Column: Chiefs lose but can still learn from it
The Kansas City Chiefs came out of it with their record finally sullied yet their pride still fully intact.
Indeed, the argument could be made that the Chiefs played well enough in a 27-17 loss that they have legitimate hope when the two teams meet two weeks from now in a rematch in Kansas City.
That, of course, will be predicated on finding some more offense because no one is going to beat the Broncos without putting a healthy number of points on the scoreboard.
But at a time of year in the NFL where teams start sneaking a look at playoff possibilities, the Chiefs still have to like what they see.
No one expected a team that went 2-14 last season to run the table anyway, and the first-half schedule was so weak that even the Chiefs seemed a bit unsure how good they had actually become under the mustachioed and rejuvenated Andy Reid.
The answer is they're plenty good, even if their chances to rally were slim on Sunday. The Chiefs simply aren't built for big comebacks, and by the time they had gotten acclimated to the thin air in Denver the Broncos already owned a 10-0 lead they weren't about to relinquish.
But if there is such a thing as a good loss - something no self-respecting coach would ever admit - this was it.
''We played a good football team and they got us today,'' Reid said. ''There are things we can learn from here and get those fixed. We'll get ourselves better.''
The Chiefs will need to do just that if they want this to be known as more than just a turnaround season under Reid.
To win a rematch against the Broncos - or to win a playoff game in January - they'll have to get more out of quarterback Alex Smith and an offense that sputtered much of the night in Denver.
They will also need to figure out how a team leading the NFL in sacks didn't drop Manning once all night.
''We'll get a handle on it. I'm not worried,'' linebacker Derrick Johnson said. ''We're not sitting back shocked like we're not this team that we thought we were. We're 9-1 and things are still looking up for the Chiefs.''
Things are looking up for the Broncos, too, who had a pretty good night on primetime television with their coach convalescing from heart surgery at home.
Any team with Manning under center is going to be overlooked on defense, but with Von Miller rounding back into form and fellow linebacker Wesley Woodyard healthy the Broncos are suddenly a pretty good defensive team, too.
And any time Manning - who showed decent mobility on his heavily taped ankles - gets through a game barely being touched, it's a good night.
''To go sackless against the leading sack defense in the NFL, that's a great testament to those guys,'' Manning said.
The Broncos, though, always figured to be good this season. The Chiefs were another matter.
After 14 seasons in Philadelphia, Reid has turned things around quickly in Kansas City, thanks largely to a hard-nosed defense and an early schedule of patsies.
Still, even as the wins kept piling up it was hard to find many in football predicting the Chiefs would go deep in the playoffs.
The non-believers included the sharp guys in Vegas, who thought so little of the Chiefs that they were eight-point underdogs against Denver. It was the first time in recent memory that a team unbeaten so late in the season was not favored to continue its winning ways.
Denver will almost surely be favored in the rematch, too, though the Broncos have other business to take care of first in a hotly anticipated game next Sunday in New England. It will be Manning against Tom Brady once again in a game that could serve as a preview to a Super Bowl eliminator in January.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, return home to face San Diego, and they do it for the first time with a blemished record.
''As great as it is to win, it's that lousy to lose,'' Smith said. ''(But) it's good in some ways. Good teams gotta find a way to deal with it. How many teams have ever gone undefeated, two in the history of football?''
The Chiefs weren't going to be No. 3, even if they had somehow found a way to beat Denver. No one was confusing them with the 1972 Dolphins or the 2007 New England team that was perfect until the Super Bowl.
They're a good solid team that couldn't win largely because the quarterback of the other team is named Peyton Manning.
And no one should be embarrassed about that.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg