The Denver Broncos hosted the Kansas City Chiefs for a good, old-fashioned AFC West rivalry game on “Monday Night Football” in Week 4.
The Broncos took a three-point lead into halftime and then extended it to 10 points early in the fourth quarter. Then the Chiefs came storming back with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to go ahead by four with under two minutes left.
The Broncos made some plays and threatened to score, but they came up just short, losing at home 27-23.
These are the biggest winners and losers from the action.
Winner: Kareem Hunt carried Kansas City’s offense
For the first time all year, the Chiefs struggled to make things happen through the air until the end of the game. But thanks to the efforts of Kareem Hunt and the offensive linemen doing the dirty work up front, the Chiefs still managed to move the ball on offense.
Hunt was the most effective weapon on the field for either team. His 45-yard tight-rope act down the left sideline in the second quarter set up a touchdown run by Patrick Mahomes (the first of his NFL career).
He would finish the game with 121 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries, and he added three receptions for 54 more yards to give him 176 total yards in the game.
Loser: Tyreek Hill never broke loose
Cheetah was pretty well caged up on Monday night. Sure, Tyreek Hill hauled in nine passes, but he only managed 54 yards on those receptions.
Hill also dropped an easy catch that hit him right in the hands down near the goal line in the second quarter. He may not have scored, but then again, he might have if he had pulled in that pass.
For a guy who’s made a living out of being the most explosive receiver in the NFL, Hill’s quiet night — which was compounded by the absence of Sammy Watkins (out with a hamstring injury) — had a lot to do with why the Chiefs couldn’t get anything going through the air.
Winner: Eric Murray’s interception was miraculous
Case Keenum threw an interception in the third quarter, but you’d have to be a pretty harsh critic to place any blame on his shoulders. Instead, the turnover was all about what Eric Murray did to claim the ball for himself.
Keenum appeared to have Murray beat on a pass down the right sideline to tight end Jeff Heuerman. Murray somehow got his hand between Heurman and the ball, and then he miraculously came down with the ball in bounds, despite never once turning around while the ball was in the air.
Truly it was a magnificent piece of body control and one of the best interceptions you’re likely to see in your lifetime.
Loser: Demaryius Thomas a shell of his former self
Denver fans were frustrated last year by the declining play of Thomas, who’s dealt with a hip injury the past couple of years. Thomas was optimistic about his health heading into 2018. But based on what’s transpired the first quarter of this year, it’s clear that he really isn’t the same player he once was.
On Monday night, Thomas managed to haul in just four passes for 24 yards. This brings his seasonal total up to 20 catches for 168 yards and one touchdown.
Now, Case Keenum is no Peyton Manning. But there’s more going on here than less talent a the quarterback position. The Chiefs sport an awful defensive secondary. Yet it had no problem bottling up Thomas.
Winner: Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay lead outstanding Denver running game
The best way to keep an explosive offense from having a chance to light its fuse is to keep it on the sideline. The Broncos did a great job of establishing the run, which was key because the Chiefs were able to generate pressure when Case Keenum dropped back to pass.
Denver’s offensive line was outstanding at creating running room for the rookie tandem of Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay, who formed a formidable thunder/lightning duo. Freeman punched in his third rushing score of the year in the second quarter, showing off amazing patience on the 14-yard scamper (watch here).
In total, the Broncos racked up 159 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough to lead them to victory.
Loser: Where’s the pass rush, Denver?
The Denver defense did such an amazing job keeping the Chiefs from doing what they’ve been doing so far this year. But when the Broncos needed to really ramp up their efforts in the second half, they fell short.
The big glaring issue was that Patrick Mahomes was only sacked once. Granted, the Broncos did get to him, hitting him nine times in the game. But it wasn’t nearly enough. The Chiefs ended up gaining 170 yards in the fourth quarter and scored consecutive touchdowns late to win, 27-23.
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb both failed to make a sack in this game. The only man who did bring Mahomes down was inside linebacker Todd Davis on a blitz. That’s not going to get the job done, and it’s a big reason why the Broncos are now 2-2, rather than 3-1.
Winner: Travis Kelce was huge down the stretch
When the Chiefs needed big plays in the passing game late, Mahomes consistently looked for and found Kelce.
The talented tight end was the leading receiver for both teams on the night, hauling in seven passes for 78 yards and the only touchdown that Mahomes threw in the game.
Loser: Broncos’ ill-conceived hook-and-ladder
With the ball at the Kansas City 28-yard line, on fourth down, the Broncos had a chance to do something spectacular.
They did something spectacular. Only, it was a spectacular failure.
Keenum passed to Courtland Sutton, who then tried to pitch it to a teammate for the old hook-and-ladder play. It was not a good call considering where they were on the field, and considering a throw to the sideline would have stopped the clock and given them one more chance to throw to the end zone.
Ending such a thrilling game on that note was a let down of epic proportions.