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12-05-2005, 03:42 AM
Standing tall

Two big stops lift Chiefs past Denver

By Rick Dean
The Capital-Journal

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The good news is, the Chiefs' offense seems to have returned to its 2004 form when Kansas City led in the NFL in total yards.

The bad news is, the Chiefs defense also returned to its 2004 form when ...

No, strike that. Don't even go there.

After giving up 283 yards and 21 points by halftime and reviving memories of last year's unit, one of the league's worst, Kansas City's unit became a winning defense when it held Denver to 105 yards and six points in the final 30 minutes.

More importantly, with two minutes remaining, they made a critical fourth-and-1 stop near midfield -- after a replay challenge confirmed they had done so -- to preserve their narrow 31-27 victory over the division-leading Broncos and remain alive in the AFC playoff picture with an 8-4 record.

"It came down to one play to win the game. Who's going to be better on that one play?" Jared Allen said of the play where he sliced in from his right defensive end position to hit Denver's Mike Anderson in the backfield.

"We read the play perfectly, the (run) blitz went perfectly and we stopped it," Allen added. "I think that showed our mental toughness and persistence."

Actually, it took several anxious moments for referee Bill Leavy to see on replay what his linesmen didn't upon initially signalling that Anderson advanced beyond the first-down marker at the Broncos 48.

"The runner was clearly short by a couple of feet of the 48-yard line," Leavy said.

The Chiefs consequently got the ball and the opportunity to kill out all but the final three seconds.

"I knew we'd hit him behind the line of scrimmage, but we got a horrible spot," said defensive tackle Lional Dalton. "That could have lost the game for us. Fortunately, coach (Dick) Vermeil threw out the challenge flag, and this one went in our favor for a change."

Indeed, Vermeil's luck on challenges this season has been lousy on a good day. But this challenge was a no-brainer.

"What did we have to lose but a timeout?" Vermeil reasoned. "It really wasn't close in our eyes. Mike White (the assistant coach who actually tends the red challenge flag) was standing right at the line, and he threw the flag before I yelled at him."

The two-minute stop was part of a standout fourth quarter in which the Chiefs yielded only a field goal. That came on the last of two interceptions of Trent Green and a return to the Chiefs' 44 at the start of the final period.

The defensive finish was in stark contrast to a staggering start in which Denver scored on its first possession. On that series, Anderson was barely touched during a 66-yard TD run on a screen pass. Free safety Greg Wesley whiffed on a last-resort tackle try, and Denver led 7-0 after a 52-second possession.

"It (stunk), but we got our act together and figured it out," Dalton said. "We knew we were still in it. It was early in the game and we knew it was going to be a shootout and that our offense had been playing great."

Kansas City's offense kept it close by matching Bronco big plays with counters of their own.

Trent Green answered Anderson with a 41-yard TD pass to a wide-open Dante Hall, the beneficiary of a blown coverage. A 57-yard bomb to Eddie Kennison set up Larry Johnson's short TD run, his first of two.

Denver's Jake Plummer countered with a 56-yard game-tying scoring drive, but Kansas City regained the lead when Green hit Tony Gonzalez with a 25-yard TD strike one snap after a 20-yard TD pass to Samie Parker was called back by penalty.

Denver tied the game at 21-all when backup quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt ran a quarterback draw for a 7-yard TD just 22 seconds before halftime.

But Kansas City's defensive regrouping started early in the second half when Kawika Mitchell got the second of two Plummer interceptions -- he has only six this year -- to set up the Chiefs at the Denver 20.

KC settled for a Lawrence Tynes field goal and a 24-21 lead that lasted seven minutes before a Jason Elam boot. But a defensive tone had been set.

"We felt at halftime that it was critical not to give them a score on that first drive," said Vermeil, noting Denver had scored on second-half opening drives in five of 11 previous games. "We got them off the field right away. We'd taken their best shots."

Almost all, anyway. Denver reclaimed a 27-24 lead on an Elam field goal with 13:31 remaining, but Kansas City countered one last time. Johnson's long run of his 140-yard day, a cutback scamper of 30 yards, highlighted a 70-yard drive he finished with his second TD of 4 yards.

The Chiefs had their four-point lead with 9:58 remaining. And this time the defense was up to the challenge on Denver's final two meaningful possessions.