DENVER (AP) – Almost stumbling ahead of the playoffs, Nick Bolton and the Kansas City Chiefs came together just in time to step into the playoffs with the AFC’s 12 best wins.
They will learn on Sunday whether that is enough to get them a pass in the first round.
“We’re ready to go anywhere and against anyone,” said Patrick Mahomes after the Chiefs rallied to a 28-24 Saturday win over the Denver Broncos, a victory fueled by the return of Bolton fumbled 86 yards midway through the fourth quarter.
To secure pole position in the AFC playoffs, the Chiefs (12-5) need Houston to upset Tennessee on Sunday. Otherwise, Kansas City is hosting a wildcard game next weekend in their quest to reach a third straight Super Bowl.
The Broncos were leading 21-20 and leading another scoreline when Melvin Ingram III threw a blitz, passing tight end Noah Fant without touching and causing the game to explode just as Drew Lock handed the ball over to Melvin Gordon in second and -2 from 9.
Bolton, a rookie linebacker who registers at 237 pounds, picked up the loose ball and scolded the Chiefs’ euphoric sideline, almost falling to midfield before regaining his balance and edging out Lock, with whom he played in the game. Missouri, to the end zone.
“I was hoping he wouldn’t trip,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after his 250th coaching win in the NFL, including the playoffs. “These guys aren’t very lucky to run that far that fast very often and he ran like a stallion. He took off and looked like a runner over there.
Like many other wins in the Chiefs’ 13-game winning streak against Denver, this one was no cakewalk. The Broncos (7-10) led for much of the afternoon, even though they had nothing to play but pride.
“My main emotion is the pride of our payers,” said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. “It’s a team that can win anything. They’ve obviously won a lot of games in the last four or five years since Mahomes took over. We had a chance to win this game. But not winning is the end result and we didn’t. “
The Broncos’ last victory over Kansas City dates back to September 17, 2015.
“I like the way our defense got tough,” said Reid. “Overall a good win and an important win for the Kansas City Chiefs and we’ll see what we have by tomorrow night, who we play against. We can’t wait to bring a playoff game back to Arrowhead in front of our fans. “
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill could surely use up the week off that goes to the top seed of every conference. He injured his heel during pre-game warm-ups and was limited to a catch for 2 yards. With Hill injured, Mecole Hardman stepped up with eight catches for 103 yards.
“No one is Tyreek. He is a special player who has never been seen in this league, ”said Mahomes. “But Mecole is quite close. … He was prepared for this moment.
After Mahomes scored a 2-point conversion after Bolton’s touchdown to give the Chiefs a seven-point lead, the Broncos quickly came down the field but settled for Brandon McManus’ field goal rather than going in. on the fourth and the 9 of 13.
The crowd booed the decision, but Fangio explained that while the field placement left them with a touchdown, at least it kept their hopes up.
All they had to do was stop Mahomes, which they had managed to do twice in Kansas City’s six practices, excluding final possession in the first half when the Chiefs went on. got the ball at their 15 with 23 seconds remaining.
The Chiefs, however, chewed up the final 4:37 and lined up in a winning line-up after the 2-minute warning as the crowd of 61,441 – there were almost 15,000 empty seats – poured in for the outs, a fifth consecutive losing season in the books and the Broncos’ playoff drought now stretched to six.
Lock completed just 4 of 10 passes for 27 yards in the first half, but the Broncos took a 14-10 halftime lead thanks to Lock’s 5- and 23-yard touchdown passes. made him the Broncos’ first quarterback with two touchdowns in a game since Tim Tebow in 2011.
“Definitely not designed runs,” said Lock, who lost all three starts after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a concussion against Cincinnati on Dec. 19.
HOUSE OF THE INSUFFICIENT
The Chiefs were 11-point favorites according to FanDuel SportsBook, marking the third time in the past 42 years that the Broncos have been a double-digit underdog.
Fangio became emotional during his post-match press conference, but said he had not heard if he would be back for the fourth year of his contract.
“You saw him tonight, a bunch of fighters and competitors,” Fangio said after the Broncos’ fourth straight loss dropped his record to 19-30. “And I think you’ve seen him all year. And that’s what these guys are. I am proud to be associated with them. I am not proud of our record. I know this is not good enough. I understand. But I am proud to be associated with our players.
RB Chiefs Darrel Williams (toe) started early in the fourth quarter. RT Broncos Bobby Massie was added to the injury report on Saturday with concussion and was excluded.
After that tight call, the Chiefs cheer on the Texans.
The Broncos are heading into an offseason that is sure to include some big changes.