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Top 20 Games of 2015: No. 4 -- Broncos at Chiefs

Final score: Broncos 31, Chiefs 24

They say that even an aging boxer has a "puncher's chance."

Maybe so, but Manning's right hook, er, right arm was looking pretty feeble at Arrowhead on a Thursday night in Week 2.

It was a night the seemingly aging-before-our-eyes quarterback was mostly off. Yet, just when we thought he couldn't do it anymore, and the Chiefs would take a stranglehold on the division, Manning landed a soft right hook. A deadly right hook.

What a deal Broncos-Chiefs turned out to be.

Down 24-17, a stadium full of beer, Len Dawson jerseys, and Broncos hate was ready to pounce. Ditto the Chiefs pass rush. Manning had 80 yards to go, with 2:27 to play with and all of one timeout. Let's go.

First and 10 from the 20 ... Manning lofts a beauty of a back shoulder fade to Demaryius Thomas down the left sideline. Corner Jamell Fleming had exactly zero chance to make a play on the ball. Thomas got out of bounds, the clock stopped, and Denver was in business at the 42.

Two plays later, Manning targeted Thomas again for 17 yards, and suddenly the Broncos were in Kansas City real estate, with 1:54 to go and that timeout still in Manning's pocket.

Nothing comes easy in the late rounds. After two plays netted two yards, Manning and the offense faced a third-and-eight. The vet knew where he was going with the football, and in a move that was totally unlike him, Manning stared down Thomas. Yet, instead of delivering a throw that could be picked, he lobbed a 50-50 ball his athletic receiver was able to win by boxing out Marcus Peters as though he were Kenneth Faried or Alex English. Tack on 15 more yards for the Sheriff.

After a Chiefs holding penalty put Denver at the 19, Manning misfired on two passes, leaving him with another third-and-a-mile.

This is where we thought the run was over. No more 50-50 balls could be afforded here. A 39-year old Nolan Ryan fastball was needed here, not a 39-year old Tim Wakefield knuckler.

Emmanuel Sanders, ran a beautiful stutter post against single coverage, leaving a window a younger Manning would have exploited with ease. The 39-year old version zipped it to Sanders with as much horsepower as he could produce. Mid-flight the ball seemed to put Maverick's airbrakes on it, losing a little something, yet this time Viper did not fly right by. The pass fluttered nicely into Sanders mits.

That last timeout was still burning a hole in Manning's pocket, and we had a tie game.

Play of the Game

How the heck did Manning, who looked more like father Archie in his final days with the Oilers, pull that off game-tying touchdown? Wait a minute. Kansas City has the football with 35 seconds left and a timeout. They could do something here.

From the 20, Andy Reid called a safe run play to his top guy, Jamaal Charles. Pop it for 20, and you are cooking with grease. Get stopped? No big whoopie. That is until Brandon Marshall pulled the best strip job of the season (well, until his teammate did the same to Cam Newton five months later in the Super Bowl). Bradley Roby scooped it up to the house, and the Broncos had a win for the ages. Or the fourth best of 2015.

Head Scratcher

How the Chiefsgot better last season following Jamaal Charles injury defies explanation. Charles has long been considered one of the top 25 players in pro football, yet there is no getting around the fact that Kansas City won 11 games in a row after he went down. The Chiefs rushing game was ranked 14th in the league with Charles, but the 1,495 yards they ran for in the 11 games without him was sixth overall.

A sleek answer to this conundrum is Alex Smith picking up the slack. After Charles got hurt, Smith started taking off, averaging over 35 rushing yards per game in his absence. In fact, Smith ended up averaging more yards per carry (5.93) than Russell Wilson (5.37) or Cam Newton (4.82).

From the Boxscore

Let me get this straight ... the Chiefs went 1-4 in the red zone, suffered a minus four turnover differential, and didn't convert a third down all night, and they were in position to win at the end? Unreal.


Watching this game again, it is absolutely amazing to see how allergic the Chiefs defensive backs are to the football. It was like they were trying not to catch Manning's errant throws. Kansas City secondary dropped at least three catchable interceptions. Heck, Marcus Peters dropped a sure pick three times on one play! Well, I guess that's why they are corners and safeties, and not wide receivers.

To Peters' credit, he did nab one of Manning's ill-advised decisions, taking it to the house to provide Kansas City with a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter. All told, the dynamic rookie stole eight passes from quarterbacks in his rookie campaign.

Butterfly Effect

One of those potential takeaways could've not only won the game, but altered the course of the season. Had the Chiefs held on to win this Thursday night thriller, they would've finished 12-4 and won the division (and a first-round playoff bye), while the Broncos secured the fifth spot. Moreover, Gary Kubiak's outfit would have travelled to Houston (where he coached for eight seasons) for the Wild Card. Had they won there, the Broncos would have ended right back at Arrowhead Stadium. How about that?

Why This Game is No. 4

Broncos at Chiefs was one of the first games I thought of when building this list, as it had a mixture of everything you want from a top contest:

 » It was a hard-fought division game
 » Had an exciting and unexpected ending
 » For an early regular season game, it had major playoff repercussions

In some ways this Week 2 masterpiece was a foreshadowing of what was to come from the 2015 season. Peyton Manning, who people were putting out to pasture mid-game, would linger there in people's minds several times throughout the season, only to come back and win the whole enchilada. The Thursday night contest at Arrowhead was the first instance of Manning coming back from himself.

Off the subject, but really, how often does Broncos-Chiefs disappoint?

Visit NFL Game Center for more highlights and analysis from Broncos at Chiefs, Week 2.

-- by Elliot Harrison. Follow Elliot on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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