Longtime Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt has always wanted his team to host a Thanksgiving game since the AFL-NFL merger. The NFL finally rewarded him with quite a matchup.
The Chiefs will try to win their fifth straight home game and pull into a tie with the Denver Broncos Thursday night when the AFC West rivals meet.
Kansas City hosted games on Thanksgiving three times during its first three seasons in the American Football League. Hunt’s team never got a chance to host one since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, and always wanted other cities to get the chance to host.
With the league’s television network broadcasting live games for the first time, it was a natural choice for Kansas City (6-4) to host the first Thursday night contest of the package.
“I think it’s important in a lot of ways,” Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said. “I think it’s important for Lamar Hunt that this game is here. That’s a good gesture by the league letting us play in this game.
“It’s the first time, but I think probably the most important thing is it’s the first NFL Network game that they’re actually going to televise to a national audience. So, they’re excited about it and I think our ownership and management had great foresight to think about this. It’s coming to fruition now.”
The importance is also reflected in the standings with Denver (7-3) and Kansas City both chasing first-place San Diego (8-2) in the AFC West. The Broncos are 3-1 in the division and the Chiefs 2-1.
The Chiefs have won the last three home meetings in the series and looking to avenge a 9-6 overtime loss Sept. 17 in Denver. They lost despite Larry Johnson’s 126 yards on 27 carries as Javon Walker had five catches for 79 yards, including a 24-yard reception that set up Jason Elam’s 39-yard field goal in the extra session.
“They’re a great home football team and (with) the holiday it’ll be louder than probably I’ve ever heard it,” Denver receiver Rod Smith said. “It’s a great challenge for us as a team to really see where we are.”
Kansas City played that game without Trent Green, who returned to action last weekend in a 17-13 victory over Oakland. Green, who missed eight games due to a concussion, completed 9-of-16 passes for 102 yards as Johnson—the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,045 yards—shouldered the load with 154 yards on 31 carries.
“I sensed his faculties were good,” Edwards said about Green. “He was well aware of everything that was going on—the game wasn’t too fast for him.”
The Chiefs are hoping All-Pro left guard Brian Waters will be back on the field after missing the last two games with a knee injury. Waters has returned to practice and is unsure whether he’ll be ready.
“I’m trying to see how things are feeling,” Waters said. “We don’t know for sure about Thursday. I feel better. I’m still not 100 percent.”
Edwards indicated that tight end Tony Gonzalez and linebacker Derrick Johnson are both questionable. Gonzalez, who has a team-high three TD receptions, sat out last week’s game with a sprained left shoulder.
Denver will have a shorter turnaround than Kansas City after losing 35-27 to San Diego on Sunday night. The Broncos blew a 24-7 lead in the third quarter and surrendered a season high in points.
“It’s an opportunity,” Smith said about Thursday’s game. “We played on national TV last week and we didn’t finish the way we needed to finish. We got a chance to redeem ourselves.”
The Broncos received bad news Tuesday when they learned that strong safety Nick Ferguson would be lost for the year. Ferguson underwent season-ending surgery Tuesday to repair a torn medial meniscus in his left knee, an injury he suffered in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss.
“It’s depressing,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. “He’s been playing really well for us, so it’s really disappointing. He finished the game (on a hurt knee). The fact he finished says a lot. We’re all proud of him and hope to get him back for next season.”
Denver’s Jake Plummer is completing just 54.3 percent of his passes and has a quarterback rating of 69.7—both lows in the AFC. Plummer was 13-of-28 for 183 yards and no touchdowns in Sunday’s loss.
The Broncos are the first team other than Detroit or Dallas to play on Thanksgiving in consecutive days after beating Dallas in overtime last season.
The home team has won the last eight meetings in the series.