We won’t be having a repeat Super Bowl champion this year.
The Chiefs ran out to a big lead early and stifled the Broncos offense all night on their way to a 33-10 win on Sunday night that eliminated the Broncos from playoff contention. The Dolphins will be a Wild Card team as a result of the Kansas City win, so the Chiefs might get one last Christmas present as thanks for their efforts.
A lot of people will be sending their thanks for the way the Chiefs put their final points on the board. On third down from the two-yard-line after a Denver timeout with 1:55 left to play, the Chiefs sent defensive tackle Dontari Poe into the game and lined him up at quarterback. He took a page from Tim Tebow’s playbook and threw a jump pass after taking a couple of steps toward the line. The ball floated to tight end Demetrius Harris and Poe became the first player with a sack and a touchdown pass in the same season since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
It was an amusing end — not to the Broncos, perhaps — to a night when the Chiefs offense used a wide range of looks on the way to 484 yards against a battered Broncos defense. Alex Smith ran for a touchdown to kick off the scoring, threw one to Travis Kelce and avoided big mistakes outside of a first quarter interception that set the Broncos up on the five-yard line. They used that field position for their only touchdown and the rest of the evening saw the same kind of offensive ineptitude that’s plagued the Broncos all year.
The defensive struggles were a change of pace. Kelce had 11 catches and set a Chiefs record for tight ends with 161 receiving yards and Kansas City churned up 238 rushing yards in a balanced effort that’s been missing in recent weeks. Matching that offensive potential with a defense that locked things down early and special teams units capable of big plays (they forced a fumble on a kickoff return that all but ended the game) gives the Chiefs reason to believe their stay in the playoffs can be an extended one.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Sunday night’s loss eliminates the Broncos from playoff contention, which means that neither of last year’s Super Bowl teams will even make it back to the postseason this year. It also means that speculation about the team’s quarterback plans will begin in earnest.
Trevor Siemian was 17-of-43 for 183 yards against the Chiefs and that makes two bad weeks in a row for Siemian with Denver trying to stay afloat in the AFC. Both the Chiefs and Patriots field good defenses, but the Broncos clearly need to get more from the position and the offense in general if they’re going to come anywhere close to repeating their success from last season. Does that mean exploring a trade for Tony Romo? Or will they stick with Siemian and 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch in 2017?
Whatever the choice, the Broncos have to find a way to run the ball if they’re going to fare any better next time around.
2. The Chiefs took a lot of deserved heat for drafting wide receiver Tyreek Hill in the fifth round of this year’s draft because of a past arrest for domestic violence related to choking and punching his pregnant girlfriend. Hill provided more evidence of why the Chiefs and the rest of the league are willing to take risks on players with red flags on Sunday night.
Hill set up the first touchdown of the night with a 28-yard run and scored their second on a 70-yard sprint that gave him 11 on the season. The Chiefs offense is often short on excitement, but Hill provides plenty of it with speed that few in the league are able to match.
3. We mentioned Kelce’s huge night up top, but he contributed in more ways than catching the ball. Kelce leveled Broncos safety Darian Stewart to spring Hill on his touchdown run and he also had a key block on Smith’s touchdown run earlier in the first quarter of the game.
For a team that relies on running the ball, using a wide variety formations and creative play calls, it’s a must to have versatile players that can help disguise your intentions. Kelce is exactly that and he showed his value all night.
With Rob Gronkowski out of action, Kelce is right at the top of the list of tight ends that will be taking part in the playoffs and it’s a good bet that any noise Kansas City makes in the playoffs will come with his assistance.
4. The Chiefs didn’t sack Siemian on Sunday night, which doesn’t mean they didn’t pressure Siemian at times and obviously didn’t stop them from keeping the Broncos offense in check. It is a facet of the game that they’ll want to juice up if they’re going to make a run in the postseason against teams with more offensive firepower, however.
That makes the health of linebacker Justin Houston a big issue to watch heading into the postseason. Houston had offseason knee surgery, but returned with four sacks in five games before sitting out on Sunday after missing the entire week of practice with swelling in his surgically-repaired knee. The team missed his presence off the edge on Sunday and memories of the way knee troubles limited Houston in last year’s playoffs can’t be too comforting.
5. The Ravens’ loss on Sunday afternoon meant the Chiefs started the game with a playoff spot already in their pocket. The division remains up in the air, however, and that means Kansas City will go from beating up the Broncos to rooting for them to beat the Raiders.
Oakland won’t have Derek Carr for that game after he fractured his fibula on Saturday, so the Chiefs will be hoping that Matt McGloin fades in the face of the Broncos defense while they take care of their own business against the Chargers. If things play out that way, they’ll be the AFC West champs and get a bye into the Divisional Round of the playoffs so they’ll have to hope that the Poe play doesn’t sour Denver on giving them a helping hand.