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Horse Tracks: defense, ground game, field goals ... oh my!

There were no lions, tigers or bears, and Peyton Manning was no wizard, but the Broncos definitely pulled the "no place like home" monkey off their backs and used a lot of heart and brains while strapping together as solid a game as they've played all season in the 29-16 victory over the Chiefs at Arrowhead.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country!

Who would have thought a year ago that the Broncos would need to win a game with its defense, a 200-yard running attack, five field goals and some bold play-calling (and heck, who would have thought last month we could do any of those)?

But that was exactly what happened Sunday night.

Heading in to a severely windy and frigid 23-degree Arrowhead Stadium, the Broncos looked in the first quarter like they had finally put together the complete game - a tough defense and an intimidating, balanced offense for the whole game.

Part of that was true. While the Broncos D came to play and the running game was remarkable once again, Manning and his offense couldn't quite put the game away as they hoped, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns for three quarters of the game.

"I like it," said Manning of the offensive scheme that ended up with 45 running plays versus 34 passing attempts. "We kept their defense on their heels tonight. We certainly moved the ball well the entire game - mainly running the ball. The red zone was disappointing; we had some chances and thought we put the game away earlier, but getting off to a fast start was important."

But if there's solace in that - and there definitely is - it's that this team can win even when Manning is less than perfect.

The Broncos defense forced a three-and-out on Alex Smith and the Chiefs in their opening drive, setting a tone for the game that kept Chiefs fans from ever getting too cocky. And even sending half the stadium home before the fourth quarter ended.

"We dominated. It started up front. The O-line and the D-line dominated. And we followed their lead," said Chris Harris Jr. "As long as we can continue to dominate the trenches like that, we're going to be tough to beat."

Following the defense's impressive stand to start the game, the Broncos offense marched down the field like a boss, thanks to C.J. Anderson and some sweet catches by Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, who capped the first drive with a 23-yard touchdown on a 3rd-and-6 play that showed blitz.

Thomas, who caught six passes for just 63 yards, still managed to hit another milestone this game - tying Terrell Owens for having three consecutive seasons with more than 1,200 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. Thomas and Owens are fifth on the all-time list, which is topped by Jerry Rice at seven seasons.

"It helps all around to have the passing game and a running game," Thomas said after the game, adding that the goal was for the offense to score first and the defense to prevent the Chiefs from getting it done.

It was important that the offense got on the board first and defense held them to three and out. Do it every week, every man on the field...and we should come out with a win. -Demaryius Thomas

"It was important that the offense got on the board first and defense held them to a three and out," he added.  "Do it every week, every man on the field, you do your job and we should come out with a win. ...If we can keep that up, I think we will do pretty well for the rest of the season."

Following the Broncos touchdown, the defense forced two more three-and-outs plus a sack to finish out the first quarter. Manning connected to Anderson on a 3rd-and-11 swing pass for a second touchdown, and the Broncos were on a roll.

"We wanted to establish the run early and those two touchdowns were critical to get off to a fast start in a hostile environment," said Peyton Manning after the game.

But after going 5-for-5 on its first five third-down conversions, the offense showed weakness in the red zone and settled for five straight field goals the rest of the game.

Luckily for Manning - who couldn't complete a pass to save his life in the second half, going 17 of 34 for 179 yards on the night - the defense finally held its opponent to under 17 points (16 against the Chiefs to be exact) and all but silenced Jamaal Charles, who had a mere 35 total rushing yards.

Terrance Knighton, who swatted an Alex Smith pass into the hands of DeMarcus Ware, said the defense did what it came there to do - make a statement.

"Everything we set out to do, we did," said Knighton.

Pot Roast also pointed out that his tip to Ware was rehearsed - or at least practiced.

"I told (Ware) it was an alleyoop. The guy that always catches the ball, he gets the attention," Knighton joked but added that they do tipping drills in practice. "DeMarcus was in the right place at the right time. He challenged the leaders on this team to make plays, and they did."

Yes, they did.

With six sacks, three take-aways, including one forced fumble, and holding the Chiefs to 41 rushing yards and 153 passing yards, it was one heckuva defensive effort that lasted the entire game.

And one that Von Miller was ecstatic about.

"It was great. Whenever we can pin our ears back and rush the quarterback, that's when we're at our best," Miller said. "We were able to do that late in the game. We were able to stop the run tonight. It was a good day for us. There's some stuff that we didn't do well. We knew coming into this game it would be a tough rivalry and it was."

Manning joined in the props for his D.

"Yeah, the defense really bounced back," said the quarterback. "They were determined to play better than last week, and they came in here and really dominated."

And thank goodness they did. Every time the Chiefs showed a little life, the Broncos defense would shut them down, allowing the Chiefs only one touchdown for a good part of the game and few first downs. Following the Chiefs' second touchdown in the fourth quarter, the defense prevented a two-point conversion, keeping it a 10-point game at 26-16.

"When you think about how you want to start a game, you have to stop Jamaal Charles; he's really big for their offense. You have to stop the run," said Ware. "And to get three consecutive three-and-outs, that was the momentum builder of the game. It's like, ‘hey we got this.' We didn't want to let the team linger around. We played consistent the whole game."

Ultimately it was all about Anderson keeping the ball in play by finding open lanes, breaking tackles and just running like a beast down that field.

With some nice help from that suddenly brilliant offensive line.

CJ gets 160 yards two weeks in a row. That's up a notch. He's been really special.   -Peyton Manning on C.J. Anderson

Anderson was still amazing on his own, logging a career-high 168 yards on 32 carries a week after his breakout game against the Dolphins, where he pulled in 167 yards.

"CJ gets 160 yards two weeks in a row. I'd say that's up a notch," Manning said of his favorite go-to man Sunday night. "He's been special. It's been huge for us."

But Anderson prefers to highlight the offensive line rather than his own running prowess.

"I just have to give it up to the big boys up front," Anderson said, adding that talking to the linemen on the sideline is helping their communication. "I'm starting to understand what they're going to do about blocking up front, and they know what kind of running I'm going to do."

168 yards or not, Anderson knows what's important: "It's all about the W, all I care about is wins."

And, of course, that "W" was due in large part to the 17 points new Broncos kicker Connor Barth put on the board - five field goals and two extra points - one more point than the entire Chiefs offense could manage.

Hitting field goals from 22, 24, 28, 33 and 37 yards, Barth was perfect in his first official night as a Bronco. Kicking that frozen ball in swirling winds was a far cry from what he was doing at his Florida home last week, but he didn't seem to mind.

Manning said Barth told him that last week at this time the new kicker was sitting out by the pool.

Thankfully, Barth kept kicking too and showed fans why the Broncos picked him.

The win over the Chiefs marks the 11th consecutive road victory against a divisional opponent, the second-longest streak in NFL history. It also brings the Broncos to 6-0 against the Chiefs since Manning joined the Broncos. Manning is 11-1 all time against the Chiefs.

This is a big win. Now we've just gotta keep on playing well.   -DeMarcus Ware, defensive end

But milestones like that do not concern Manning or the rest of the Broncos. The only stat that matters ultimately is that they improve to 9-3, with four more games to win.

"This was a big win," said DeMarcus Ware, who had a remarkable game, registering one sack, one interception and three tackles (two for a loss), while also moving up on the NFL's all-time sack list to No. 14 with 127, just above former Chiefs' Hall-of-Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas. "Now we've just gotta keep on playing well."

With San Diego knocking at the door and New England still within our grasp, that is the understatement of the season.

Horse Tracks - Broncos

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