The Broncos and Chiefs both went down to the NFC South on Sunday. They were both successful in reminding everyone why the AFC West the NFL's best division in 2016.
Denver gave up what should have been the game-losing, late touchdown to New Orleans, but won 25-23. Kansas City spotted Carolina a 17-0 lead, yet made an improbable comeback of unanswered points to win at the final gun, 20-17.
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It would seem like both the Broncos (7-3) and Chiefs (7-2) got all the right breaks to survive Week 10 and keep pace with the Raiders in what's becoming a race between three clear-cut playoff teams. But there's nothing lucky about winning ugly. How Gary Kubiak's and Andy Reid's teams do it is downright beautiful.
It's also amazing how Denver and Kansas City get it done in such similar fashion. Let us count the ways:
The defenses and special teams rise up and always make big plays. Before little-known rookie safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks tag-teamed on that shocking PAT block and runback, the Broncos did plenty to preserve the victory. Veteran safeties Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward combined for their four takeaways against the Saints' passing game at crucial moments. They tightened up on the run when they needed it. Brandon McManus made up for one bad field goal miss with two critical fourth-quarter makes.
The Chiefs got their game-changing turnovers from the usual suspects in the secondary, with Eric Berry's pick-6 and Marcus Peters' strip-3. Punter Dustin Colquitt was key in the field position game, and kicker Cairo Santos nailed all his field goals through the rain, down to the game-winner.
Despite struggling with some of the small stuff on both sides of the ball, the Broncos and Chiefs never faced a moment too big for them, even when things looked bleak.
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The offenses don't fall apart and are never fazed by a few bad plays. Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian, still bothered by that left shoulder injury, was a little off. He couldn't push the ball downfield and took six sacks with his two interceptions. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, rusty and tentative coming back from a head injury, missed a lot of wide-open targets all over the field and never got into a rhythm, leading to three sacks and an interception. It kept both teams from having their expected success in the running game.
Yet, Siemian and Smith, with their selective amnesia, kept from being rattled into submission. They trusted their arms and athleticism — along with their strong short-to-intermediate receivers — to bail them out of rough afternoons. There's nothing flashy about either quarterback, in reality or fantasy. But they understand the system is more important than the superstar. Derek Carr is no doubt the best quarterback in the division, but the Broncos' and Chiefs' offenses are also in good hands.
They never give up trying to run the ball. The Broncos don't have C.J. Anderson, but they are intent in having a better ground game with Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs. The Chiefs don't have Jamaal Charles, but they are intent on grinding out the tough yards with Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. It's not that the Broncos and Chiefs are "conservative." Sticking to the physicality of the run is part of their team's overall DNA, even with game flow and early ineffectiveness trying to pry them from that.
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