The Chiefs seek their first three-game winning streak of the season when they host the first-place Broncos.
Denver holds a two-game lead over Kansas City and the San Diego Chargers in the AFC West, but is 1-12 in its last 13 December games at Arrowhead.
Kansas City, meanwhile, has won 16 straight December home games and is 34-4 in its last 38 at Arrowhead in December. The Chiefs’ last home loss in this month was Dec. 15, 1996, against the Indianapolis Colts.
“Now, we’ve got ‘em at the right place,” Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said. “There’s no question that Arrowhead is a positive influence on a Kansas City Chiefs football team. Long before I ever got here, they established records in this stadium as of December 1st that are very tough to match. It’s a very positive influence on how your football team plays and a negative influence on how an opponent plays.”
The matchup with the Broncos could be viewed as a must-win for the Chiefs, who face a tough schedule the rest of the way. Including Denver, Kansas City’s remaining opponents are a combined 38-17 (.691), with road games upcoming against the Dallas Cowboys (7-4) and New York Giants (7-4) before the Chiefs return home for the Chargers (7-4) and Cincinnati Bengals (8-3).
First, the Chiefs face a Broncos team which ranks second in the NFL in rushing with 165.6 yards per game. Kansas City ranks fourth in that category (138.1 ypg) despite playing the last four games without four-time 1,000-yard rusher Priest Holmes.
Holmes was lost to head and neck injuries in Week 8, forcing the Chiefs to plug third-year player Larry Johnson into the starting backfield. The move has worked wonders—Johnson has rushed for 569 yards and five touchdowns the last four weeks, including a franchise-record 211 yards two weeks ago against the Houston Texans.
In a 26-16 win last Sunday over the New England Patriots, Johnson ran 31 times for 119 yards and Greg Wesley had three interceptions to secure the Chiefs’ second straight victory. Trent Green threw for 323 yards and one touchdown for Kansas City, which has yet to win three in a row this season.
Vermeil continues to hold praise for Johnson, who has 968 rushing yards after entering 2005 with 666 in his career.
“He has a passion to play the game,” Vermeil said. “He didn’t want to come out. He thinks Priest is still sitting on the bench. He’s a tough, tough guy. He’s been around football all of his life, so he understands all the concepts.”
Kansas City’s ground game has dominated the last six home games against Denver. In going 5-1 during that span, the Chiefs have rushed for 174.3 yards per game, an average of 60.8 more than the Broncos.
However, Denver owns the league’s top run defense (79.1 ypg) this season and has won five of the last seven meetings overall, rushing for 189.4 yards per game and 16 touchdowns.
The Broncos enter with four straight wins and a 9-1 mark since a season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins. They would like to avoid a familiar scenario against the Chiefs at Arrowhead, as Kansas City has halted four Broncos three-game-plus winning streaks there since 1996, the most recent a four-game run that ended with a 24-23 loss on Oct. 5, 2003.
Jake Plummer had arguably his best game at Arrowhead that day, throwing for 220 yards and one touchdown, but the Broncos quarterback has yet to win in four career games there.
In venues where he’s played a minimum of four games, his 56.8 passer rating at Arrowhead betters only Texas Stadium (54.6 rating in six games) and FedEx Field (47.1 rating in five games).
In a 24-21 overtime win on Thanksgiving over the Cowboys, Plummer completed 15 of 24 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown. His streak of pass attempts without an interception ended at 229 when he was picked off by Terence Newman in the second quarter.
“I was going to bench him after that interception but he said he’d never throw another one,” joked Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.
Filling in for an injured Tatum Bell, Ron Dayne ran 55 yards on the second play of overtime and Jason Elam followed with a 24-yard field goal to move the Broncos to 9-2 for the third time in Shanahan’s 11 seasons.
Dayne finished with 98 rushing yards, his most since Sept. 30, 2001.
“Being able to help the team win is all I can ask for,” Dayne said. “I haven’t been upset about not playing. I just wanted to show the stuff I have. It was a lot of fun.”
Bell returned to practice earlier in the week and may play against Kansas City. If he’s unable to go, Dayne and Mike Anderson will continue to carry the load.
Anderson has 502 rushing yards and four touchdowns in eight career games against the Chiefs.
Kansas City holds a 50-40 advantage in the all-time series. Seven of the last 11 meetings at Arrowhead have been decided by three points or less.