Broncos running game works early, sputters late

The Broncos rushed for 153 yards in the first three quarters but only six in the decisive fourth.

DENVER – The Broncos used a ground attack to slow down Kansas City’s high-scoring offense on Monday night.

It was sound strategy, and it worked well for three quarters to the tune of 153 yards on the ground, but things turned in the fourth when Kansas City bled the clock with two long touchdown drives to pull out a 27-23 win.

Alternating between rookies Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay, Denver averaged 7.2 yards a carry. Lindsay (12 carries, 69 yards) and Freeman (eight carries, 67 yards) found holes in Kansas City’s defense through the first 45 minutes. In the last 15 the duo combined for six yards rushing on three carries.

Granted, the Broncos didn’t have the ball much in the fourth (the Chiefs held the ball for nearly 10 minutes) but when they had a chance to kill some clock with a sustained drive the Broncos essentially abandoned the run on a three-and-out series.

“We’ve got to do a better job late in the game,” quarterback Case Keenum said. “We’ve got to put together a drive; we can’t go three-and-out.”

Denver has found something with its rushing attack. The two rookies have dominated the carries and both became the first rookie duo to each have more than 60 yards rushing and a rushing touchdown in the same game.

“We have a great running back group, so being interchangeable in a game at any point in time definitely helps us out,” Freeman said.

BEAT THE CLOCK: Things looked up for the Broncos when, on third-and-7 from the Denver 46, the play clock ran out before Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes got the snap from center.

So the Chiefs should have been pushed back another five yards and faced a tougher odds with two minutes left.

Except the officials didn’t throw a flag, Mahomes completed a 35-yard pass to Demetrius Harris and three plays later Kareem Hunt scored a touchdown to put the Chiefs ahead 27-23.

The Broncos were understandably upset by the non-call and didn’t feel better after the officials explained the missed penalty.

“The ref came into the huddle and said the ref, that's his one job, and he just missed it,” Marshall said. “And one of our players was like, 'Well, if that's his one job how did he miss it?’ He was trying to say he was also looking at the quarterback. I don't know. How you miss that? That's crazy.”

That could have been a moot point had Denver not given up big yardage on the previous play. The Chiefs had second-and-30 on their own 31 but Mahomes scrambled and hit Demarcus Robinson for 23 yards to set up the 35-yarder.

“We’ve got to close that game out,” Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We have them second-and-30 and we just let them off the hook.”

KICKED AWAY: Denver signed punter Marquette King in the offseason to pin teams deep with big kicks. He didn't do that Monday night.

King had three punts for an average of 41 yards but with Denver clinging to a three-point lead in the fourth quarter he hit one for just 35 yards. It gave Kansas City possession at its 40 and less ground to cover for the winning touchdown drive.

King came into Monday with a 41.6 average, 15th in the NFL, despite playing two games at altitude.

“He’s got to perform better,” head coach Vance Joseph said. “We’re at home and it’s his job to flip the field. He’s got to play better.”

BROKEN RECORD: Entering Monday, Denver had won its last 65 games when holding a lead of 10 or more points in the fourth quarter. Kansas City scored the last 14 points to end that streak.