KANSAS CITY -- