KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos have beaten the Kansas City Chiefs every way imaginable over the years, from playoff shootouts to defensive tug-of-wars.
Well, not quite every way. Not until Thursday night.
Denver cornerback Bradley Roby returned Jamaal Charles’ second fumble 21 yards for a touchdown with 27 seconds left, completing a stunning comeback in the closing minute for a 31-24 victory — the Broncos’ seventh straight over their AFC West rivals.
“I’m not quite sure I’d ever been in one quite like that,” Manning said. “That was a new one.”
Manning threw for 256 yards and three scores, the last to Emmanuel Sanders with 36 seconds left as the Broncos (2-0) appeared to force overtime. But on the next play from scrimmage, with the Chiefs (1-1) also eyeing overtime, Charles was stripped by Brandon Marshall and the ball bounced right into Roby’s hands.
The dramatic about-face came after Knile Davis gave Kansas City the lead with 2:27 left on an 8-yard run, raising hope among a sellout crowd that the Chiefs might finally end some curses.
Instead, Denver won its 13th straight division road game, breaking a tie with the San Francisco 49ers (1987-90) for most in NFL history. And for one night, Manning quieted his growing doubters by improving to 14-1 in his career against the Chiefs.
“I’ve been involved in a couple of pretty crazy games,” he said, “but nothing quite like this.”
Charles finished with 125 yards rushing and a touchdown, but he will only remember his fumbles — one in the red zone early in the game, the other deep in his own territory late in the game.
“I have to be careful with the ball,” Charles said.
“It’s my fault.”
Alex Smith threw for 191 yards for Kansas City, but also had two passes picked off.
“We thought we had it won,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, they made the touchdown and it was our time to overcome and win the game, and we couldn’t finish. It was an emotional rollercoaster.”
Manning threw a pick-six of his own, but he responded when it mattered the most.
The Broncos took over at their own 20 after Davis had given Kansas City the lead, and the seven-time All-Pro marched them calmly down field. Manning found Demaryius Thomas for three long receptions to get deep into Chiefs territory, then hit Sanders with a strike over the middle on third-and-10 from the Chiefs 19 for the touchdown that kept Denver alive.
“That last drive was really good,” said Manning, who joined Brett Favre during the game as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 70,000 yards passing. “I’m really proud of our young offensive line — no poise issues, no communication issues.”
The late-game dramatics transpired after the Chiefs bolted to a 14-0 lead in their home-opener, energizing a boisterous, red-clad crowd that had been tailgating all afternoon.
But like he has so often against the Chiefs, Manning answered by leading Denver on an 80-yard TD march late in the first half.
The capper was a pass over the middle to Sanders, who slipped between the safeties and somersaulted into the end zone for the 16-yard touchdown reception.
Two plays later, Aqib Talib picked off Smith’s throw on a poorly thrown pass in the flat, and the Broncos needed just four plays for Manning to find Virgil Green with a tying touchdown toss.
After swapping field goals, the Chiefs were poised to celebrate when Davis took a handoff from Smith as the quarterback fell down and raced into the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
Turned out to be not late enough for Manning and the Broncos.
“I’ll tell you,” Manning said, “their defence is so much better than last year. They’re so stout against the run. They just make it hard all night. We just kept plugging.”
NOTES: Thomas finished with eight catches for 116 yards. … Smith was sacked four times. Manning was sacked three times, twice by Justin Houston. … The Chiefs had two penalties last week vs Houston. They had nine vs Denver. … Kansas City was 0 for 7 on third down.