KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There’s little doubt who’s in control of the AFC West now.
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning threw five touchdown passes -- including four to Eric Decker -- as the Broncos riddled the Chiefs 35-28 on Sunday in front of a sellout crowd of 77,065 at Arrowhead Stadium.
The victory gave Denver, 10-2, a one-game lead in the AFC West, and because the Broncos swept the season series from the Chiefs, 9-3, they own the head-to-head tiebreaker, giving them a two-game lead over the Chiefs with four to play.
The Broncos also own a one-game lead over New England for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
As for the Chiefs, who have now lost three in a row, they appeared locked in the No. 5 seed, or even the No. 6 seed. Either way, it means a first-round playoff game at one of the other two division champions, Indianapolis, 8-4; or Cincinnati, which took a 7-4 record into Sunday’s late game at San Diego.
And if they were to win that one, the Chiefs would play a second-round game at either New England or Denver.
The Chiefs had one final gasp to tie the game when they took possession at their 8 with 3 minutes, 41 seconds left in regulation. They moved to the Denver 13, but on fourth and 4, Alex Smith’s pass intended for Dwayne Bowe in the end zone was broken up by Denver safety Mike Adams.
Manning ran his record to 11-1 against the Chiefs, as a member of the Colts and Broncos. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 403 yards with two interceptions, both of which set up Chiefs touchdowns.
The Broncos took a 35-21 lead on three touchdown passes from Manning to Decker on Denver’s first three possessions of the second half.
In all, Denver scored four consecutive touchdowns after the Chiefs had taken a 21-7 lead.
The Chiefs closed to within 35-28 when Jamaal Charles capped a 17-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge with 6:32 left in regulation.
Decker made it 35-21 with 1-yard grab of a fade on third and 1 against Chiefs rookie Marcus Cooper. The big play on that drive was a 45-yard burst by rookie running back Montee Ball, from the Broncos’ 5 to the 50.
Decker beat Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers for his second touchdown of the game, a 38-yard bomb from Manning with 11:51 to go in the third quarter.
Then, after a Chiefs punt, Manning, from his 8, hit Demaryius Thomas with an over-the shoulder pass at the 30 behind cornerback Cooper. Thomas outran Cooper to the Chiefs’ 15, where he was tackled for a 77-yard gain.
On third and 15, Decker beat Cooper in the back of the end zone for his third touchdown catch of the game and a 28-21 lead with 6:48 left in the third quarter.
The touchdown pass was Manning’s league-leading 40th of the season, extending the Broncos’ single-season record.
The Chiefs led 21-14 after a first half that had just about everything, including two interceptions of passes by Manning and a franchise-record 108-yard kickoff return by rookie Knile Davis.
The Chiefs squandered a chance to score on their opening drive when quarterback Alex Smith’s pass intended for tight end Anthony Fasano was intercepted by Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard in the end zone.
But the Chiefs countered when Chiefs safety Quintin Demps made an acrobatic interception of a Manning pass at the Kansas City 17.
The Chiefs converted that turnover into a touchdown as Smith hit backup receiver Junior Hemingway for a 17-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone. Smith arched the ball over the Denver defense and Hemingway extended his arms for the catch with 2:41 left in the period for a 7-0 lead.
Denver tied it 7-7 on the first play of the second quarter when Manning hit Decker, who beat Flowers on a deep post for a 41-yard touchdown.
The tie was short-lived as Davis caught Matt Prather’s kickoff eight yards deep in the end zone. Davis seemed to hesitate before deciding to return the kick instead of downing it, and he bolted straight upfield. Davis bounced off a cluster of blockers and tacklers at his 35 and then was home free for the touchdown, covering the 108 yards in 14 seconds.
The 108-yard return broke the franchise record set by Nolan “Super Gnat” Smith, who returned a kickoff 106 yards at Denver on Dec. 17, 1967. And it was one yard shy of the NFL record of 109 yards set by Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson against Green Bay last Oct. 27.
Davis’ return ignited the sellout crowd as well as energized the Chiefs, who would score less than 4 minutes later.
Three plays after the kickoff return, Cooper stepped in front of a pass underthrown for Decker and returned it 20 yards to the Broncos’ 22.
That set up a 12-yard touchdown pass by Smith to Fasano, his third straight game with a touchdown catch, for a 21-7 lead with 10:57 left in the half.
The Chiefs forced Denver to punt on the ensuing possession, and Kansas City return man Dexter McCluster mistakenly caught the punt at his 3 rather than let it bounce into the end zone, and he was smothered on the spot.
That decision flipped field position Denver’s way, and the Broncos closed to within 21-14 on Manning’s 3-yard swing pass to running back Knowshon Moreno with 4:16 left in the half.