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