KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The nicest thing you could say was that it was a chew toy of a tilt: A little pushing, a little pulling, and a lot of slobber.
After releasing his final pass of the first half, a 7-yard touchdown toss to tight end Jacob Tamme, Peyton Manning wound up getting slammed to the ground by Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Tyson Jackson. Manning’s bell got rung to the point where the Denver Broncos reportedly gave their star quarterback a concussion test at halftime.
“I’ve certainly played against Kansas City a number of times and played here at Arrowhead (Stadium), so anytime you can come in here and get a win on the road, it means something,” said Manning, who was cleared to return and wound up leading Denver to a 17-9 road victory. “It’s a tough place to play, it’s a hostile environment, and certainly, playing in (the same) division, there’s great familiarity between these two teams.”
Also, a little contempt. More than a little, now that you mention it.
A little backstory: The buzz in Kansas City over this past winter was that the Chiefs had flirted with Manning, then a free agent, to try to lure him to the Midwest, neck surgery and all.
The flowers and candy didn’t work, of course; Manning signed with Denver. Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli signed Brady Quinn, one of the Broncos’ backups in 2011, to act as Matt Cassel’s understudy.
The Broncos are 8-3, winners of six in a row, and have their fans talking about playoff seeding and Super Bowls. The Chiefs are 1-10, losers of eight straight, and have their fans wearing black to games; flying hostile banners over the stadium; blaming the franchise for family deaths in local obits; and shooting one another in the face.
Oh, Peyton. Peyton, Peyton, Peyton. See what you did?
“I mean, it’s hard for me to think about that,” Manning said when a reporter asked if he knew — or cared — what Kansas Citians thought of him.
“Certainly, I’ve had a pretty full plate all year, in the transition . . . and certainly, when you’re into the season, all you are kind of thinking about is the next opponent.”
And, to their credit, the Chiefs gave the future Hall-of-Famer plenty to think about Sunday. For his repeated failings as a head coach, Romeo Crennel’s defenses have almost always given Manning fits; The Chiefs’ coach had won six of the previous nine matchups.
In an effort to mess with Manning’s famous pre-snap reads, Kansas City trotted out a “2-Man” look, Denver wideout Eric Decker noted, which is similar to the famous “Tampa-2” or “Cover-2” scheme, only with man coverage principles underneath.
“The played a lot more ‘2-Man’ than some games,” said Decker, who caught four passes for 64 yards. “But again, it just came down to execution, offensively. And give them credit for doing what they did.”
Mind you, whenever the Chiefs had the ball, the best they could muster was to slam Jamaal Charles (107 yards on 23 carries) at the Broncos, punt liberally, and try to match Manning’s touchdowns with field goals. To no one’s surprise, that dog wouldn’t exactly hunt.
The killing blow took longer than expected, but Manning finally iced the game on his last pass of the day. It came right after the 2-minute warning, a 27-yard completion to Demaryius Thomas on 3rd-and-7. That set the visitors up with a first down at the Kansas City 15. Four plays later, Matt Prater kicked a 34-yard field goal to give the Broncos a 17-9 cushion.
“We put some pressure on him, got him off his spot, but we couldn’t quite do enough,” Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston said. “And he does what Hall-of-Famers do.”
Namely, win. Sunday’s victory propelled Manning to second all-time in career wins by a starting NFL quarterback (149), snapping a tie he’d held with his boss, current Broncos executive vice president John Elway; Brett Favre holds the record with 186. Manning also extended his NFL record for the most seasons with 25 or more passing touchdowns (14) and went over 3,000 yards passing for the 14th time, second all-time to Favre (18 seasons).
“He knows what’s going on,” Thomas gushed. “It’s good to have somebody around like that.”
Manning completed 13 of 17 throws before the shot to the head; he was 9-for-20 afterward. From start to finish, the Denver signal-caller never seemed comfortable, though, even throwing a floater into obvious double coverage in the middle of the field early in the second quarter, a rainbow that was intercepted by the Chiefs’ Brandon Flowers at the Kansas City 12-yard line.
“Defensively,” Manning said, “I think this team is better than their record is.”
Offensively, this team is a hot, wet pile of bad. But that’s Crennel’s problem, not Manning’s. In both camps, meanwhile, the march continues: The Broncos toward the postseason, the Chiefs toward a cliff.