Chiefs out to bust Broncos' control Playoffs: The teams split in the regular season, but both times Kansas City had trouble stopping Denver's run and getting going itself.

January 01, 1998|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In a Kansas City Chiefs season filled with magical moments, none stands out more than Pete Stoyanovich's 54-yard field goal that beat the Denver Broncos and the expiring clock.

That single, improbable play allowed the Chiefs to nip the Broncos, 24-22, that mid-November day and eventually reel in the AFC West championship. Otherwise, the Chiefs would be packing for a trip this weekend to Mile High Stadium.

Stoyanovich's kick instead gave the Chiefs the comfort of playing the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium in Sunday's AFC second-round playoff game. That's no small matter. Each team is undefeated at home this season.

But the Chiefs' margin of victory was slim, about as narrow as the foot between Stoyanovich's kick and the crossbar. That kick masked the fact that the Chiefs' win was otherwise tremendously similar to Denver's 19-3 win over Kansas City on Aug. 31 at Mile High Stadium.

In analyzing the two games, one could make the argument that the Chiefs might have matchup problems Sunday because of at least two trends:

Each time, the Broncos were successful running the ball. That allowed them to dominate time of possession and keep their defense off the field.

Each time, the Chiefs were sluggish offensively. Two of their four lowest-yardage outputs came against Denver. The Chiefs had one pass play in 46 attempts go for more than 20 yards. They failed to gain a first down on nine of 21 possessions against Denver.

"The second game was probably more representative of our football team," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "What we failed to have in the first game was opportunities. We couldn't get the ball away from them. We're a far better defense now, I think. When you look at Denver in the game against Jacksonville, the No. 1 statistic was time of possession."

The Broncos ran for 310 yards and had possession for more than 40 minutes in Saturday's 42-17 playoff win over Jacksonville.

"It was a dominating performance," Schottenheimer said. "If you can't stop the running game at this time of year, you're in big trouble."

That's hardly encouraging news for the Chiefs, who had trouble of their own with the Broncos. Terrell Davis topped 100 yards in each game. The Broncos had the ball more than 36 minutes in the first meeting, more than 37 minutes in the second.

Four months have passed since the season opener between the clubs in Denver. The Chiefs, with 12 new starters, were trying to mesh several new elements. They were trying to keep one of those elements, quarterback Elvis Grbac, in one piece with Trezelle Jenkins as their right tackle.

"The first game of the season was the first game of the season," said quarterback Rich Gannon, who played for the injured Grbac in the November game between the teams. "We did a lot of things from a protection standpoint that wouldn't let us get receivers out and throw the ball down the field. The second game was a hard, physical game. We tried to run the ball at them quite a bit."

Grbac broke his collarbone two weeks before the rematch at Arrowhead. He returned to game action in the final regular-season game, against New Orleans.

Grbac said the video from opening day is so useless by now that he won't even watch.

"It's really stupid to," Grbac said. "Defenses change so much during the course of the season. I'll look at some of their tough opponents they had on the road and see what kind of defenses they had to come up with when they're behind."

The Chiefs did protect the ball well in both games against Denver. They threw an interception in each game, but both were desperation heaves, one at the end of the first half, the other near the end of the game.

If the Chiefs have little success moving the ball, protecting it becomes more critical, even for Schottenheimer, an ardent believer in field position.

"Turnovers and field position are going to be material to every game you see in the playoffs," Schottenheimer said. "If you give the ball away, you waste opportunities to score on offense. That's what happened to us in '95. We turned the ball over four times. So I don't think it's particular to Denver. I think it's the playoffs."

Playing at Arrowhead, where as many as 79,000 fans could pile in, could be a great equalizer. That's why the Chiefs so coveted the division title and the home-field advantage.

But the Broncos even negated that advantage last time, jumping to a 13-0 lead before the Chiefs rallied.

"We don't fear going into Arrowhead like a lot of teams may," Broncos running back Vaughn Hebron said. "We're used to it. We know we can go in there and take the crowd out of the game. We're looking forward to it."

Pub Date: 1/01/98

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