DENVER, Colorado // Peyton Manning walked away a winner in the biggest game of the year so far and, as a bonus, the Broncos might not even have to send his uniform off to the cleaners.
Manning threw for 323 yards and a touchdown Sunday night and was barely touched by Kansas City’s sack-happy defence in Denver’s 27-17 victory over the NFL’s last undefeated team.
It means the 1972 Dolphins – the NFL’s only team to go undefeated through a whole season, including the Super Bowl – 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 for this critical game – should be feeling much better.
“The protection was outstanding, we ran the ball consistently, tried to keep them off-balance,” Manning said. “We wanted a mix of running and passing game and I’m really proud of those guys up front.”
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 defence, which came in with a league-leading 36 sacks.
It was even better than that, though. Manning was barely touched all night. In fact, his most notable contact 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’ offence came out and fullback Anthony Sherman promptly fumbled the ball back to the Broncos.
Three plays later, Manning made the game’s biggest play, 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’ defence, which came into the game also leading the league in points allowed (12.8), remained stout throughout against the league’s highest-scoring offence (41.2). But eventually, Manning and company 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.
“We knew that once we got down to the red zone, getting touchdowns was critical,” Manning said. “They make teams settle for field goals down there.”
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 offence, 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. Jamaal Charles, who came in leading the AFC in rushing with 725 yards, added 78 to that.
But there was no big-play ability and the cool weather – game-time temperature 43 degrees – that brought Manning’s blue-and-gray glove out for the first time this season didn’t slow the quarterback or his offence at all.
OTHER SUNDAY RESULTS
Saints 23, 49ers 20
Quarterback Drew Brees led a furious fourth-quarter comeback and Garrett Hartley kicked a 31-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired to lift the New Orleans Saints to a 23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at the Superdome.
The Saints defence forced San Francisco to punt after the 49ers took over at their own 20 with 2:06 left. Brees got the ball at the Saints’ 40 after Darren Sproles was tackled by Kassim Osgood following a fair catch of the punt, resulting in a 15-yard penalty against the 49ers.
Brees completed passes of 20 yards to wide receiver Marques Colston and 12 yards to tight end Jimmy Graham to move the ball to the San Francisco 13, and Hartley connected on the game winner with no time left.
Seahawks 41, Vikings 20
Two interceptions thrown by Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder helped Seattle score 14 points in less than a minute, as the Seahawks turned a close game early in the fourth quarter into a 41-20 victory over the Vikings.
After linebacker Bobby Wagner intercepted a Ponder pass in Minnesota (2-8) territory, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch scored his third touchdown of the game to give the Seahawks a 31-13 lead with 13:14 remaining.
Forty-four seconds later, Seattle cornerback Walter Thurmond III picked off Ponder and returned it 29 yards for a score as the Seahawks (10-1) wrapped up their sixth victory in a row.
Giants 27, Packers 13
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul recorded his second-career pick-6 as the New York Giants beat the Green Bay Packers (5-5) 27-13 at MetLife Stadium for their fourth straight win.
Pierre-Paul, who was questionable to even play this week after missing practice time with a shoulder injury, nabbed Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien’s pass intended for tight end Andrew Quarless and returned it 24 yards as part of a second half that saw the Giants outscore the Packers 17-7.
The Giants (4-6), who started the season 0-6, jumped onto the scoreboard in the first quarter when quarterback Eli Manning connected with wide receiver Rueben Randle on a 26-yard touchdown pass, Randle’s sixth touchdown reception this season.
Dolphins 20, Chargers 16
The Miami Dolphins kept their chances for a play-off spot alive with a 20-16 win over the San Diego Chargers at Sun Life Stadium.
The Chargers came close to disappointing the Dolphins on the final play of the game with seven seconds remaining, but quarterback Philip Rivers’ game-ending heave from the 25-yard line fell incomplete.
Both teams came into the game with a 4-5 record for the season and in a three-way tie for seventh place in the AFC.
With only six games remaining, the Dolphins are now 5-5 and the Chargers 4-6 on the season, firmly in the cluster of teams fighting for the sixth play-off spot in the conference.
