The biggest game in years looms for the Chiefs and they wanted to head into it with plenty of momentum.
They will have to settle for something less next Sunday when they meet the Chargers in San Diego. They managed to hold off the hapless Broncos 10-6 at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, but otherwise failed to make the statement that would resound around the AFC West.
“It wasn’t the way we planned it,’’ guard Brian Waters said.
Of more immediate importance to the Chiefs is that at 8-4, they lead the division by two games over both the Raiders and Chargers. They can basically eliminate the Chargers by winning in San Diego.
They would feel better about their chances if they had more securely handled the 3-9 Broncos, losers of three straight games and seven of their last eight. But the Chiefs needed to go to the game’s final play to finish off Denver and might have lost for next week starting cornerback Brandon Flowers, who was carried to the locker room but said he had nothing more than severe cramps.
The Chiefs had their lowest scoring game of the season. They failed to get the ball to Dwayne Bowe and had one regrettable sequence when they could have put the game away with a touchdown early in the third period.
Instead, despite four snaps inside the Denver 10, they came away with nothing by committing two penalties and taking a sack on fourth down.
“That’s not the type of football team we want to be,’’ Waters said. “That’s not the type of football team we need to be in order to go farther, if we truly think of ourselves as a playoff football team. Those are the types of things that will keep us from having success.’’
The Chiefs weren’t dreadful offensively, rushing for 185 yards. Quarterback Matt Cassel, despite not completing any of his three passes to Bowe, still found a way to throw for 196 yards and a two-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Pope.
Cassel dismissed it as merely one bad day.
“Sometimes, offensively, you don’t have the greatest day at the office,’’ he said.
But maybe the Broncos found the recipe for shutting down the Chiefs, who entered the game as the league’s fourth highest scoring team. They put their shutdown cornerback, Champ Bailey, on Bowe and allowed him nothing except for an eight-yard pass that upon video review was overturned as being out of bounds and a 22-yard gain that was called back by a pass interference penalty on Bowe.
Will the Chiefs struggle to score if they can’t get the ball to Bowe, who before Sunday was one of the league’s hottest receivers.
“I don’t think that was the case,’’ Cassel said. “I think we had some penalties in the red zone and we struggled to get into a rhythm because of that.
“Champ is one of the premier corners in the league. I’m sure they targeted him and said, “We’re not going to let Dwayne Bowe us beat us.’ ’’
The Chiefs were beaten badly by the Broncos three weeks ago in Denver, losing 49-29. But at least they were able to damage the Broncos with the passing game. Cassel threw for a career-high 469 yards while Bowe caught 13 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns.
Not every Chiefs opponent will have a cornerback the caliber of Bailey. But the Broncos entered the game with the NFL’s worst scoring defense, one reason the Chiefs were troubled by their inability score more than 10 points.
“Champ, he’s the best defender I ever went against,’’ Bowe said. “He told me I’m one of the greatest he ever went against and we battled it out. I’ve got his vote and he’s got my vote. He said our game plan was to not let you get nothing and they pulled it off.
“They had a nice little game plan. But they couldn’t stop the run the majority of the game and that’s what we went to to win it.
“It’s disappointing but at the end of the day, we won.’’