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12-03-2005, 10:32 AM

The Broncos came into these teams’ first meeting with a 1-1 record,having been trampled by a lowly Miami team and narrowly beating San Diego at home. But a 30-10 stomping of Kansas City began a run of dominance — just one loss, by just one point — that has most observers agreeing that the Broncos are second only to Indianapolis in this year’s NFL hierarchy.

All season long, the Broncos have followed the template for winning they established in that game.The dynamic rushing duo of Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell combined for 145 yards on 25 carries. Quarterback Jake Plummer was efficient but threw primarily to veteran Rod Smith, who had 80 yards and a touchdown. Second receiver Ashley Lelie was a disappointment, catching just one pass.

Denver’s defense shut down the Chiefs’ running game, holding Priest Holmes to 61 yards and Larry Johnson to just 13 yards on eight carries. Denver’s pass defense has been vulnerable to wide receivers all season long, and Kansas City’s Eddie Kennison had 112 receiving yards and a touchdown in Week 3. But Denver is one of the league’s best defenses against tight ends, and they held future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez to just 29 yards on five catches.

But here’s the odd thing about the first meeting of these teams: While it fits the pattern of how Denver has played all season, the same is not true for Kansas City. The Chiefs who played the Broncos that day were almost nothing like the Chiefs who have played everyone else.

Kansas City has long had one of the league’s worst defenses against the run. That’s no longer true, thanks to the arrival of outside linebackers Kendrell Bell and Derrick Johnson. No team has run for more than 103 yards on Kansas City all season - except Denver, which gained 223 yards on the ground against them, including 56 yards on two end-arounds by Lelie.

Kansas City defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes to play an aggressive blitzing scheme that usually forces a lot of incomplete passes, but gives up a lot of yardage. Kansas City allows a 58.1% completion percentage — the eighth-best mark in the league — but gives up 240 passing yards a game, which ranks 29th. Plummer completed 72% of his passes against the Chiefs, but tallied only 152 passing yards.

The biggest difference for Kansas City since Week 3 is Johnson. In the four games since a spinal injury ended Holmes’ season (and perhaps his career), Johnson has rushed for an average of 142 yards a game and 4.9 yards a carry. He isn’t going to run against the Broncos the way he ran on Houston and Buffalo, but the Broncos won’t be holding him to 13 yards, either.

Still, the Chiefs will need more than a 100-yard game from Johnson to make up that 20-point deficit from 10 weeks ago. They’ll need the run defense that has played well against everybody else to show up against Denver as well.

This article appeared in Friday’s edition of the New York Sun. And yes, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh also both beat Green Bay between their first matchup and this week’s rematch. I couldn’t figure out how to toss that in without ruining the flow of the paragraph.