The Kansas City Chiefs wrapped up the regular season with a victory on Saturday night as the back-to-back defending AFC champions fought back from a fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Denver, 28-24, and record their 12th win of the season.
The key moment of the game was undoubtedly an 86-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Chiefs' linebacker Nick Bolton, who grabbed the loose ball and rumbled all the way for the go-ahead score with just over seven minutes remaining in regulation. The play took place at a critical juncture in the contest, as Denver was already leading by a point and appeared poised to add to its advantage by driving to Kansas City's 9-yard line. Chiefs' defensive end Melvin Ingram had other ideas, however, as he punched the ball free from Broncos' tailback Melvin Gordon, and Bolton was there to scoop it up.
"That was a game-changer," said Head Coach Andy Reid. "I was hoping that he wouldn't stumble. Those guys don't get a chance to run that far very often, but he looked like a stallion. I was happy for him."
Denver managed to add a field goal on its ensuing series that cut the deficit to just four points, but it was the last time that the Broncos would possess the ball. Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes led Kansas City on a nine-play drive that ate up more than four minutes following Denver's field goal, and facing a third down late in the series, Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for a 12-yard gain that moved the chains and sealed the game.
"We understand that there's a lot of great football teams in this division, and we have to be ready to go if we're going to get to where we want to be," Mahomes said. "We understand that, but we've been in these games before, and we know how to win them. So, at the end of the game, if it's close, I think that we're going to find a way."
Mahomes completed 27-of-44 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns in the game, finding Kelce for a 3-yard score on the Chiefs' opening possession. The score completed a 17-play, 91-yard drive that provided Kansas City with an early lead, but Denver didn't go away.
The Broncos found the end zone on each of their next two possessions to jump out in front, and despite a 14-yard touchdown reception by tailback Jerick McKinnon that briefly reclaimed the lead for Kansas City, Denver moved ahead yet again when Gordon broke free for a 47-yard score midway through the third quarter.
Chiefs' kicker Harrison Butker added a pair of field goals amidst all that scoring, pulling Kansas City within a single point, but the Broncos appeared to be on their way to the end zone once again until Ingram jarred the ball loose from Gordon and Bolton picked it up for his 86-yard touchdown.
The Broncos certainly didn't make it easy, but the victory marked Kansas City's 13th consecutive win over Denver, which is the longest winning streak over a single opponent in franchise history. It was also the Chiefs' 12th win of the campaign, making them only the fifth team in league history to win 12+ games in four-straight seasons. Additionally, Mahomes improved to a perfect 13-0 in his career on the road against divisional opponents.
Mahomes' favorite target throughout Saturday's game was wide receiver Mecole Hardman, who hauled in a team-leading eight grabs for 103 yards. It was a major performance that came at the perfect time, too, as fellow receiver Tyreek Hill injured his heel in warmups and was unavailable for much of the game.
"We practice hard, so I'm ready for those kinds of situations whenever they present themselves," Hardman said. "I was ready for the challenge, and we came out with a good win today…I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and make the most of it."
Hardman was sure to do just that, punctuating his impressive game with a 44-yard reception on the Chiefs' final drive that pushed the former second-round pick over 100 yards receiving for the first time in his career.
In terms of injuries, Reid mentioned that tailback Darrel Williams left the game early due to an injured toe. Reid added that Kelce, who appeared to be shaken up following his game-sealing reception, was fine.
The Chiefs, who locked up at minimum the No. 2 seed in the AFC on Saturday, will now wait to see how Sunday's action plays out to see who Kansas City will be taking on to kick off the postseason.