The Broncos are 2-0 on the young season after a wild ending that included two touchdowns nine seconds apart by the Broncos in the final minute. Manning led Denver on an improbably speedy 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game with 36 seconds left, and the Broncos' defense did the rest with a scoop-and-score fumble return by cornerback Bradley Roby just one play from scrimmage later.
Perhaps Manning was so obviously savoring this moment, because it came after such a brutal week and brutal three quarters. With much of the football cognoscenti wondering if Manning had lost "it," he again took a ton of big hits and made a number of ugly throws Thursday night. One of his passes was returned for a touchdown for the second straight week, and the Chiefs could have picked off at least three or four more passes. This win doesn't erase all the question marks. And yet he came through during the moments he absolutely needed to.
It was a night where the wildly talented Broncos defense kept bailing Manning out, and giving him more chances. (They forced four turnovers, and special teams forced another.) He finally delivered when the Broncos went to a no-huddle, hurry-up offense out of the shotgun that looked like the Broncos from 2012-2014.
After falling behind 14-0 in the first half, the Broncos appeared to ditch much of coach Gary Kubiak's principles and favor Manning out of the shotgun formation. An 80-yard drive late in the second quarter helped turn the game around. When he got the ball back with 2:27 left in regulation trailing by seven, Manning drove the team down the field with a huge assist from Demaryius Thomas' strong catches. Manning continually picked on Chiefs cornerback Jamell Fleming. Manning looked far more comfortable when operating without a huddle -- imagine that.
Make no mistake: Manning is a supporting player compared to the team's incredible defense. For the second straight week, the Broncos' defense scored a touchdown and made a game-winning turnover. This time the key play came from linebacker Brandon Marshall, who forced Jamaal Charles to fumble with a little more than 30 seconds left. Roby did the rest, delivering one of the most brutal home losses imaginable to the Chiefs.
The Chiefs should have never lost. Charles, who rushed for 125 yards and a score, also lost a fumble in the red zone in the first half. Alex Smith threw a brutal interception in the fourth quarter, his second of the game. The Chiefs' defense -- which looks far better this year -- dominated the Broncos up front. They stuffed Denver's running game (61 yards on 21 carries) and hit Manning repeatedly. For most of the game, Manning looked like the same shaky veteran from last week who couldn't complete a deep-ball pass. He rushed throws because of his poor protection.
It's worth noting that the Broncos' best offensive drive in successive weeks came in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Figuring out how to balance Kubiak's vision with Manning's skills in the no huddle will be a huge part of the Broncos' season.
In the meantime, Manning can pick his spots while riding the coattails of an epic defense. DeMarcus Ware looks 10 years younger, and the Broncos' defense has big playmakers at every level. The recipe has changed, but the early leader in the AFC West remains the same.