Chiefs vs. Broncos score: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City squeak by Denver in regular-season finale

The Kansas City Chiefs extended their win streak over the Denver Broncos to 13, as Patrick Mahomes bested Drew Lock, 28-24. Kansas City was actually facing a four-point halftime deficit thanks to two first-half rushing touchdowns from Lock, but a second-half surge got the Chiefs into the win column, and gives them a chance at the No. 1 seed in the AFC should the Tennessee Titans lose to the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Mahomes completed 27 of 44 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns. Tyreek Hill injured his heel pregame, and played limited snaps. With him out, Mecole Hardman was the leading receiver for Kansas City with eight catches for 103 yards on 11 targets. 

While a win is a win, this wasn't exactly the kind of defensive performance the Chiefs wanted to put on tape heading into the postseason. The Broncos racked up 191 rushing yards, led by Melvin Gordon's 110 yards. Denver also scored each of its three touchdowns on the ground. Apart from the defensive front allowing ball-carriers to break into the second and third levels, those in the secondary struggled to tackle as well.

Let's take a deeper look into what happened on Saturday night. 

Why the Chiefs won

Saturday night was not the Chiefs' best outing as a team, but Mahomes' steady hand in leading the offense ensured a Kansas City victory. The Chiefs punted just twice on Saturday night, and the offense put together several long drives which helped everyone settle down. Mahomes and Co. opened up the game with a 17-play, 91-yard drive which ended with a touchdown, and closed the game with a nine-play, 66-yard drive which dripped the clock down from 4:37 to triple zeros. 

Mahomes was also the Chiefs' leading rusher with 54 yards on nine carries. There were several plays where he made the correct decision to tuck and run with all options blanketed downfield, including a 25-yard pickup on the first drive of the second half. Without Hill in the passing game, Hardman caught eight passes for 103 yards and Byron Pringle caught five passes for 56 yards. This wasn't the most explosive Kansas City's offense has looked, but it did enough to secure the win while the defense struggled. 

Why the Broncos lost

Despite being double-digit underdogs, the Broncos entered the fourth quarter with a four-point lead. The ground game was efficient, Lock made some nice tosses downfield and the defense was limiting big plays from the Chiefs. However, a fourth-quarter collapse erased Denver's lead and sent them into the offseason with an L.

For one, a missed block which led to a fumble which then turned into a Nick Bolton scoop-and-score gave the Chiefs the lead early in the final stanza. Then, head coach Vic Fangio made the controversial decision to kick a field goal on fourth and 9 from the Chiefs' 13-yard line with 4:37 left in the game, electing to cut the lead to four points instead of going for the tie. Denver still had a chance for a game-winning drive if the defense could stop Mahomes, but instead the Chiefs picked up three first downs and ran out the clock.

Hours before kickoff, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported that the Broncos are expected to part ways with Fangio. How Saturday's game ended will not help his chances in retaining his position.

Play of the game

Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Broncos were deep in Chiefs territory looking to build on their one-point lead. On second and 2 from the Chiefs' nine-yard line, Melvin Ingram met Melvin Gordon in the backfield and forced a fumble. The rookie Bolton picked up the loose ball and returned it 86 yards to take back the lead. It was certainly the play of the game.

Turning point

Fangio's decision to kick a 31-yard field goal to cut the deficit to four points instead of going for a touchdown on the Chiefs' 13-yard line was one that was booed in Denver and bemoaned by all football fans on social media. Even so, the Broncos still had a chance to win.

The Chiefs got the ball back with 4:37 left in the game, and Denver needed a stop. Instead, on the first play of the eventual game-sealing drive, Hardman took a short pass 44 yards into enemy territory. It marked the beginning of the end. 

Tyreek Hill's injury

According to ESPN's Laura Rutledge, Hill hurt his heel in pregame warmups. He was targeted twice in the passing game in the first half, but made zero catches and was seen limping around on the field. He caught just one pass for two yards in the second half, although it was a clutch fourth-down conversion.

It was curious as to why Hill was out on the field blocking and running routes on his injured heel. His status heading into the playoffs is something to keep an eye on.

"I knew about him before the game," head coach Andy Reid said, via Chiefs Wire. "He tweaked it in the warmups. He's had that before, the heel. He just landed on it funny and he told me that it was hurting him."

Quotable

"Man listen, we're going to put some Texans gear on -- some shirts, you know-- and just root for them." 

What's next

The Chiefs will be watching the Titans vs. Texans game on Sunday, hoping for a Tennessee loss. If Mike Vrabel's squad wins, the Chiefs will be the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and likely face the winner of the Los Angeles Chargers vs. Las Vegas Raiders matchup. As for the Broncos, they will now begin their offseason.

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The Broncos could have had a chance for a game-winning drive but the defense just couldn't hold. 

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That decision to kick the FG looks worse and worse. 

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@Chiefs via Twitter
January 9, 2022, 12:17 AM
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This feels like an incredibly important series for both teams. Chiefs can potentially seal the deal with a stop while the Broncos can tie the game. 

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@Chiefs via Twitter
January 9, 2022, 12:04 AM
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And just like that! Melvin Ingram crushes Melvin Gordon, and the rookie Nick Bolton goes for six! 

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Drew Lock is slowly and methodically moving the ball down the field. 

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@Chiefs via Twitter
January 9, 2022, 12:03 AM
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@Chiefs via Twitter
January 8, 2022, 11:51 PM
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That was the right decision to go for it. A bit surprised they threw it to Hill, who is dealing with that heel injury. 

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Both teams are shooting themselves in the foot with penalties this half. 

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Tim Patrick apparently didn't have control long enough. He was bobbling all the way before it popped out while he turned upfield. Disaster averted, but it's still third and 20.

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Whoa! That looked like a fumble to me in live time! 

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@Broncos via Twitter
January 8, 2022, 11:36 PM
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Ojemudia is stepping up for the Broncos with them missing Darby and Surtain. Pretty great day for this secondary overall. 

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Broncos weren't rattled by the Chiefs taking back the lead. Melvin Gordon busts off a 47-yard touchdown run to put Denver back on top. KC's run defense is absolutely horrendous right now. Just tackling in general as well.,

5 plays, 75 yards, 1:41 21-17 Broncos

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What a MONEY BALL from Drew Lock on third and long. 

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