KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There are times when folks just look at the Denver Broncos and see the Perfect World team.
As in a perfect world, there is only sunshine, warm weather and two-touchdown leads. That the Broncos are one of the league’s best only when all things are right. But when things get a little rocky, well, not so much. After their overtime loss in frigid Foxborough, Mass., a week ago, the night the 24-point lead got away, the refrain got a little louder from points both near and far.
“Hey, but we know we can play Denver Broncos football," linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “We know we can make plays when we have to, we know we can fight through injuries, we know we can keep battling when Coach [John] Fox is out and we know Peyton is Peyton."
The Broncos know, after a 35-28 victory in Arrowhead Stadium to open December, they can get up off the deck after taking the best shot a division foe has to offer, dust themselves off, dig in and win. And they know, at 10-2, they now have two wins in hand against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West race and that for a guy who has his arm strength questioned on a week-to-week, almost a down-to-down basis almost like no other these days, Peyton Manning can still overwhelm a defense.
“I think he did all right," said wide receiver Eric Decker, who finished with a franchise record four touchdown catches. “He showed people why he’s so great."
We’ll get to Manning, but for about a quarter and a half Sunday, the Chiefs looked intent on making their own statement about the state of affairs in the AFC West. Kansas City intercepted Manning’s fourth pass attempt of the game, returned a kickoff 108 yards, intercepted Manning’s 10th pass attempt of the game and had a 21-7 lead with 10:57 still to go in the second quarter.
The sellout crowd was in a frenzy, the Chiefs had energy and momentum as the Broncos looked like a battered team on wobbly legs in its third road game in four weeks.
“I think if you’re going to be a good team, a really good team, you have to build that toughness," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. “I think sometimes people don’t look at us that way, but we showed it [Sunday]. We got down in one of the toughest places to play in this league against a team that was going to give us the very best shot it had. I’ve said, we had a lot of reasons to fold right there. ‘We’ve got injured guys, it’s not our day.’ Whatever. But we didn’t. We stayed in it and Peyton got it going."
Ah, yes, Peyton. The Chiefs did not score between tight end Anthony Fasano’s 12-yard touchdown catch with 10:57 to play in the second quarter until running back Jamaal Charles powered into the end zone from the 1-yard line with 6:57 left in the game. In between, Manning was once again in the whatever-he-wants zone, the one defensive coordinators around the league have grown oh so weary of, the one in which he consistently finds the hole on defense in an avalanche of touchdowns.
So while the discussion of Manning’s arm strength is a regular affair if the throws a wobble here and a bounce there, the simple fact remains he finished 22-of-35 passing Sunday for 403 yards and five touchdowns. It was his third 400-yard game of the season -- his 4,125 yards are the most ever after 12 games -- and his five touchdown passes amounted to the sixth, yes sixth, game he has thrown at least four in a game.
So, perhaps everybody ought to throw up their hands, slap on the glove and wobble a few out there.
“I know it’s a hot debate," Manning said. “The distance, and the RPMs, whatever, I enjoy it when they go for touchdowns."
Manning threw four of those touchdown passes during the Chiefs’ scoring drought, including three of his four in the game to Decker. He attacked Chiefs rookie Marcus Cooper in coverage, attacked former Pro Bowler Brandon Flowers in coverage and everyone in between.
“You have guys that play football and you have football players," Chiefs safety Eric Berry said. “He’s a football player. When it’s down to it he’s going to make plays."
“It just shows you Peyton’s going to find you if he likes the matchup," interim head coach Jack Del Rio said.
The Broncos also got 114 yards rushing from rookie Montee Ball and they survived on defense without starters Kevin Vickerson (placed on injured reserve last week), Derek Wolfe, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Rahim Moore as Moore's replacement, Mike Adams, knocked away Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith’s last-gasp pass with 1:46 to play.
And in the end, Broncos Hall of Famer John Elway, now the team's chief football decision-maker, simply handed Del Rio the game ball for a job well done. Fox, who had open heart surgery Nov. 4 to replace his aortic valve, will return to work Monday. The Broncos were 7-1 when Fox underwent surgery and he comes back to a 10-2 team that went 3-1 with Del Rio in charge, has taken charge in the AFC West and will face the final four games of the regular season on the inside track for home-field advantage in the AFC.
“It was special," Del Rio said. “To have John Elway recognize ... But I basically just want to say that’s just a representation of what we all did, that it’s about we, not about me, about the collective effort. [We hand Fox] over a team that took care of business and sitting on top of the division with a month to go."