DENVER — Peyton Manning walked off the field showing no trace of a limp and hardly a spot of dirt.
Manning threw for 323 yards and a touchdown Sunday night and was barely touched by Kansas City’s sack-happy defense in Denver’s 27-17 victory over the NFL’s last undefeated team.
It means the ‘72 Dolphins can rest easy for another year. And it puts Denver and the Chiefs in a tie atop the AFC West at 9-1, with a rematch set in two weeks.
Manning has another big game before that — at New England in yet another showdown against Tom Brady. If the Broncos’ offensive line does anywhere near as good a job in that one as it did against the Chiefs, the quarterback’s ailing ankles — mummified with athletic tape after taking a beating the last couple of weeks — should be feeling much better.
“They were under fire last week because Peyton got hit a few times but they’ve done a great job all year,” said Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio, now 2-0 while John Fox recovers from heart surgery. “We knew this was going to be a game you had to play well in the trenches to have a chance.”
With Lindsey Vonn and boyfriend Tiger Woods on the sideline to watch the NFL’s must-see game of the year, the Denver offensive line, featuring tackles Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin, shut out Kansas City’s sack duo of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali along with the rest of the KC defense, which came in with a league-leading 36 sacks.
“Our plan was to get to the quarterback but the ball is coming out quick,” Hali said. “He did a great job and their team did a great job protecting him.”
So good, in fact, the Chiefs didn’t even record a single hit on the quarterback.
“We just keep our heads down and keep blocking — don’t look at the scoreboard, don’t look at the time, keep blocking your guy — like tunnel vision,” Clark said.
The most notable contact of the night for Manning came in the first quarter when he and Montee Ball flubbed a handoff that Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson scooped up.
Johnson was barreling toward the end zone and what could’ve been a 7-3 lead. Manning lowered his shoulder and tripped him up. The Chiefs’ offense came out and fullback Anthony Sherman promptly fumbled the ball back to the Broncos.
“I was kind of right there,” Manning said about the tackle. “You don’t feel good about leaving the field. They turn around and fumble right away and we go and score. That’s a pretty critical series right there.”
Three plays after the back-to-back fumbles, Manning made the game’s biggest play on offense, spotting receiver Demaryius Thomas in single coverage on the sideline for a 70-yard gain that set up the quarterback’s lone touchdown pass — a 9-yard strike to Julius Thomas for a 10-0 lead.
The Chiefs’ defense, which came into the game also leading the league in points allowed (12.8), remained stout throughout against the league’s highest-scoring offense (41.2). But eventually, Manning and Co., overwhelmed them, going 79, 65 and 62 yards for their last three scores and a 27-10 lead.
Ball capped two of the drives, once from 1 yard and another time from 8, to atone for the fumble, which was actually charged to Manning.
The Chiefs, who hadn’t lost since a 38-3 setback in Denver last December to close out a 2-14 season, hadn’t allowed more than 17 points all year — a simple and effective explanation for one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history.
But the offense, led by Alex Smith, simply isn’t built to win a high-scoring showdown.
Smith finished with 230 yards and two touchdowns. He completed four passes for 57 yards to Dwayne Bowe, who started, as promised, while his legal case for marijuana possession plays out. Jamaal Charles, who came in leading the AFC in rushing with 725 yards, added 78 to that.
“We didn’t do a good enough job offensively,” Kansas City coach Andy Reid said. “That’s my responsibility. We’re a young football team. We’ll get it worked out and fixed and get better next week. “
The game-time temperature of 43 degrees brought Manning’s blue-and-gray glove out for the first time this season but didn’t slow the quarterback or his offense at all.
Knowshon Moreno ran for 79 yards and kept the chains moving for Denver, while Wes Welker took his turn as Manning’s favorite target, catching eight passes for 72 yards before leaving to be evaluated for a possible concussion.
Though one touchdown pass marked a season low for Manning, it gave him 71 in his year-plus with the Broncos, already tying him for third in franchise history with Jake Plummer and Brian Griese. Manning has 34 on the season and is still on pace to break the record of the man he’ll face next week — Brady — in yet another big game for the Broncos, this time at New England.
Manning refused to answer questions about his ankles after the game. “Not doing the weekly checkups and updates,” he said.
No need on this night.
And while the Chiefs got shut out on the sack end, Shaun Phillips had a monster game for the Broncos: 10 tackles, two quarterback hits, two pass deflections and 1.5 sacks to more than make up for an off night from Von Miller, who only had one tackle.
Notes: Broncos S Rahim Moore left the game with a lower leg injury. … Del Rio’s first challenge of the season was a success. It gave the Broncos a first down with less than 5 minutes left after the officials had marked them short after a third-down gain. … The Broncos finished with 13 penalties for 82 yards, including three apiece on Kansas City’s last two scoring drives.