KANSAS CITY, Mo. – AFC West rivals battle as the Chiefs (7-4) look to reclaim a share of first place against the division-leading Denver Broncos (8-3) in primetime on Sunday.
After a sloppy loss on the road against the Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs return home to Arrowhead Stadium, where they have won their last four games.
“Our season is not over with,” running back Jamaal Charles said. “To be home playing against a division team, we know we’ve got to win this game. We know we’re going to have a tough challenge with a Hall of Famer (quarterback Peyton Manning) and a great defense coming in at the time. I think we’re up for that challenge this week.”
While the Chiefs will likely have an emotional edge after the loss of safety Eric Berry, who is in Atlanta undergoing tests for possible lymphoma, defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson understands the team needs to capitalize early.
“We came out kind of flat against Oakland,” Vickerson said. “But this week we have to come out fast and finish fast. That’s the kind of game we play. This is the game that we can take over the division if we jump in front of them and handle our business on the way out.”
Finishing strong against the Broncos hasn’t been easy recently, though.
In the last two games against Denver, Kansas City has had the ball late with a chance to tie or take the lead. The Broncos won both games by seven points each time.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith knows the team must take advantage of the chances they are given.
“It certainly felt like looking back, yeah, we had our opportunities and had our fair share of times to make plays and change the game,” Smith said. “And we’re looking to make those plays this time around.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
• Kansas City ranks fourth in rushing yards (137.1 yards per game) and 31st in passing yards (189.5 yards per game).
• The Broncos rank 21st in rushing yards (100 yards per game) and second in passing yards (316.3 yards per game).
• The Chiefs rank 26th in run defense (129.4 yards per game), but lead the league in pass defense (198.9 yards per game).
• Denver has the league’s second-best run defense (75.5 yards per game) and 15th against the pass (240.5 yards per game).
THE LAST TIME
The Chiefs may hold an overall series lead against the Broncos, a 56-53 record, but the Broncos have won the last five and seven of the last nine.
Kansas City’s last win came in a 7-3 win on New Year’s Day in 2012.
Sunday will mark the 11th time the Chiefs and Broncos have played in primetime, with each team winning five of the previous ten games. The Chiefs are 24-18 against the Broncos in Arrowhead Stadium.
On Monday, the Chiefs placed safety Eric Berry on the non-football injury list after the discovery of a mass on the right side of his chest. The team believes it is lymphoma and Berry will miss the remainder of the season.
While the Chiefs have rallied around Berry, they also must remain focused on the Broncos.
Coach Andy Reid doesn’t believe that will be an issue.
“I would go back to what Eric said to the team,” Reid said. “He said, ‘It’s about the Broncos now and let’s move on’ and I think the guys have taken that to heart and that’s where they’re at. They’re focused in and ready to go.”
Still, defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson knows that Berry’s absence will be felt both on and off the field.
“Right now we are just being there for Eric and trying to be a brother there for him and stay with him and keep him up while he’s going through this adverse time,” Vickerson said. “With that being said, we have to have a ‘next man up syndrome’ around here. The next guy will fill in good, that’s just the game we play.”
While the defense turns to defensive back Ron Parker, who was solid in Berry’s place for five games this season, quarterback Alex Smith knows how important Berry is off the field as well.
“You know he is one of the hearts of this team,” Smith said. “He is a tremendous leader for as young as he is. From the moment I got here, I was just incredibly impressed by his maturity. What a selfless guy he is and then let alone the kind of player he is on the field.”
The day after last week’s loss to the Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs signed wide receiver Jason Avant to bolster an ineffective and injury-plagued group. Avant reunites with coach Andy Reid, who drafted Avant while coaching the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006.
“The advantage Jason has is that he’s been in the offense and he knows the majority of it,” Reid said. “He’s got to get in there and knock out some of the new things and then he’s in shape, he’s been playing so it’s just a matter of getting familiar with the quarterback and just going.”
Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson also has some familiarity with Avant from their time together in Philadelphia. Pederson believes Avant can contribute immediately.
“He’s a student of the game, he’s going to come in and he’s going to study the game plan,” Pederson said. “He’s going to study his specific plays that he’ll have in this game plan and he’ll get himself ready to go. With a guy like Jason you just kind of let the game happen and the flow of the game will take care of itself.”
MANNING THRIVES AGAINST CHIEFS
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is 10-1 against the Chiefs in his career and has yet to lose against Kansas City since he signed with Denver prior to the 2012 season.
While the Chiefs defense held Manning to less than 300 passing yards in their Week 2 matchup, Manning managed to throw three touchdown passes. Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton knows how tough it can be to face a Manning-led offense.
“What Peyton does he doesn’t allow you to focus on just one phase of their game and that’s one of his great strengths I think,” Sutton said. “There’s nothing that Peyton Manning hasn’t seen with all of the snaps he’s taken at quarterback so I don’t think you go into the game thinking you’re going to trick him.”
Not only is Manning unbeaten in a Denver uniform against the Chiefs, he’s been nearly flawless against them. In five games, he’s thrown for more than 1,500 yards, 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Additionally, Manning has only been sacked five times against the Chiefs stellar pass rush.
“He’s a master of what he does and we just have to accept some of that – that it’s going to come out – there’s nothing we can do,” Sutton said. “We can bring all of them but if he wants to throw the ball out there fast, you just can’t touch him.”
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles on Eric Berry:
“I just want him to be OK so I can see my friend forever.”
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on the team’s recent losses to the Broncos:
“It certainly felt like looking back, yeah, we had our opportunities and had our fair share of times to make plays and change the game. We’re looking to make those plays this time around.”
Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton on Berry:
“We know that this is a long, hard fight. It’s not just today or tomorrow. This goes on for a while and that’s when he needs the support down the road.”
Despite the extra time off, home field advantage and the emotional story of safety Eric Berry, the Chiefs will need to play a near-perfect game to beat the Broncos.
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning has been fantastic throughout his career against the Chiefs, and with Berry out, expect him to attack the Chiefs secondary early and often.
Additionally, the Chiefs pass rush hasn’t been effective against Manning, who continues to release the ball quickly.
While the Chiefs offense proved in Week 2 that it can sustain drives on the Denver defense, points mean more than time of possession.
Although the Chiefs will have an emotional advantage, look for Manning to continue his winning ways against Kansas City.
Outcome: Broncos 38, Chiefs 24