Bears 23, Ravens 20 (OT)
Robbie Gould’s third field goal of the game, a 38-yarder after 6:19 of sudden death, gave the Chicago Bears a 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in a game interrupted for nearly two hours by a violent storm in the first quarter.
The victory, Chicago’s second in two starts by backup quarterback Josh McCown - playing in place of injured Jay Cutler - lifted the Bears into a first-place tie in the NFC’s North Division and dealt the Ravens, the defending Super Bowl champions, a serious blow in their hopes to reach the play-offs again.
Raiders 28, Texans 23
Undrafted rookie quarterback Matt McGloin tossed three touchdown passes in his first career start as the Oakland Raiders withstood a late Houston Texans rally for a 28-23 victory at Reliant Stadium.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub replaced starter Case Keenum in the third quarter and led a pair of scoring drives.
But his fourth-down pass to Andre Johnson fell incomplete in the end zone with just over one minute remaining as the Texans (2-8) dropped their eighth consecutive game. Oakland (4-6) earned their first road victory.
Steelers 37, Lions 27
The Pittsburgh Steelers rallied for a 37-27 victory, the winning touchdown coming on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s 1-yard pass to fullback Will Johnson with 4:46 left Sunday, after Lions rookie punter Sam Martin lost a fumble on a fake punt attempt.
Leading 27-23, the Lions lined up for a 27-yard field goal attempt from the Steelers’ 10-yard line on fourth-and-5 with 12:56 remaining. Martin, the holder, took the snap and gained the necessary five yards for the first down.
However, Martin fumbled when hit by nose tackle Steve McLendon and Steelers safety Ryan Clark recovered at the 3. Roethlisberger then took the Steelers on a 97-yard scoring drive that took 16 plays and 8:03, with Johnson catching the go-ahead score.
Bengals 41, Browns 20
With a franchise-record 31 points in the second quarter, the Cincinnati Bengals snapped a two-game losing streak with a 41-20 win against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals (7-4) returned a fumble and a blocked punt for touchdowns as they rallied from a 13-0 deficit against the Browns (4-6) and maintained control of the AFC North division lead.
Cincinnati managed just 108 yards offence and three first downs in the first half but broke the franchise record for most points scored in any quarter on the strength of their defence and special teams.
Buccaneers 41, Falcons 28
Rookie running back Bobby Rainey rushed for a career-high 161 yards and scored three touchdowns, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 41-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.
Rainey, a 26-year-old getting the start due to injuries to the Buccaneers’ top two backs, sparked an offensive explosion for Tampa Bay (2-8), who racked up a season-high in points to win their second straight game.
Rainey had two rushing touchdowns – including a season long run for the Buccaneers of 43 yards – and caught a touchdown pass.
Eagles 24, Redskins 16
The Philadelphia Eagles took over first place in the NFC East and all but eliminated the defending divisional champions in the process as they beat the Washington Redskins 24-16 at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles (6-5) moved a half-game ahead of the idle Dallas Cowboys (5-5) and Washington fell to 3-7 – last season, the Redskins were also 3-6 going into Week 11 and they won the rest of their games to win the NFC East title.
The Redskins had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but an up-for-grabs pass by quarterback Robert Griffin III was intercepted by cornerback Brandon Boykin in the end zone and the Eagles held on for the victory.
Cardinals 27, Jaguars 14
Malcolm Floyd had a career-high 193 yards receiving – including a 91-yard touchdown in the third quarter that blew the game open – and the Arizona Cardinals took a step toward solving their road woes when they beat the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars 27-14.
The Cardinals (6-4) had just one victory on the road before Sunday, but thanks to Floyd’s big day – and 419 passing yards and two TDs from resurgent veteran quarterback Carson Palmer – Arizona got their second, while also winning their third game in a row.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, dropped to 1-9 overall and 0-5 at home, and they couldn’t capitalize on the momentum of last week’s first win of the season at Tennessee.
Bills 37, Jets 14
Jairus Byrd intercepted two passes and EJ Manuel threw two touchdown passes as the Buffalo Bills routed the New York Jets, 37-14, at windy Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The win ended a three-game losing streak for the Bills (4-6). The Jets are 5-5.
Byrd, who missed the first five games of the season with plantar fasciitis, played like the Pro Bowl safety he was the previous two seasons. His interceptions led to 10 Buffalo points.