Chiefs deny Broncos a chance at playoff berth |

Chiefs deny Broncos a chance at playoff berth

Pat Graham
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton is tackled by Kansas City defensive end Tamba Hali in the fourth quarter as the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos 44-24 in an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010, in Denver. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)
AP | FR170036 AP

DENVER – A sizzling start for the Denver Broncos dissolved into a fizzle of a finish.

And just like that, the Broncos are out of the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

Not exactly what they had in mind after a 6-0 start.

The Kansas City Chiefs thwarted any last-ditch notion the Broncos had of gaining a postseason spot when Jamaal Charles rushed for a franchise-best 259 yards and linebacker Derrick Johnson returned two interceptions for TDs in a 44-24 rout Sunday.

The Broncos finished the season the exact same way they did last year – a blowout loss to a division opponent with a possible playoff spot hanging in the balance.

While last year’s late-season collapse cost Mike Shanahan his job and led to the hiring of Josh McDaniels, this one may only leave a sour taste.

The Broncos (8-8) went into their finale with a thinned receiving crew after Eddie Royal was held out with a neck injury and McDaniels deactivated Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler for disciplinary reasons.

McDaniels had accused Marshall, his top offensive weapon, of exaggerating a hamstring injury. Just like Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler before him, might Marshall be on his way out the door?

That may be a conversation for another time, not after an emotional loss. But the tone behind McDaniels’ message of benching Marshall definitely registered.

“We had the guys that wanted to play in the huddle,” quarterback Kyle Orton said. “I appreciate coach for his decision. We’re trying to win games and we’re trying to build something special and sometimes you have to make tough decisions. And I stand behind him. I know the other guys do as well. I just appreciate him having a direction for this football team.”

It was a struggling Kansas City team, not Denver, that played with playoff purpose.

The Chiefs (4-12) rolled up 524 yards of offense against a defense that had been one of the tops in the league for most of the season.

Charles led the way, galloping through gaping holes in Denver’s line. He easily toppled Larry Johnson’s franchise record of 211 yards late in the fourth quarter, and could’ve challenged Adrian Peterson’s NFL’s single-game mark of 296 yards had he wanted to.

But he encouraged coach Todd Haley to give little-used tailback Javarris Williams some work.

“I didn’t really want to get it because I want it to be in a game when it’s competing time – people give up at that time and don’t really care,” Charles said. “I’ll get it another time.”

Who can blame him for such confidence? After all, he rushed for 1,120 yards after taking over when Larry Johnson was granted his release.

Similar to Charles, Derrick Johnson had a day to remember, picking off two passes and breezing into the end zone. Both came off Orton in the second half with the Broncos driving, sapping their momentum and turning a back-and-forth game into a rout.

“This win feels good,” Derrick Johnson said. “The bumps and bruises don’t hurt as much.”

The sting of missing the playoffs, though, comes with a much different ache.

“I’m certainly very disappointed, frustrated,” Denver defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday said. “We blew it. In a very embarrassing way. We have to go back and watch this film.”

Holliday really wants to replay this again?

“As embarrassing as this was, you have to go back and watch this,” he said. “You want to know which guys stepped up and gave it their all and found out what happened, or did some guys just fold it up.”

Jabar Gaffney had a career day with 14 receptions for 213 yards – then again, the Broncos didn’t have many other options.

With Royal and Marshall out, Denver was left with only four wideouts – Gaffney, Brandon Stokley, Brandon Lloyd and Matt Willis, who was promoted from the practice squad.

Gaffney’s big day was bittersweet.

“We’re way better than 8-8,” Gaffney said. “This team has so much talent and so much potential. We just didn’t show that consistently enough. In this game, you’ve got to be consistent or else you won’t be playing come January.”

And Gaffney surely thought the Broncos would be.

“After the first six games, if you would’ve told me we (were) going to finish 8-8, I mean I would’ve bet anybody,” Gaffney said. “That’s something you don’t think about. We had a lot of momentum going and lost it all. We’re going to work hard this offseason. We won’t let this happen again.”

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