Of course, even with their imperfections, the Broncos were double-digit winners over an undefeated team that got its own share of credit for not getting steamrolled by an offense that scored two touchdowns less than its season average.
It was, as most of Denver’s wins have been, a fortuitous blend of successes and failures — not bad enough to cause a loss, but certainly not a clean enough effort to breed complacency, which is good given the upcoming schedule.
“We knew when the schedule came out that these were going to be three critical games,” Manning said after the game. “We hoped they were going to be critical. We hoped they were going to matter because that meant we had taken care of business early in the season.”
They did, thanks in large part to Manning, who moved to 34 touchdown passes on the season — still well in range of breaking the single-season record held by Tom Brady, whom he’ll face for the 14th time. Manning is still nursing his ankles back to full health.
They were shrouded in athletic tape and padding against the Chiefs. And though the offensive line didn’t let anyone get a hand on him, Manning still threw 16 incompletions. That’s the second most this season and can, at times, be a whole month’s worth for a quarterback with a 118.3 passer rating this year. At least half of them were overthrown or underthrown footballs that were uncharacteristic — enough to re-raise the question: Is Manning still feeling jittery after all those blindside hits and dives at his ankles?
All the linemen can do is protect him the best they can. Their determination may have shown most when right tackle Orlando Franklin, clearly beaten by Derrick Johnson in the third quarter, chose to hook him with his right arm and draw the 10-yard holding penalty rather than let Manning fend for himself.