Manning, Broncos top Chiefs 27-17

Peyton Manning wrapped his tender ankles tightly in white tape,
just to make sure they were secure against the league’s best pass
rush.

Turns out, he had nothing to worry about. The Kansas City Chiefs
never got near him.

Manning was well-protected Sunday night, throwing for 323 yards
and a touchdown to help the Denver Broncos top the Chiefs
27-17.

The Broncos (9-1) passed their first of three straight big tests
and took apart the NFL’s last undefeated team.

The Chiefs (9-1) struggled, with their vaunted defense getting
almost no pressure on Manning, whose mobility has been hampered by
those balky ankles.

”It’s always great if your quarterback can play and not get
hit,” receiver Demaryius Thomas said.

The Denver win was Part I of this critical AFC West matchup. The
rematch is in two weeks at Arrowhead Stadium.

Sure, the Broncos kept Manning clean, but they were hardly
perfect. And the Chiefs made it competitive against the
high-scoring Broncos, holding them two touchdowns below their
41.2-point scoring average.

Asked if the Chiefs in essence shut down the Broncos, Thomas
simply said, ”We scored 27 points.”

Before they meet again, the Broncos must deal with Tom Brady and
the New England Patriots, while the Chiefs face San Diego.

”If we want to go all the way, then we need to figure out a way
to beat Denver,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. ”We’re
going to put this game behind us and get ready for the next
one.”

Here are five things we learned from a game that featured the
best combined record of two opponents this deep into the season
since the NFL merger in 1970:

PROTECTIVE BRONCOS: There was some concern about Manning’s
long-term health coming into the game, given that the Broncos
offensive line had allowed three blindside sacks and fumbles and an
assortment of other blows to his lower legs over the previous three
games. Tackles Chris Clark, Orlando Franklin and the rest of the
line rose to the challenge against the league’s leading sack team.
Manning didn’t get sacked. Didn’t even really get his uniform
dirty. ”To go sackless against the leading sack defense in the
NFL, that’s a great testament to those guys,” Manning said.

STOUT CHIEFS: Granted, they gave up more points than they had
all season, more than double the league-leading 12.8 they’d been
allowing coming into the game. And yes, the Broncos still amassed
427 yards in offense. But the Chiefs’ defense was hardly a
pushover, the way so many defenses are when they come up against
Manning and the Broncos. The Chiefs forced three three-and-outs,
six punts and two field-goal attempts of more than 50 yards. They
held an offense that adjusts at halftime and averages 24 points in
the third and fourth quarters to 10 in the second half. And those
27 points? Might not seem great but it was Denver’s lowest total of
the season.

VON WHO?: While so much of the talk about Denver’s defense has
revolved around Von Miller’s absence and return, one of the players
the Broncos brought in this season to augment the pass rush is
putting up career numbers. Tenth-year veteran Shaun Phillips,
formerly of San Diego, had a huge game: 10 tackles, two of those
for loss, two quarterback hits, two deflected passes and 1 1/2
sacks to bring his total to nine for the season. His career high
was 11 1/2 in 2006.

NOT BUILT FOR COMEBACKS: Good as they’ve been this season, the
Chiefs don’t score enough to hang with Denver. At least not yet.
They average 23 points. They came into the week ranked 26th on
converting trips inside the 20 into touchdowns. Though the offense
grinded, Alex Smith was held to 230 yards and Jamaal Charles only
gained 78 on the ground. Their formula of solid defense was good
enough to win nine straight against weaker teams, but Andy Reid
needs to figure out a way to squeeze a few more touchdowns out of
this offense for the rematch.

START THE SEARCH: Jack Del Rio is a popular guy these days and
figures to keep getting more popular. The defensive
coordinator-turned-interim head coach confirmed that he’d been
contacted during the bye week by his alma mater, Southern Cal,
which is searching for a new head coach. He insists his focus is in
Denver. ”Down the road, who knows where that goes,” he said. If
the college thing doesn’t pan out, there could be some NFL offers
rolling his way, as well, especially if he keeps going this way.
He’s 2-0 running things in Denver while John Fox recovers from
heart surgery. The players like him and, so far, he’s pulling all
the right strings.

AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this story.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org