Kansas City Chiefs' Byron Pringle, left, and Denver Broncos' Caden Sterns (30) reach for a fumbled punt return during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. Pringle recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. | Broncos coach Vic Fangio declared that “field goals weren’t going to beat” the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.

Neither were 20-play drives that resulted in no points.

That long march that consumed more than 11 minutes of the second quarter didn’t lead to a 22-9 loss to the Chiefs by itself, but it sure didn’t help. And Fangio’s failed decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Kansas City 8, rather than kick a field goal to make it 10-6 at halftime, left the demoralized Broncos playing catch-up the rest of the way.

“We have to be able to score more points no matter who you’re playing, especially the Chiefs at home,” Fangio said. “That drive at the end of the first half was really good. We just couldn’t finish it. Couldn’t get the last 2 yards to keep it going.”

It was the first time in 12 years that a 20-play drive lasting at least 11 minutes didn’t result in points.

“Every drive you try to get points,” Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said, “but a drive like that, you get the ball out of there and all the way down the field — you know, it just sucks, man.”

Fangio’s bold fourth-down call wasn’t the only play the Broncos probably wanted back.

There was Courtland Sutton’s pass route on third-and-7 that he failed to run to the first-down marker on the opening drive of the second half, and the ball that Bridgewater threw on the next drive that was picked off by Juan Thornhill.

There was the gaffe by the punt return team a few minutes later, when Caden Sterns ran into return man Diontae Spencer and the Chiefs hopped on the loose ball, and Bridgewater’s pick-6 to Daniel Sorensen that put the game away.

That’s not going to get it done against the two-time defending AFC champions, especially when the Chiefs are coming off a late-season bye. Andy Reid improved to 20-3 when he has a week off to prepare for an opponent.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs must have decided that field goals were in fact going to beat Denver.
Harrison Butker drilled a 56-yarder into the wind late in the first quarter, split the uprights from 45 yards out in the third, then tacked on a 26-yard chip shot through swirling winds to stake Kansas City to a 16-3 lead.

The result was another loss to the Chiefs in what is fast becoming a lopsided series.

Kansas City has won 12 straight against the Broncos, which means quarterback Patrick Mahomes has never lost to them in nine career starts — including the first of his career and one that ended with an injury. The Broncos dropped to 3-20 when they play at Kansas City in December dating to their days together in the AFL. And they squandered a surprising chance to take their first AFC West lead this late in the season in six full years.

“Kareem Jackson said it best in the locker room: We have five games left and each is a playoff game for us,” Bridgewater said. “We have to focus one day at a time, one week at a time, one opponent at a time.”

It wasn’t all bad. Bridgewater finished with 257 yards passing and mostly managed the game well. Javonte Williams started in place of injured running back Melvin Gordon III and ran for 102 yards while catching Bridgewater’s lone TD toss late in the fourth quarter. The Broncos defense held Mahomes to 184 yards passing and Kansas City to 257 yards in all.

It’s just that the miscues far outpaced the highlights on another bleak Broncos trip to Arrowhead Stadium.

“We obviously know there’s opportunities out there,” Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II said. “There’s a lot of season left. We’re going to see them again down the road. There’s a lot of games left to be played. This isn’t going to be what we’re known for. We’re going to keep fighting, keep playing, do what we know we can do.”