DENVER — Peyton Manning walked off the field showing no trace of a limp and hardly a spot of dirt.
It means the ‘72 Dolphins 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 after taking a beating the last couple of weeks — should be feeling much better.
“They were under fire last week because Peyton got hit a few times but they’ve done a great job all year,” said Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio, now 2-0 while John Fox recovers from heart surgery. “We knew this was going to be a game you had to play well in the trenches to have a chance.”
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 defense, which came in with a league-leading 36 sacks.
“Our plan was to get to the quarterback but the ball is coming out quick,” Hali said. “He did a great job and their team did a great job protecting him.”
So good, in fact, the Chiefs didn’t even record a single hit on the quarterback.
“We just keep our heads down and keep blocking — don’t look at the scoreboard, don’t look at the time, keep blocking your guy — like tunnel vision,” Clark said.
The most notable contact of the night for Manning 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’ offense came out and fullback Anthony Sherman promptly fumbled the ball back to the Broncos.
“I was kind of right there,” Manning said about the tackle. “You don’t feel good about leaving the field. They turn around and fumble right away and we go and score. That’s a pretty critical series right there.”
Three plays after the back-to-back fumbles, Manning made the game’s biggest play on offense, 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’ defense, which came into the game also leading the league in points allowed (12.8), remained stout throughout against the league’s highest-scoring offense (41.2). But eventually, Manning and Co., 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.