn’t have gone any worse for Manning. His first pass attempt was intercepted and he was sacked -- and fumbled -- the second time he dropped back to throw. By halftime he had thrown three interceptions and shortly after his fourth interception, with just less than 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Manning stayed on the bench and Osweiler was in the game.

Manning finished 5-of-20 for 35 yards with the four interceptions. It was Manning’s sixth career game with at least four interceptions -- his team is 0-6 in those games -- and he now has 17 interceptions this season, his highest total after nine games in a season since he had 17 after nine games as a rookie in 1998.

The Broncos are 7-2 with the loss, but hold a healthy lead in the AFC West. But Manning’s performance, his health and the continued struggles of the offense will trail this team in the coming weeks.

All with the Bears next on the docket and the New England Patriots set to come to Denver on Nov. 29.

What were they thinking? After a week when defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said some of the defense’s penalties were "unacceptable" and cornerback Aqib Talib was already suspended for Sunday’s game for one of them, safety T.J. Ward was ejected with 11 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in Sunday’s loss for launching himself for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Chiefs receiver Jeremy Maclin, after Maclin tried to block Ward at the end of Charcandrick West’s catch-and-run touchdown. Ward also took a swing at Maclin as the two players landed on the ground after the hit.

One reason to get excited: The defense, even with some mental lapses like Ward’s as well as some quirky coverage assignments (nose tackle Sylvester Williams was dropped into coverage on West on the touchdown reception), still makes almost every yard hard-earned. The defense was put into difficult field position time after time and the Chiefs had the ball for more than 21 of the 30 minutes in the first half and had it 28:30 by the end of the third quarter. The score won't look all that pretty, but even the Broncos defense can't go it alone.

One reason to panic: The coming days will test every fiber of Broncos coach Gary Kubiak’s management skills and the ability of the Broncos’ players to tune out the outside "noise." Because with the offense having shifted out of neutral and into reverse, Manning having been pulled from a game because he could have been injured enough to hold out of the lineup altogether Sunday and the Broncos having lost two games in a row, there will be plenty of drama to go around.

Fantasy watch: Emmanuel Sanders had to convince coaches and trainers Sunday he could play on an ankle injury and now Sanders is in the league’s concussion protocol after leaving the game in the third quarter after taking a big hit from Chiefs’ safety Daniel Sorensen. Sanders had looked as if his ankle was bothering him before he left the game.

Ouch: Sanders was the Broncos' only other major injury in the game and he will likely miss some time in the days ahead. It will also bear watching how the Broncos handle Manning in practice this week as well, since he looked to be affected by a foot injury in the game. Manning looked to be limited at times as he tried to push off to throw.

Run game AWOL: A week after the Broncos rushed for just 35 yards on 14 carries in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Broncos had 19 yards on seven carries in the first half Sunday against the Chiefs and just 39 yards on 12 carries after three quarters. It won’t matter who plays quarterback. The Broncos' offense, with this playbook, can’t be functional until they run the ball with much more consistency.