For the second week in a row, the Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) lost an AFC West divisional game on national television.
This week it was the Denver Broncos (9-3), who didn't lean on their future Hall of Fame quarterback to get their AFC West-leading ninth win of the season, but rather grinded it out with a running attack led by second-year running back C.J. Anderson.
After Anderson's 27-carry, 167-yard performance last week in the Broncos' comeback win over the Miami Dolphins, the blueprint was laid for how this Broncos offense might look as a run-first team, and that's exactly what they were on Sunday.
Anderson finished the game with a career-high 32 carries for 168 yards, helping the Broncos dominate the time of possession, 38:47 to 21:13.
"There's really not a phase that I can point to that was a positive in this game," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game. "I do know we have a high character team and that they will work like crazy to get back and do better than this."
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning finished the game 17 of 34 for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
In the first meeting between these two teams, the Chiefs offense converted 11 of 16 third downs and outgained the Broncos in total yards, 380 to 325.
But Sunday was a different story completely; the Chiefs converted just 1 of 9 third downs and were outgained 388 to 151 in total yards.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith spoke of the performance after the game.
"Early on in this game we couldn't sustain any drives," Smith said of the offense. "Our defense was on the field the majority of that first half of the game and we couldn't help them out.
"To start off the game with those three-and-outs like that, you're just not helping the team, and not getting in any rhythm hurt us."
Reid agreed that mistakes and lack of rhythm hurt the Chiefs offense.
"There were too many things here to really hit between the special teams errors—the interception, the turnovers—there were just too many things," Reid explained. "We could never get it back on track completely and get into any kind of rhythm."
The two special teams plays to which Reid is referring were both punt returns. On the first, the Broncos ran a fake that resulted in a 13-yard run by David Bruton on fourth-and-7. That play came just after the Chiefs accepted a penalty that forced another try on fourth down.
The other was when Chiefs coverage-man Marcus Cooper allowed a punted ball to errantly bounce off his leg and the Broncos recovered.
"I really feel like the last two weeks are uncharacteristic of who we are as a team and it'll be a little bit of that a little bit of a gut check time," Smith said. "There's still a lot of football left, a lot of meaningful football left for us.
"It's going to be a matter of what we do with it. A little bit like the start of the season I think."
Smith finished the game 15 of 23 for 153 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
While the offense struggled for most of the game, the Chiefs defense played well enough to keep giving the offense chances to get back into it.
After starting 5 of 5 on third down, the Broncos offense finished by converting just 4 of their last 16 third-down attempts.
In the second half, Manning went 4 of 14 for 43 yards and the Broncos offense could only muster three second-half field goals despite averaging more than 30 points per game this season.
"The defense kept us in it with some good holds down there in the red zone," Smith said. "We still had a chance we just couldn't do anything to get that going and get back into the game."
The 50 percent completion percentage was the lowest of the season for Manning, and his 179 yards passing marked the first time he's been held under 200 yards passing since Week 12 of last season (vs. New England).
But the Broncos didn't need to throw the ball on this chilly Kansas City night because they were finding all kinds of success on the ground with Anderson.
"We knew to give us a chance to win, we had to stop the run and we didn't do it," linebacker Justin Houston said. "It's football, you're going to have ups and downs. We'll use it as motivation and continue to work hard, put this behind us and don't let it beat us again."
Photos from the Chiefs Week 13 matchup against the Denver Broncos
Reid spoke after the game about the defense's struggles to stop the run over the last two weeks.
"There are things we can work on to get better," Reid said. "That's what we've got to do. Schematically, we will go back through and make sure we are putting the guys in that position where they can make plays. I know we have to do a better job tackling. I do know that, I saw that.
"When you're in a position to make tackles you've got to do that. We've been a good tackling team and the last couple weeks we haven't done very well."
Early in the second half, the Chiefs were given a couple of opportunities to get back in the game after the Broncos offense had a couple of abnormal miscues.
On the Broncos' first possession of the second half, Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston picked up his NFL-leading 14th sack of the season by bringing down Peyton Manning on third down.
Houston also forced the fumble on the play and after the Chiefs recovered the ball, he and the defense gave the Chiefs offense fantastic field position to begin the second half as they trailed by a score of 20-7.
But the offense could only muster a field goal after the Broncos giveaway.
On the Broncos' next offensive series, Manning missed an open Emmanuel Sanders on third down and the Chiefs were once again given a break.
On the Chiefs' first play after the ensuing punt, Smith's pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage and the ball was intercepted by DeMarcus Ware.
Those were two huge opportunities with not much to show for it from the Chiefs offense early in the second half, and that became a major takeaway from this game.
The Chiefs fall right back into the thick of the AFC playoff picture with four games remaining, and they'll look to get back on track next Sunday as they head to Arizona to take on the Cardinals.