KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Denver Broncos were poised to play spoiler and end more than six years of frustration against the rival Kansas City Chiefs.
Leading by one midway through the fourth quarter, Denver was overpowering Kansas City’s defense before Melvin Ingram III and Nick Bolton turned the game on its head.
Ingram knifed into the backfield unblocked to meet Melvin Gordon III well behind the line of scrimmage and punched the ball free.
Bolton, a rookie second-round pick from the University of Missouri-Columbia, scooped up the loose ball, spun off Broncos quarterback Drew Lock and raced 86 yards to give the Chiefs the lead and keep alive the team's hopes for the top seed in the AFC.
“That was a big play by a big-time player by Nick, and Melvin with a heckuva play to knock that thing loose,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “That’s why we brought Melvin over here to make plays like that. He made a big play for us. Nick picked it up — he almost went down, but he got all the way to the end zone.”
It was the longest fumble-return touchdown in the NFL this season.
More importantly, Kansas City never trailed again in a 28-24 win Saturday at Empower Field at Mile High.
“All in all, a good win and important win for the Kansas City Chiefs,” coach Andy Reid said.
Mahomes improved to 13-0 in his career in road games against the AFC West.
“We focus a lot on division games,” Mahomes said. “Our first goal is always the AFC West. And in order to win it, you’ve got to win games on the road.”
The Chiefs (12-5) trailed at halftime, a game reminiscent of Week 6 at the Washington Football Team.
Kansas City erased a four-point deficit on the opening drive of the second half, which was capped by Jerick McKinnon’s first touchdown with the team.
McKinnon caught a short pass in the flats and spun his way 14 yards to the end zone, giving the Chiefs a 17-14 lead.
The lead was short-lived as Melvin Gordon III dashed 47 yards for a touchdown on Denver’s first drive of the second half to restore the lead.
The Broncos (7-10) appeared poised to add to it before Bolton’s first career touchdown and Mahomes’ run for a two-point conversion made it 28-21.
Denver answered with a field-goal drive, trimming the lead with a 31-yard Brandon McManus boot, but Mahomes hit Mecole Hardman Jr. for 44 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive as Kansas City salted away the victory — the 13th in a row in the rivalry — from there.
The Chiefs are the fifth team in NFL history to win at least 12 games in four straight seasons, but the team still believes it's yet to play its best football.
"We still haven't had that complete game yet — offense, defense and special teams," said Mahomes, who improved to 9-0 in his career against Denver. "We have the players. You see it week in and week out. You see the defense have a great game. You see the offense have a great game. You see special teams have a great game. I think when we all come together and have one of those games. We’re a team that can win as much as we want to win.”
Mahomes finished 27 of 44 for 269 yards with two touchdowns — to Travis Kelce and McKinnon — and no interceptions.
He also led the Chiefs with nine carries for 54 yards.
Hardman finished with eight catches for 103 yards, his first career 100-yard game. It was a milestone the 2019 second-round pick from the University of Georgia was thrilled to hit.
“(Dang), finally — I finally got 100,” Hardman said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen 100 yards, probably back to South Carolina against Georgia. ... Hopefully, I can get a few more of those.”
He said he didn’t realize his role would be expanded with Tyreek Hill limited by a heel injury until moments before kickoff.
“I said, ‘What? Oh, man. Cool,’” Hardman said. “But then I just kind of locked in.”
Bolton and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed led the defense with six tackles apiece.
Kansas City marched 91 yards on the opening drive before Mahomes tossed a 3-yard touchdown to Kelce on the 17th play.
It was Mahomes’ 150th career touchdown pass, joining Peyton Manning and Drew Brees as the only QBs in NFL history with 150 passing touchdowns in a four-year span.
The Chiefs’ defense forced a punt on the ensuing drive, but Zayne Anderson was flagged for roughing the kicker to keep the Broncos’ drive alive.
Aided by a trick play — wide receiver Courtland Sutton completed a 16-yard pass to Noah Fant to reach the red zone — Denver scored nine plays later on a 5-yard touchdown scramble by Drew Lock.
It was the second consecutive week that Anderson, who had the holding penalty on Byron Pringle’s kickoff return touchdown shortly before halftime last Sunday at Cincinnati, committed a costly special teams penalty.
After a Chiefs punt, Lock, a Lee’s Summit High School graduate and former Mizzou star, staked the Broncos to a 14-7 lead with a career-long 23-yard touchdown scramble. He entered the game with three rushing touchdowns in 23 career games.
Kansas City inched closer in the closing minutes before halftime with a 34-yard Harrison Butker field goal, trimming Denver’s lead to 14-10 at halftime.