DENVER -- Between quarterback Peyton Manning's quick release and just enough blocking by the Denver Broncos' front line, the Kansas City Chiefs' fierce pass rush was held at bay -- and their undefeated record was ended.
Manning was not brought down by the team that entered play as the league leader in sacks, and the Broncos (9-1) handed the Chiefs (9-1) their first loss of the season, 27-17 Sunday night in a matchup between two of the best teams in the NFL.
Rookie running back Montee Ball scored two touchdowns for Denver.
"The protection was great," Manning said. "The running game was solid. We had a good mix. The guys up front did a great job and answered the bell. They had a great challenge against an excellent defense and an excellent pass rush. Those guys did an outstanding job, and it was critical to the game tonight."
Manning, playing with a protective wrap around his sore right ankle and wearing gloves on his hands to ward off the cold, threw his 34th touchdown pass of the season as Denver (9-1) moved into a tie atop the AFC West with Kansas City (9-1).
The Chiefs became the last team in the league to take a loss this season.
"We played a good football team and they got us today," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "We had opportunities to score off the (defensive) stops that we made. We didn't follow up offensively. We didn't take full advantage of that."
The game marked a rare late-season showdown between teams with the best records in the AFC. The combined winning percentages of the Chiefs and Broncos going into the contest (.944) was the highest between opponents this late in the year since Dec. 7, 1969, when the Minnesota Vikings (10-1) played the Los Angeles Rams (11-0), with the Vikings coming out on top 20-13.
"To control your own destiny, you have to win these division games," Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker said. "They were the No. 1 team, and we were able to find a way to win. Now, we control the division, and I think that's our biggest mindset, week in, week out, we got to get better."
The Broncos' top-scoring offense, though slowed, still finished with the most points this season against the Chiefs, who came in with the NFL's stingiest defense. Moreover, the Chiefs, who entered with a league-high 36 sacks, were unable to get to Manning all night.
"We knew this was going to be a game where you had to play well in the trenches," said Jack Del Rio, the Broncos' interim head coach. "We talked all week about feeling like we've done a pretty good job all year of keeping our quarterback from being hit and being hit very often. I thought they responded well."
Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith completed 21 of 45 for 230 yards and two touchdowns, including a 10-yarder to tight end Anthony Fasano with 4:56 remaining that was upheld on replay review.
Officials initially ruled Fasano was out of bounds, but the replay showed he managed to get both feet down before falling beyond the back line of the end zone.
After a punt, the Chiefs got the ball back with 3 1/2 minutes left and managed to get the Broncos' 45, but Smith's fourth-down pass fell incomplete. The Chiefs got the ball back one more time, with 55 seconds remaining, but ran out of time without making any headway against the Broncos' defense.
"To come here and come up short hurts and stings," Smith said. "It's good in some ways. We have to find a way to deal with it. How many teams have ever gone undefeated in the history of football? We have to find a way to get better. ... These games keep getting bigger."
What the Broncos said
"That obviously makes it harder when a quarterback operates the way (quarterback Peyton Manning) does. He's one of the best. That's one of the things that has always made him difficult to deal with. It can get frustrating. But I thought we did enough to win tonight." -- Interim Broncos coach Jack Del Rio, on how Manning's quick release helped negate the Kansas City Chiefs' pass rush.
What the Chiefs said
"We lost. It's one thing to say that offenses are catching up to us just because we lost one game. They made some plays and made more plays than we did. Our defense is still very good. We aren't hanging our heads over anything, and we are going to get back to work and get ready for next week." -- Cornerback Sean Smith.
What we learned about the Broncos
1. Rookie running back Montee Ball just might be the short-yardage runner the Broncos were looking for. He had two touchdown runs, showing strength and second-effort on a 1-yard score and flashing speed on an 8-yard sweep around right end. "Loved it," interim Broncos coach Jack Del Rio said. "He has a nose for the end zone, and that's one of the reasons he was drafted and brought here. He was a productive ball carrier in college, and it was great to see him get a couple of scores tonight."
2. Demaryius Thomas established himself as the big-play wide receiver in Denver's offensive attack. Thomas had five catches for 121 yards, including a 70-yard reception that set up the Broncos' first touchdown. He averaged 24.1 yards per catch. So far, Thomas has two of the Broncos' three longest plays from scrimmage this season; he caught a 78-yard touchdown pass in the season opener. The Sunday night effort marked his 13th career 100-yard receiving game.
What we learned about the Chiefs
1. Opposing offenses are attempting to negate the Chiefs' pass rush by focusing on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly. Kansas City came into Denver with a league-leading 36 sacks, but the Chiefs have only one sack in the past four games, and they didn't lay a hand on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in a 27-17 loss Sunday night. "This league is a copycat league, so whenever something is working against you, other teams are going to do it," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
2. The Chiefs are about to find out how resilient they are in the aftermath of their first loss of the season. Most teams have bouts of adversity during the course of the season, and how they respond will shape long-term success. The Chiefs tried to keep the loss in perspective. "We aren't going to lose our confidence," Johnson said. "We are a good team; We're 9-1 right now. At the same time, we know that we need to get a handle on Denver. If we want to go all the way, then we need to figure out a way to beat Denver."