DENVER (AP)—Late in the first quarter, eyes on both sidelines widened as scores from the early games flashed on the scoreboard. The stakes were suddenly much higher.
The Broncos grabbed that chance, getting a team-record four touchdowns from rookie Clinton Portis to beat the Chiefs 31-24 Sunday and move into a tie for second in the AFC West.
“We knew this was a golden opportunity and we had to somehow find a way to win,” Portis said.
The Broncos did, but just barely.
Denver (8-6) seemed to be cruising after going up 28-7 on Portis’ fourth touchdown late in the third quarter, but the Broncos couldn’t shake Kansas City.
The Chiefs (7-7) scored 17 points in the final 15 minutes to get within 31-24, then got the ball back at their 39 with 1:50 left. Kansas City reached Denver’s 15 with 25 seconds left, but got knocked back by a penalty and failed on a desperation pass as time expired.
The loss all but assured the Chiefs would miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
“We had an opportunity, but didn’t get it done,” Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson said.
The last-second victory was a reversal of a trend that had knocked the Broncos from atop the AFC to the periphery of the playoff picture.
Denver opened the season 7-3, but lost four of its past five games to drop two games behind the Raiders in the AFC West. An inability to come through in close games proved to be the Broncos’ undoing, with the last three losses coming by a combined 12 points.
“I think last week was very tough on all of us,” said Broncos quarterback Brian Griese, 18-for-26 for 297 yards. “We found out that the only people that believe in us are us. There were a lot of people jumping off our ship. This team came together.”
The Broncos can thank Portis, who fought off the flu and two first-half fumbles.
Portis didn’t tell the coaches that he was sick, but still managed to run for three touchdowns and 130 yards, his third straight 100-yard game.
He had touchdown runs of 51 and 3 yards in the first half to offset two fumbles inside Kansas City’s 20, and had a 1-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter.
Portis capped the day with a spectacular 66-yard touchdown catch late in the third before finally telling coach Mike Shanahan that he was sick.
“I had nothing left. I told him when I came off the field,” said Portis, who tied a team rookie record with his seventh 100-yard game. “He was like, ‘can you go back in?’ “ told him to put Mike (Anderson) in, I didn’t have anything left.”
Portis wasn’t the only one running on reserves.
Richardson had to be carted off the field in the second quarter after separating his right shoulder, leaving the Chiefs without a regular fullback.
Tailback Priest Holmes had 161 yards on 18 carries for his fifth straight 100-yard game, but limped off with a strained right hip early in the fourth quarter. He left the stadium on crutches, but it was unclear how long he will be out.
“That was a scramble,” Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said.
Holmes’ 161 yards marked the first time Denver had given up 100 yards at home since San Diego’s Jermaine Fazande had 183 yards on Jan. 2, 2000—a span of 22 games. … The teams combined for 976 yards after getting 812 in Denver’s 37-34 overtime victory on Oct. 20. … Kansas City needs six points in the final two games to break the team record of 448 in a season, set in 1966. … It was the first time in the series’ last 15 games that the team that scored last didn’t win. … Portis has rushed for at least 100 yards in four of