NFL: Chiefs deny Broncos a playoff berth
AP Sports Writer
DENVER — Josh McDaniels' first season as Denver coach ended the same way Mike Shanahan's last one did: with a late-season flop and an embarrassing blowout that wasted a strong start and kept the Broncos out of the playoffs.
Jamaal Charles ran for a Chiefs-record 259 yards on 25 carries and linebacker Derrick Johnson returned two interceptions of Kyle Orton passes for touchdowns in Kansas City's 44-24 rout Sunday, their first victory in nine tries at Invesco Field.
For Denver it was eerily reminiscent of last season's finale, when they were routed 52-21 by San Diego with a playoff berth on the line, a loss that led to Shanahan's departure and McDaniels' arrival.
Johnson returned his second interception 60 yards for a score that gave Kansas City a 37-24 lead with 10 minutes left, and then Charles capped his amazing performance with a 56-yard TD run. He bested Larry Johnson's franchise record of 211 yards set in 2005.
The Chiefs looked nothing like a 4-12 team against the Broncos (8-8), who lost eight of 10 after a sizzling 6-0 start and went 0-3 at home in the AFC West after going 3-0 in divisional road games.
It was the first time the Broncos failed to win a division game at home.
There were 10 scenarios when the day began for the Broncos to avoid joining the 1978 Redskins and the '03 Vikings as the only teams since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to miss the playoffs after a 6-0 start.
By kickoff, that list of possible paths to the postseason was whittled to three. They all involved a Broncos win and either Baltimore losing to Oakland or Cincinnati beating the New York Jets in the late game Sunday night.
Those other games didn't matter when the Broncos lost to a team they routed 44-13 just one month ago.
The Broncos went into their high-stakes season finale with a thin receiving corps after Eddie Royal was held out with a neck injury and McDaniels deactivated Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler for disciplinary reasons.
McDaniels accused Marshall, his best offensive player, of exaggerating a hamstring injury two days after making his second straight Pro Bowl and four weeks after setting an NFL record with 21 catches at Indianapolis.
Neither he nor Scheffler were at Invesco Field for the game.
That left only Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Stokley, Brandon Lloyd and Matt Willis, who was promoted from the practice squad 24 hours earlier, at wideout. The four had combined for 58 catches and five touchdowns this season, about half of what Marshall has.
But Denver's defense was as responsible as its depleted offense for keeping the Broncos out of playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Other than Gaffney, who had a career day with 14 catches for 213 yards, the Broncos didn't play as if much was at stake, never once holding the lead.
They went three-and-out on their opening possession with Correll Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno each continuing their short-yardage flops and getting serenaded with boos as they left the field, catcalls that only got louder until the fourth quarter when the fans filed out in disgust.
Defensive leaders and Pro Bowl teammates Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins weren't on the same page on Denver's first defensive series, allowing Kansas City to score its first offensive touchdown in the first quarter all season with a four-play, 86-yard drive.
With Dawkins biting on a run fake, Bailey was burned for a 50-yard catch by Terrance Cooper. Bailey missed his assignment on tight end Leonard Pope on the next snap, good for 29 yards. Two plays later, fullback Mike Cox dived in from a yard out for Kansas City's first TD on its opening possession in 18 games.
Ryan Succop's 36-yard field goal gave the Chiefs a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, and Johnson's interception return made it 27-17.
Stokley's 3-yard TD catch three plays after Ty Law returned an interception from Matt Cassel inside the Kansas City 5-yard line made it 27-24 late in the third quarter, and the Broncos got the ball back following Succop's 47-yarder that made it 30-24.
With a chance to take their first lead, they reached the Chiefs' 40-yard line, but Johnson stepped in front of tight end Daniel Graham and returned Orton's pass 60 yards for the score.