KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There was a reason that none of Knowshon Moreno's Denver Broncos teammates came to check on his well-being as the star running back stood weeping on the sideline on Sunday afternoon.
They have seen it all before.
While Moreno's flood of tears during the national anthem sparked a social media frenzy after being captured by a CBS cameraman before the Broncos' crucial 35-28 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, it was no shock to his colleagues. It is a common occurrence in the Broncos' camp, be it at practice, on the way to games or in the locker room.
"The emotion always gets to me," Moreno told Yahoo Sports after the Broncos moved to 10-2 to retain command of the AFC West and move clear of the Chiefs (9-3), who have dropped three straight.
"I am just thinking about everything in general through your whole life, just balled up into one. Yeah, it helps me. Sometimes I don't even notice it, it just comes."
Though Peyton Manning hooked up with Eric Decker for four touchdowns, Moreno continued to play a significant role, adding a receiving touchdown of his own as the team bounced back from last week's overtime defeat to the New England Patriots.
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The Chiefs appeared poised to shut down Moreno and that extra attention opened up space elsewhere. Still, Moreno was productive beyond his 18 rushing yards on 15 carries, as highlighted by one second-half reception in which it took about four defenders to haul him to the ground after 31 yards. There were no tears that time, just an amusing celebration where he crawled out of the pile and signaled first down while lying prone on his stomach.
Manning might be as stoic as ever in public, but make no mistake, there is plenty of emotion in this Broncos team and a deep-rooted desire to go all the way this season. If defeats to New England and Indianapolis caused some to question their toughness, this performance, on the road against a motivated divisional rival, may have gone some way toward providing an answer.
Even if one of their stars began crying before the game began.
"The [tears] are actually toughness," said Moreno's friend and colleague, running back Montee Ball, who helped himself to a 117-yard rushing day. "I see it all the time. He does it in practice and he does it in games. It is all heart, it is his passion for the game. It is massive. We all feed off that energy. A lot of stuff sets him off. He just brings that energy when we need it."
This was an afternoon that could have gotten out of hand. Manning threw two early picks and for the first half the Chiefs and Alex Smith advanced the ball more efficiently than they have for most of the season, deserving of their 21-14 halftime lead.
But the Broncos dug deep, Manning and Decker started to fire, and the tables turned. By the time that duo schooled rookie corner Marcus Cooper one last time 44 seconds into the fourth quarter, momentum had shifted so completely that the contest looked over at 35-21.
Despite the Chiefs' skid, they still hold hope of reaching the playoffs and making waves there. Smith showed some of that when he took the ball downfield twice late on Sunday against the Broncos, once for a touchdown to move within seven before coming up short on the final drive at Denver's 13-yard line.
"We know what is at stake now," said running back Jamaal Charles, who became the first Chief to record four 1,000-yard rushing seasons. "We know we have to win the games to go to the playoffs. It is not like a national championship, it's not like the BCS. It is anybody's game from here."
True, but the AFC scenario is starting to tilt heavily toward the Broncos, with home-field advantage firmly in their own hands and only the San Diego Chargers' visit to Colorado in two weeks looming as anything like a pitfall.
Another boost arrived this week in the form of returning coach John Fox, who visited the squad at practice on Thanksgiving, has been cleared by doctors to resume work on Monday, and will be on the sideline at home against Tennessee on Sunday. The Broncos' delight at having Fox back was obvious by the rousing reception he was greeted with on Thursday.
"We are certainly glad to have Coach Fox back," Manning said. "Our team has faced a lot of adversity in a short time."
"With this latest obstacle conquered, it certainly looks like tears of joy for the Broncos.