By Aric DiLalla – DenverBroncos.com
KANSAS CITY — In a prime-time opportunity, the Broncos fell short against their division rival.
Denver was held scoreless until midway through the fourth quarter when Courtland Sutton made an acrobatic touchdown catch, but the Broncos couldn’t overcome a 16-0 deficit and fell 19-8 at Arrowhead.
In the aftermath of the game, though, Head Coach Sean Payton said there were reasons to be encouraged by the Broncos’ performance on “Thursday Night Football.”
“I told our players, I’m disappointed, but … I’m not discouraged,” Head Coach Sean Payton said. “I thought they played hard. Defensively, particularly, we did a great job. Our red-zone defense was outstanding. Obviously, offensively we struggled throwing the ball. Our red-zone numbers were poor. The turnovers — against a team like this, it’s going to be tough to win. And yet, we were still in it going into the fourth quarter. Sometimes you don’t know how a game’s going to unfold. I was happy it was unfolding the way it was, though, relative to time, scoring. … Tonight was a game where we certainly played well enough defensively, but offensively, the running game worked. I thought we blocked them well. From a third-down perspective, keeping drives going, we struggled to get anything until really late in the game.”
Sutton’s catch and the successful two-point conversion that followed cut Kansas City’s lead to eight points with 6:07 to play, but a late third-down conversion and 52-yard Harrison Butker field goal pushed Kansas City’s lead back to the final 11-point margin to drop Denver to 1-5 on the season.
“We’ve got to be better,” Justin Simmons said of a 28-yard gain on a late third-and-2 play. “That was a big down for us. Offense had some momentum, and that’s playing complete team ball. If we’re able to get off the field there, make them punt, [we’d have been able to] give the offense the ball and see what happens.”
The Chiefs were held to three points in the first quarter and limited to 16 until the waning moments of the game, but they earned their 16th consecutive win in the series.
“We played an imperfect game, but I thought we had great effort and energy,” Payton said. “… I thought we played hard. That’s not always good enough if you turn the ball over, but it gives you a chance to win. I was encouraged with how we were ready to play, physically and mentally.”
The Broncos’ defense, which had allowed the most points in the NFL entering Week 6, allowed just 19 points and held the Chiefs to 4-of-13 on third down.
“That’s an explosive offense, and I think we did a pretty good job limiting explosive plays and forcing field goals,” Payton said. “You give yourself a chance to win on the road against a team like that, [and] I was encouraged. That’s the thing I wanted to make sure they heard.”
On a night where not much came easy for Denver, Russell Wilson finished 13-of-22 for 95 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a 46.6 quarterback rating.
“Obviously [the] two turnovers by me are unacceptable,” Wilson said. “Can’t happen.”
Denver held strong against Kansas City for most of the first half, but the Chiefs used a late first-half surge to build an advantage that proved too difficult to overcome.
Kansas City scored their first touchdown with 3:06 to play in the first half to grab a 10-0 lead and then proceeded to score again as time expired in the first half. The Chiefs took over at their own 39-yard line with 15 seconds to play and moved the ball to Denver’s 42-yard line, which set up a 60-yard Harrison Butler field goal as time expired.
Though the Broncos ultimately fell, their defense gave them a chance early. Denver held Kansas City to just three points in the Chiefs’ first three red-zone trips. A Simmons interception foiled one of Kansas City’s red-zone attempts, while they came up with a stop on a fake field-goal attempt later in the first half. The Broncos have now held their opponents without a touchdown on nine of their last 10 red-zone trips, dating back to Week 4.
“That’s of the best red-zone teams in the league — if not the best — and there were some things we did well,” Simmons said. “But like I said, there’s a lot to improve on. We still gave up that one touchdown. … There’s improvement, but we didn’t win, so it has to be better.”
Denver’s offense, though, failed to score in the first half. Despite averaging 5.4 yards per carry, the Broncos totaled just 37 passing yards in the first half. The Broncos’ first drive was their most successful of the opening two quarters, as they totaled 34 yards and pushed the ball to the Chiefs’ 38-yard line. On fourth-and-3, though, Wilson was flushed out of the pocket and sacked to end the possession.
Wilson was intercepted on the Broncos’ ensuing possession, and Denver accrued just two more first downs over their final four possessions of the first half.
“I think the best thing we can do is just keep believing,” Wilson said. “Play cleaner. I’ve got to play better. That starts with me, and I know I’ll respond the right way.”
While the second half remained somewhat of a struggle, the Broncos scored a touchdown late to give themselves a chance at another come-from-behind win.
That chance stemmed in large part from the Broncos’ defensive effort, which came following weeks of external criticism of the unit’s play.
“You’re talking about one of the top offenses in the league,” outside linebacker Nik Bonitto said. “[They’ve] got two Hall of Famers on that side of the ball. It’s really encouraging.
“… Just knowing how we played, knowing what we can be — it was really encouraging.”