KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For Patrick Mahomes’ first three seasons as the Kansas City Chiefs’ starting quarterback, the offense was a magical thing to watch week after week. It was Mahomes Magic.
The Chiefs put up points at a rate that would make a pinball machine blush, but the last two months have been a slog.
And so it was again Sunday against the Denver Broncos with first place in the AFC West on the line at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium as defense and special teams paved the way to a 22-9 win.
“Obviously, we feel like we’re not playing our best football,” Mahomes, who finished 15 of 29 for 184 yards with no passing touchdowns, said. “We have spurts where we play really (well) and we have spurts where we’re not scoring and finding ways to finish drives. As a competitor, you want to be better.”
Denver outgained Kansas City 404-267 but failed to solve the resurgent Chiefs defense, which hasn't allowed more than 10 points in any half since the first half during Week 7 in Tennessee.
The Chiefs (8-4) beat the Broncos (6-6) for the 12th consecutive time, a record for the 61-year-old rivalry, but the offense spent most of the game bogged down by dropped passes, penalties and the occasional turnover.
“We need to take care of some of these little things that are happening here that are killing drives,” coach Andy Reid said. “Again, (it’s) my responsibility to make sure that happens.”
Take the second half, for example.
On the opening drive, and hoping to build on a 10-3 halftime lead, Mahomes had another pass go off a receiver’s hands for an interception early in the third quarter, when Tyreek Hill popped the ball into the air on a slant route.
“All I can do is have better ball placement on some of those,” Mahomes said. “The one to Tyreek — a little high, hard. I’ve got to find ways to make it easier on them.”
The interception was Mahomes’ 12th pick of the season, which tied his career-high from 2018.
Still, the miscues, which have become a pattern throughout the season, allowed Denver to hang around until Daniel Sorensen, who became a lightning rod for the defense’s early-season struggles, turned the tide for good.
His play highlighted another strong defensive effort as the Chiefs allowed 17 points or fewer for the fifth straight game and sixth time in the last seven games.
Kansas City’s defense, which has emerged as one of the best in the NFL in the last handful of weeks, forced Denver to go three-and-out after the pick.
“We realized no one was really coming to save us and we’ve got to figure it out,” safety Tyrann Mathieu, who led KC with nine tackles, said. “Another part is just committing — committing to team. It’s all about team. It’s team first, team second and team last. If you can keep that in perspective and find something to get better at, at the end of the day you’ll be able to help your team when it really matters the most.”
The Chiefs, who have won five straight games, mustered one of three Harrison Butker field goals on the next drive, but failed to take advantage of Juan Thornhill’s first interception since October 2020.
Byron Pringle provided the key play that finally allowed Kansas City to pull away.
An injury to Chris Lammons pressed Pringle into duty as a gunner on the punt team and he took on two Broncos, blocking one into return specialist Diontae Spencer for a muffed punt that led to another Butker field goal.
Sorensen, who lost his starting job a month into the season, stepped up in a major way from there.
Another punching bag for the defense as it struggled through the first seven games, linebacker Ben Niemann, tipped a Teddy Bridgewater pass at the line of scrimmage.
Sorensen snagged the deflected pass and raced 75 yards for the game-icing touchdown.
“He took a lot of heat, man, so it’s good to see him make big plays,” Mathieu said.
Denver answered with its first touchdown capped by a 13-yard catch and run from running back Javonte Williams, who finished with 178 yards from scrimmage in the loss.
Sorensen stuffed the two-point conversion attempt and that’s as far the comeback went as the defense forced a turnover on downs after another Chiefs punt.
Coach Andy Reid improved to 20-3 all-time, including playoffs, after a bye week.
“I’ve been to a lot of football games where we’ve scored a lot of points and lost,” Mahomes said. “I promise you, when you win football games like this, it feels a lot better.”
Kansas City scored a touchdown on its opening drive for the third time in its last four games, marching 72 on 12 plays after the defense forced a three-and-out to start the game.
Patrick Mahomes scored on a 10-yard scramble, his second rushing touchdown of the season.
Harrison Butker slid home a 56-yard field goal, which glanced through off the left upright, for a 10-0 lead later in the first quarter. It was Butker’s fifth field goal from 50-plus yards this season, which set a new franchise record.
Denver answered with a 42-yard field goal from Brandon McManus then tried to take the air out of the game with its run game.
The Broncos started their next drive at the 3-yard line and embarked on a 20-play drive, including 12 carries for 52 yards, but the 88-yard march ended without points after linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and defensive end Melvin Ingram III stuffed Williams for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-2 at the Chiefs’ 8-yard line.
“That’s defense,” Mathieu said. “It’s all about kind of weathering the storm sometimes.”