DENVER – Peyton Manning put more hits on the Kansas City Chiefs than they put on him.
Manning saved a touchdown by tackling linebacker Derrick Johnson, and the Chiefs were utterly unable to return the favor Sunday night, failing to add to their NFL-leading sacks total in a 27-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.
The only time they got to Manning was in the postgame scramble to shake the four-time MVP's hand after he handed them their first loss of the season.
Manning had his ankles heavily taped after taking a beating over the last few weeks but he wasn't hit or hurried by the Chiefs, who came into the game with a league-high 36 sacks and left the Rocky Mountains with that same number.
The Chiefs finally found a defense every bit as good as their own and ran into a quarterback they couldn't bring down.
The teams are tied atop the AFC West at 9-1 with a rematch looming Dec. 1 at Arrowhead Stadium.
This marked the first loss for new coach Andy Reid, who fell to 13-2 after the bye, and for the 32 Chiefs who weren't a part of last year's 2-14 debacle.
Although the Chiefs stifled Manning for much of the night, they never led in the game pitting teams with the best combined record this deep into the season since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Treating the four-time MVP like all those backups they beat up on over the last six weeks, the Chiefs had Manning flustered well into the second half, but he still finished with 323 yards passing, his eighth 300-yard game of the season, continually finding Wes Welker or Demaryius Thomas for timely big plays that set up scores.
Julius Thomas caught a touchdown pass and rookie Montee Ball had two TD runs.
Most disturbing of all for the Chiefs was this: their division foes took a page right out of Kansas City's playbook in locating two long-lost ingredients that are essential for any team with designs on winning a championship in today's pass-happy NFL: a good ground game and a stout defense.
The Broncos only gained 104 yards on 36 carries for a 2.9-yard average, but it was enough and it was effective, keeping the chains moving and the pass rush off Manning.
The Chiefs hadn't surrendered more than 17 points to any opponent all year, and the Broncos had that just 5:55 into the second quarter when Ball bulled his way in from a yard out for a 17-7 lead.
For most of the third quarter, defense took center stage as Denver and Kansas City combined for more punts (5) at one point than first downs (3). The Chiefs were disrupting Manning's timing, too, holding him in check. Just before the end of the quarter, though, Manning led the Broncos on a six-play, 65-yard drive that culminated with Ball's 8-yard scamper around the end of the line.
It was quite the comeback by Ball, who couldn't get the handle on a handoff from Manning in the first half and Johnson scooped it up and was rumbling toward the end zone for what would have been the opportunistic Chiefs' sixth defensive TD only to be tackled by Manning at the Denver 18.
On the next play, Anthony Sherman fumbled the ball right back as Quentin Jammer pounced on it at the 26.
Manning hit Demaryius Thomas for 70 yards, setting up Julius Thomas' 9-yard TD catch and a 10-0 Denver lead.
Manning had his tender ankles heavily taped. He also wore gloves on both hands with the temperature in the low 40s. Many of his passes were short and he finished 24 for 40.
But he wasn't sacked and not even hurried.
Alex Smith, on the other hand, was sacked three times and finished 21 for 45 for 230 yards.
Smith threw a 6-yard TD pass to Dwayne Bowe early in the second quarter and later drove Kansas City to the 1, only to have Jamaal Charles stopped by linebacker Steven Johnson to set up a 20-yard field goal from Ryan Succop.
His 10-yard pass to Anthony Fasano with five minutes remaining made it 27-17.
The Chiefs got the ball two more times, but Smith's last six passes went for minus-6 yards.
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