KANSAS CITY — Snow creates responses that harken to childhood. There is innocence in flakes, wonder and hope.
Then there was Sunday. The snow became the setting for a cold reality: The Broncos are not in the same class as the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City broomed the Broncos this season, lengthening their winning streak to nine games over their rival.
The Broncos were blanketed 23-3 in 24 degrees, leaving them outscored by the Chiefs this season 53-9. Denver dropped to 3-18 in December here. The Broncos haven't won in Kansas City in any month since Peyton Manning's final season in 2015. Nothing about this contest suggested an upset was possible.
The Broncos showed up at Arrowhead Stadium seeking redemption for their embarrassing October loss. They wanted a cagematch. Instead, they stumbled into the Iditarod, looking ill-equipped to navigate the snow globe conditions or stare down the AFC West's elite. It left Von Miller drained and defeated mentally, searching for answer.
"It defeats my soul," Miller said after he registered a sack, but couldn't slow the Chiefs avalanche of offense with 27 first downs and 419 yards. "It's different from my lens. I am 30 years old. I have been playing in the league for nine years. I am ready to go again, bring what we had in the past back. I want that back. Down years, four down years, I get it. Now we are trying to get that going again. I am not losing hope. I am just telling you how I feel after this game. It doesn't feel good at all."
It represented a homecoming game for Broncos quarterback Drew Lock. The kid who starred at Lee's Summit High School 15 minutes away aimed to become the first Denver rookie to win his first three starts. With spotty protection and erratic command, Lock experienced a clumsy outing. He was sacked twice in the first three possessions, and his five completions netted only 26 yards. As the game wore on in the driving snow, the Broncos appeared like they were on roller blades while Patrick Mahomes wore skis. The Chiefs didn't punt until 6:15 remaining in the third quarter. At that point, Mahomes had connected on 23 of 28 passes for 286 yards and two scores, inflating a 20-point cushion.
"As people look at this, I think it will definitely blown up that we got our butts kicked. But there were so many opportunities," said Lock, who completed 18 of 40 passes for 208 yards with one interception. "As bad as people say it looked, we will realize there were plays to be made, and if we make a couple here and there that's a different game. ... It's disappointing. But it has nothing to do with coming home. I would be disappointed anywhere if I played like this."
The Chiefs struck fast, numbing the Broncos with a 41-yard rainbow to speedy receiver Tyreek Hill. The possession demonstrated the challenge of Denver pulling off the shocker and foreshadowed trouble.
The conditions proved miserable, but advantageous to the Chiefs. With the wind a marginal factor early -- less than 8 miles per hour -- Mahomes bedazzled. He looked better in the snow with his touch and accuracy, saying something for the reigning MVP. His receivers knew their routes, and the defensive backs struggled to gain footing as they were left guessing. Hill found an open spot behind Chris Harris Jr. and in front of Justin Simmons.
Mahomes followed with a 12-play drive bridging the first and second quarters as Denver played sloppy, logging five penalties. Von Miller, who was a disruptive force along with Shelby Harris (two sacks), snuffed out a third down Mahomes scamper with a sack -- he had a half sack in previous six games vs. the Chiefs. It produced a consolation prize: the Chiefs were held to a field goal as they opened a 10-0 lead with 12:57 remaining in the half. Another short kick followed -- three possessions, three scores -- extending the Chiefs' run of 42 unanswered points against Denver dating to the first game.
"The conditions weren't great (for backpedaling). But there's no excuses," defensive back Will Parks said. "We have to play better."
The Broncos ended the madness with a bold call, but a hollow ending. On fourth-and-1 from their own 48-yard line, the Broncos scribbled outside the lines. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, on a day short of highlights, lined up Royce Freeman as the fullback in front of Phillip Lindsay. Drew Lock faked the run, and lofted a strike to rookie tight end Noah Fant for 43 yards. Fant hurt his shoulder on the play, but later returned. The drive became painful when Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu yanked Courtland Sutton's arm to prevent a touchdown. The Broncos settled for a Brandon McManus field goal then gifted the points back to end the half -- a Chiefs drive aided by a questionable 15-yard penalty Simmons on Travis Kelce for a defenseless receiver hit. Harrison Butker split the uprights on a 44-yarder as time expired, capping a half when the Chiefs scored on every possession.
As odd as it sounds given the previous sentence, the defense kept the Broncos in the game. At least until the opening possession of the second half. The Chiefs raced 75 yards on 10 plays. Hill used a paper cut play, jabbing in and going outside on Parks for a 5-yard score.
Denver's last gasp ended in the equivalent of a pint-sized Hail Mary pass. After the Chiefs kept the drive alive on fourth down with a holding penalty, Lock couldn't resist the temptation to make a big play. He rolled left and threw across his body toward Noah Fant in the end zone. The pass was foolishly optimistic and easily intercepted, squashing any chance of an interesting finish in the fourth quarter.
"Anytime you score three points, it wasn't a good day. But I think Drew handled these conditions well," coach Vic Fangio said. "And I think it's a game he can bank and learn from."
Denver losing in Kansas City is nothing new. Lock showed toughness amid harrassment. He remains a reason for hope. But the cold reality remains: a large talent gap separates the Broncos and Chiefs.
"They are really good. They lost a game in overtime to go to the Super Bowl last year. They have a lot of talent on offense," said Fangio, who finished his first road season with a 2-6 record. "
Courtland Sutton faced double coverage throughout the day. And when he finally made a big play in the fourth quarter -- a 33-yard reception -- he hurt his shoulder when tackled. He has shown grit all season, and returned after missing one play. ... Broncos tight end Noah Fant began game with foot and hip injuries. He played, but hurt his shoulder on a 43-yard reception in the first quarter. It was his third 40-yard reception of the season, tied for the most in the NFL for a tight end. Fant returned later in the game. ... Broncos linebacker Todd Davis hurt his left shoulder/arm early in the second quarter and Josey Jewell replaced him. Davis returned moments later. ... Lindsay appeared to be favoring his right wrist at times, but played through it. ... Broncos general manager John Elway and coach Vic Fangio spoke with Ja'Wuan James about his MCL injury in his left knee. James told them that the knee is buckling, that he doesn't trust it. It would not be a surprise if he's shut down for the remainder of the season.