KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It didn’t seem like 11 months to Brian Waters since Kansas City’s last victory.
“It seemed like 10 years,” said the veteran left guard, grinning ear-to-ear. “It’s a sigh of relief to be able to have a little bit of joy in your life.”
Larry Johnson, two weeks after complaining that he was being phased out, ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns to lead the previously winless Chiefs past the previously unbeaten Broncos 33-19 Sunday, snapping a franchise-record 12-game losing streak.
“It’s like getting the whole world off your back,” said rookie cornerback Brandon Flowers, whose 37-yard fumble return set up Johnson’s 1-yard TD run. “Twelve games, that’s real tough.”
The Chiefs had not won since Oct. 21, 2007. Until Nick Novak kicked the first of his three field goals in the first quarter, they hadn’t even held a lead since halftime against Tennessee on Dec. 16 — a span of 22 quarters.
“It was ridiculous,” safety Jarrad Page said. “Coming in here after that game was one of the best feelings I’ve had in the NFL.”
The Broncos (3-1) put up numbers befitting the highest-scoring team in the league. Jay Cutler threw for 361 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall. But he also was intercepted twice, and the Broncos gave up two fumbles.
“Bad decisions,” Cutler said. “You can’t have four turnovers offensively and score a lot of points. You know there’s a lot of football left. We’re still a good football team and we can’t go into a panic here.”
Johnson got the Chiefs off and running with a 65-yard run on their first possession.
“I think it helped everybody as far as everybody being explosive and everybody understanding that we could run the ball,” said Johnson, who has 319 yards rushing the past two games.
“When they came in, everybody was like, ’Oh, they’re 3-0. The Broncos are beating good teams,”’ Johnson said. “When that run happened, I think everyone opened their eyes and said, ’We can move the ball on this team.”’
The Chiefs did not seem to be out of danger until Tony Gonzalez snared a 10-yard touchdown pass that made it 23-13 with 12:40 to go.
But with 2:09 left, Denver’s Matt Prater kicked a 33-yard field goal that brought the Broncos to 26-19. Then Dantrell Savage’s 51-yard kickoff return and Johnson’s tackle-breaking 16-yard scoring run salted away a victory that Herm Edwards, coach of the win-starved Chiefs, had said would feel like “three Christmases rolled into one.”
“I thought our offense did a great job of running the ball and keeping their offense off the field,” Edwards said. “Our guys played with a lot of emotion and we took the ball away. Those kids deserve a win. Our fans deserve a win, too. I’ve never been in a drought like this before.”
The Broncos came to town one of five 3-0 teams, thanks in no small part to a series of lucky breaks that included an official’s premature whistle and New Orleans’ kicker Martin Gramatica’s inaccuracy.
In the early going, their luck seemed to hold as the Chiefs, with an offense averaging fewer than 11 points, turned early touchdown opportunities into short field goals. And at the end, for one blurring instant, Lady Luck appeared to be smiling once again.
On an onside kick after Prater’s field goal made it 26-19 with 1:43 left, Denver’s Spencer Larsen got his hand on the ball.
But KC’s Kolby Smith emerged from the pile with the ball and Johnson went 16 yards, breaking tackles, to clinch the win.
“I had it in my hands and it popped out,” Larsen said. “And it starts falling. And it was kind of floating there. After I got hit, I could see the ball then, but I couldn’t do anything about it.”
In its first two possessions, Denver’s league-leading offense had a turnover, a sack and a shanked punt.
But the Chiefs failed miserably to capitalize. With a first-and-goal from the 9, they came away with only the first of Novak’s three field goals.
“It was just nice to get a lead,” said Damon Huard, one of three quarterbacks to start this season for Kansas City. “That’s the first time that’s happened in a while.”
Notes: It was Johnson’s 29th 100-yard game. Prater’s 56-yard field goal was the third-longest in Broncos team history but the longest kicked somewhere besides the thin air of Denver. ... It was the most points the rebuilding, youthful Chiefs had scored since 2006.
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