DENVER – Kicker Cairo Santos kissing the game-winning field off the left upright for the walkoff winner for the Kansas City Chiefs in 30-27 thriller over the Denver Broncos put a bow on top of a package delivered by special teams.
“It’s kind of like being in a movie,” Santos said in try to describe the madness following his game-winning boot. “It’s a little bit of a blur. Everyone is grabbing you and you kind of don’t know what to do.”
The Chiefs’s special teams knew exactly what they were doing, and that execution by the Chiefs – paired with critical blunders by the Broncos – fueled the win as much as Kansas City’s five quarterback sacks or the last-minute touchdown drive and two-point conversion.
Santos connected on field goals of 37 and 34 yards in overtime while sending six kickoffs for touchbacks, disallowing Denver a single kickoff return. Punter Dustin Colquitt average 47.9 yards on nine punts for a 44.1 net, and his kicks forced two huge muffed punts that connected to Kansas City scores or turnovers.
Add in an 86-yard free kick return for a touchdown by Tyreek Hill, and Chiefs special teams had a memorable night.
For Denver, it was a night to forget.
The game’s first big moment came as the two teams pitched a fierce battle for field position. Colquitt angled a 53-yard kick away from Broncos returner Jordan Norwood midway through the second quarter. Norwood tried to field the ball on the run, and muffed the catch. He recovered the loose ball at the Denver 5-yard line.
Three plays later, Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston sacked Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian to force the fumble and safety that gave the team a 2-0 lead.
Special teams stepped up again on the next play, with Hill taking the free kick from Denver 86 yards for a touchdown. NFL’s Next Gen stats calculated Hill reaching a speed of 22.77 miles per hour, the fastest of any player in the league this season.
The win in primetime in the NFL’s marquee game of the week may serve as the unofficial introduction of Hill as an impact player in the league.
“It’s definitely a come out party on Sunday Night Football,” Hill said. “It’s definitely fun because the whole country is watching.”
Early in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs lined up to punt from their own 4-yard line following back-to-back sacks of quarterback Alex Smith and a false start penalty on gunner DeMarcus Robinson. Colquitt unleashed another spinning kick, which Norwood muffed again.
Chiefs long snapper James Winchester dived on the loose ball to give the Chiefs possession at their own 41-yard line.
Winchester’s play delivered one of the more uplifting moments on a night field with emotions. The game marked Winchester’s second game back following the tragic shooting death of his father Michael Winchester on Nov. 15.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid showed great happiness for his long snapper making a big play.
“He’s really going through grieving with his dad and he’s a top-notch kid,” Reid said. “You’re just hoping good things happen to him and something good happened to him.”
Winchester fought his emotions talking about the recovery after the game.
“It meant a lot,” Winchester said. “It was special. Just thankful to be a part of this team and come out and contribute every week and try to get better. Just an awesome game.”
Special teams produced all of the punctuation marks for both team’s drives in overtime.
The Broncos drove 49 yards on the opening drive of overtime before settling for a 44-yard field goal from Brandon McManus. The Chiefs countered with their own field goal from Santos.
The next drive for the Broncos stalled at the Chiefs 44-yard line with 68 seconds to play. Denver coach Gary Kubiak called a timeout before choosing to send McManus out for a 62-yard field goal try.
Reid didn’t know whether he want the Broncos to punt or try for the long field goal.
“At that point I wasn’t sure,” Reid said. I was hoping that if they what they did that they were going to miss.”
McManus’ kicking foot dragged the ground before making contact with the ball, resulting in a low line drive that fell well short of the cross bar. The missed field goal setup the Chiefs at the Denver 48-yard line.
“I can probably make that kick eight or nine out of ten times,” McManus said, “so I’m disappointed in that.”
Smith drove the Chiefs 32 yards to the Broncos 16-yard line. Santos went on the field with 5 seconds left to kick the game winner.
The win puts Kansas City a game ahead of Denver in the AFC West with an 8-3 record. The Broncos fell to 7-4. The Oakland Raiders rallied to beat the Carolina Panthers, keeping them a game ahead of the Chiefs at 9-2.
Next up for the Chiefs is a trip to Atlanta to take on the NFC South-leading Falcons, who stand at 7-4.
Winchester said the Chiefs planned to celebrate Sunday night into the wee hours of Monday morning after a critical victory.
“All of these games matter, but especially these AFC West games,” Winchester said. “To come out with a win here in Denver, it’s huge. We’ll enjoy it tonight and then right back to the drawing on Monday and get ready for Atlanta.
Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and the Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.