1. THEY PICKED A GOOD DAY TO HAVE A BAD DAY.
Panthers fans likely remember when John Fox summed up a January 2009 playoff loss by saying, “We picked a bad day to have a bad day.” This was half of the opposite; the Broncos had a bad day by their improving standards, but against offensively punchless Kansas City, it would have taken an even worse day — one filled with turnovers rather than punts — for Denver to have been the victim of an upset.
So even on a day where five of their 10 possessions ended in punts or turnovers — and three of their series saw three-and-outs — the Broncos never fell desperately out of it because four of those five possessions were followed immediately by Chiefs punts. Further, the Chiefs never managed to string together more than three first downs on a series, and were held to one or no first downs on seven of their 10 possessions, not counting an end-of-first-half kneeldown.
Although Denver only had one turnover, the Broncos did some little things wrong — dropping multiple passes — while generally struggling to find proper timing. Kansas City held up better in coverage than most Broncos foes.
“I feel like we were stopping ourselves,” said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas — and he was right. “We kind of knew some of the things they were doing. They showed everything on film that they were doing today.”
Nevertheless, good teams win games like this.
“I feel right now like it was good for us to scrap one out,” tight end Jacob Tamme said. “We’ve played in close games, we’ve won close games, but on the road, against a team desperate for a win, and has good players.”
2. KNOWSHON CARRIES THE LOAD:
In his return from eight games of inactivity, Knowshon Moreno wasn’t perfect; in fact, he started the game by eliciting groans from most Broncos fans, as he lost two yards when he touched the football on Denver’s initial offensive snaps. But eventually he settled down and found his footing, and although he wasn’t as spectacular as he was during his brief stint at Arrowhead Stadium last year before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament, he was effective enough, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and 6.5 per reception.
“I tip my hat off to Knowshon Moreno,” said Manning, one of many teammates to praise Moreno after the game. “I give real credit to him for being a professional, staying in his play book, knowing when his number is going to be called, even eight to 10 weeks later; he stepped up today and did a heck of a job.”
It was a slight surprise that the Broncos didn’t showcase Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball much, but this pattern fits with most of the games this year, when Willis McGahee saw more than twice as many carries (167) as the rest of the running backs combined (82) before Sunday. They’ll give everyone at least a cameo, but the preference has been toward one primary back, and that will likely continue for as long as Moreno holds up.
3. A HARBINGER OF GAME PLANS TO COME?
Not every team has a running back like Jamaal Charles, who became the first to gain 100 yards on the Broncos since Week 5 — one week before Keith Brooking became the full-time starter at middle linebacker. But two of the Broncos’ next three foes do: Tampa Bay (Doug Martin) and Baltimore (Ray Rice). Martin has already hit 1,000 yards, and while Rice isn’t enjoying a vintage season, he showed his mojo by darting through the Chargers’ defense for a 29-yard pickup on fourth-and-29 late in the fourth quarter at San Diego on Sunday.
Kansas City began with eight runs on its first 10 plays and only slightly modified its plan thereafter; the Chiefs didn’t go into pass-intensive mode until their final possession, when they needed to go 77 yards in 13 seconds and were left with little choice.
There was merit to the Chiefs’ ground emphasis; they averaged 0.7 more yards per play on the ground (4.8) than through the air (4.1). Granted, other quarterbacks will be more proficient than Brady Quinn, who was given a simple game plan and asked not to make big mistakes, and succeeded at that. But the Chiefs were also able to drain enough clock to shorten the game; the 123 snaps for both teams were the fewest in a Broncos game this season.
“We knew they were going to try to play keep away and run the ball,” Fox said after the game.
Expect other teams to follow that template — especially since they have enough punch from their quarterback to balance the ground consistency with a downfield threat.