A loss to Kansas City


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Denver Broncos packed a franchise-altering load of change into the final days of 2022.

The first day of 2023, however, featured more of the same.

A team in transition, the Broncos arrived here to the AFC West’s house of horrors with an interim head coach, a third offensive play-caller in 16 games and a roster depleted even further by injury than it was seven days previous when they were embarrassed by the Los Angeles Rams.

They changed their practice routine. They changed their return man. They heard no longer from the frenetic 42-year-old Nathaniel Hackett and instead from the sometimes stoic, sometimes smoldering 67-year-old Jerry Rosburg, in charge of his own sideline for the first time in a career that spans four decades.

By the time a blast of Christmas cold cleared out and a downright balmy New Year’s Day turned to evening, one constant of this franchise remained: They can’t figure out how to beat Kansas City.

The Broncos led as the game entered the fourth quarter, but MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes threw a pair of touchdown passes 2 minutes, 14 seconds apart on either side of a Russell Wilson interception and the Chiefs held off a late push from the visitors to notch a 27-24 victory, their 15th consecutive in this rivalry.

“I’m heartbroken for those guys because there’s a number of them in that room that unequivocally bought in and sold out,” Rosburg said. “The vision I had for how we play — not play calls, not what coverages we run, but how we play in the game, I saw evidence that guys were listening. I saw evidence also that whatever relationships and issues these players may have had with each other after going through all of this that they’ve gone through, it would have been easy to splinter.

“But I saw guys picking each other up off the mat.”

Sometimes late-season NFL games pit teams fighting for the same thing and sometimes, like Sunday, they instead feature franchises in diametrically different positions.

Wednesday marks an even decade for Andy Reid’s tenure in Kansas City and, paired with Mahomes, the NFL’s gold standard for stability. They’ve long since wrapped up their seventh consecutive division title. They needed a win against a last-place team on Sunday in order to stay in the hunt for the conference’s No. 1 seed.

Rosburg has been in charge of the Broncos for a week and has one game remaining before the season and his interim gig ends, the players go their separate ways and the Walton-Penner Ownership Group kicks its search for the 19th head coach in franchise history into high gear.

Rosburg has made it clear every time he’s stepped to a microphone that the days right in front of him are his sole focus.

“These players deserve and need to win a football game to close this thing out,” he said. “We’re planting seeds here. We want this thing to grow.”

Sunday’s game looked like growth. Denver quarterback Russell Wilson rushed for a pair of touchdowns and threw another to tight end Albert Okweugbunam, who saw his first major playing time since September.

The Broncos made a rare game-changing play with their special teams when Alex Singleton stripped Chiefs punt returner Kadarius Toney of the ball in the second quarter. One play later, Wilson waltzed into the end zone on a play called by offensive coordinator Justin Outten — his first time handling the duties in an NFL game — and Denver took a 10-6 lead.

“I think we all said it, we were embarrassed about last week,” Singleton said. “That’s not how we play and not how we want to play. I think today we played better. Obviously there’s one or two plays we’d like to have back, get off the field again or make another play, but we definitely were better.”

Before the game, members of the ownership group including Rob Walton, Carrie Walton-Penner and CEO Greg Penner chatted on the visiting sideline with Rosburg. Much of their football focus outside the three hours on Sunday these days is trained on finding a long-term leader for their football team. Perhaps they will point to this game with a candidate as one example of how close their team is to turning its fortunes.


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