Nearly stumbling into the playoffs, Nick Bolton and the Kansas City Chiefs rallied just in time to enter the postseason with an AFC-best 12 wins.
They will learn on Sunday if that’s enough to get them a goodbye in the first round.
“We’re ready to go anywhere and against whoever,” Patrick Mahomes said after the Chiefs posted a 28-24 victory over the Denver Broncos on Saturday, a victory driven by Boltons. 86-yard fumble return in the middle of the fourth quarter.
To secure pole position in the AFC playoffs, the Chiefs (12-5) need Houston to defeat Tennessee on Sunday. Otherwise, Kansas City hosts a wild card game next weekend in its quest to reach a third straight Super Bowl.
The Broncos led 21-20 and were looking for another touchdown when Melvin Ingram III attacked, zipping past tight end Noah Fant without being touched and exploding the play just as Drew Lock handed the ball to Melvin Gordon at second and 2. from 9.
Bolton, a 237-pound rookie linebacker, picked up the loose ball and rumbled down the Chiefs’ euphoric sideline, nearly falling over in midfield before regaining his balance and overtaking Lock, who he played for in Missouri, to the zone of annotation. .
“I was hoping he wouldn’t stumble,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after his 250th victory in the NFL, including the playoffs. “Those guys don’t get much of a chance to run that far so fast very often and he ran like a stallion. He took off and looked like a runner there.”
Like many of the other victories in the Chiefs’ 13-game winning streak against Denver, this one was not easy. The Broncos (7-10) led much of the afternoon despite having nothing to play for but pride.
“My main emotion is really the pride of our payers,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “That’s a team that can win it all. Obviously, they’ve won a lot of games in the last four or five years since Mahomes took over. We had a chance to win that game. But not winning is the bottom line and I didn’t.”
The Broncos’ last victory over Kansas City was on September 17, 2015.
“I love the way our defense buckled up,” Reid said. “Overall a good win and a major win for the Kansas City Chiefs and we’ll see what we have tomorrow night, who we’ll play with. We can’t wait to bring a playoff game back to Arrowhead in front of our fans.”
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill could surely take advantage of the bye week going to the top seed in every conference. He injured a heel in the pregame warm-ups and was limited to a 2-yard catch. With Hill struggling, Mecole Hardman stepped up with eight receptions for 103 yards.
“No one is Tyreek. He is a special player that has never been seen in this league,” Mahomes said. “But Mecole is pretty close … I was ready for this moment.”
After Mahomes scored a 2-point conversion following Bolton’s touchdown to give the Chiefs a seven-point lead, the Broncos quickly advanced downfield again, but settled for Brandon McManus’s field goal instead of going to. for him in fourth and 9 from the field. 13.
The crowd booed the decision, but Fangio explained that while the field goal left them in need of a touchdown, it at least kept their hopes alive.
All they had to do was stop Mahomes, something they had managed to do twice in Kansas City’s six series excluding final possession of the first half when the Chiefs got the ball on their 15th with 23 seconds remaining.
The Chiefs, however, chewed through the final 4:37 and lined up in a winning formation after the 2-minute warning as the crowd of 61,441 – there were nearly 15,000 empty seats – raced towards the exits, a fifth straight losing season in the books. and the Broncos’ playoff drought now stretched to six years.