KANSAS CITY -- Quarterback Peyton Manning's favorite tight end was on the sideline in street clothes. His favorite receiver was on the field, but he played most of the game with a shoulder injury that made him a one-armed pass catcher.
Manning did not blink -- he seldom does. Manning found other receivers in Denver's deep offensive talent pool and threw for 403 yards with five touchdown passes as the Denver Broncos established control of the AFC West by beating the Kansas City Chiefs 35-28 at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
With four games left in the regular-season schedule, the Broncos are 10-2 and hold a one-game lead over the 9-3 Chiefs, a team that Denver has beaten twice in the last three weeks.
"It's a big win because it was a division game," Manning said. "We played them two weeks ago in a tough game and we knew coming here it would be tough as well."
Coming into the game the Denver offense was without pass catching tight end Julius Thomas, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury. In the first quarter, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas injured a shoulder and was limited in what he could do in the Broncos' offense.
After throwing a pair of interceptions in his first nine pass attempts that created a 14-point deficit for the Broncos, Manning bounced back quickly, making up for those giveaways and the key was wide receiver Eric Decker, who caught eight passes for 174 yards and four of those receptions went for touchdowns of 41, 37, 15 and 1 yards.
"It just goes to show you that Peyton is going to find you if you get open," said interim head coach Jack Del Rio. "Clearly Eric had a great day with four touchdowns. We needed all of them. It was just a great team win that we had to have."
Even with one good arm, Thomas ended up catching three passes for 106 yards, including a 77-yard catch. The other touchdown throw was for 3 yards by running back Knowshon Moreno.
"I knew (Thomas) wasn't 100 percent and they doubled (Wes) Welker and in that scenario is going to draw single coverage," Manning said. "He played well. He ran good routes and we were able to get down the field. Eric was awesome."
The Chiefs' defense started strong, but was picked apart over the game's final three quarters by Manning, who completed 63 percent of his passes for an average of 11.5 yards per attempt. Manning was not sacked, although Kansas City got more pressure on him than they did two weeks ago.
"He's just amazing, the best," Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry said of Manning. "He always knows where to throw it and when to throw it."
Kansas City's offense struggled in the second half, scoring only a late touchdown and producing minimal yardage as quarterback Alex Smith was under constant pressure from the Denver pass rush.
What the Broncos said
"I think to be a good team down the stretch, you've got to build some toughness. I think that is pretty much what happened today. We got down early, and we had a lot of reasons to fold. We showed some toughness." -- CB Champ Bailey.
What the Chiefs said
"Get over this? We have got to get over this walking out the door. We can't sulk over this. We have to get ready to play another game. The season is not over." -- RB Jamaal Charles.
What we learned about the Broncos
1. Jack Del Rio went 3-1 in his stint as interim head coach of the Broncos and was rewarded with the game ball after the victory over Kansas City. "It was an honor to be called on," Del Rio said of stepping in to the lead role when head coach John Fox was forced to the sidelines due to heart surgery. "I realized it wasn't something I was going to be able to do myself. I was going to need everybody and I asked everybody to help and they did. I'm proud of the effort our guys gave. What we went through in the last month was really playoff-level football."
2. Lost in all the touchdown passes and over 400 yards of passing was the performance of rookie running back Montee Ball. With starter Knowshon Moreno active but limited because of a foot injury, Ball received most of the opportunities in the run game and finished with 117 yards on 13 carries, along with a 45-yard run. "For me, it was show up or shut up time," said Ball. "I was just really focused today and I just told myself to be decisive." His 45-yard run came with the Broncos backed up at their 5-yard line. Ball cracked through the gap between center and left guard and was eventually caught from behind. "It was one of our quick hitters," said Ball. "I broke a couple of tackles, but I know I am not the fastest (running back) out there."
What we learned about the Chiefs
1. The Chiefs have lost three games in a row, including two at Arrowhead Stadium. They continue to have problems winning in the AFC West and protecting their home field in the second half of the season. They are now 1-3 in the division with road trips ahead to Oakland and San Diego. In the last seven seasons (2007-13), they are 6-20 in December and a record of 2-11 on the road. As the regular season heads to a conclusion, they have three of the final four games on the road. "We still believe; it's a couple games and we can bounce back," said free safety Kendrick Lewis. "We've got to return, correct our mistakes and get right back on the playing field. We control our own destiny. We take care of business from here on out and everything is back to normal."
1. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning said it just "worked out that way" when he was asked if the Broncos offense was targeting Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper. Whether they were focused on him or not, Cooper knows he had a bad day. "As a corner, if you give up two plays or three plays, that's a terrible day for you," said Cooper. "It's just magnified because of what we do out there. We're the last line of defense. I wouldn't say it was my worst day or anything like that. I just have to continue to go out there and improve in practice and take it to the games."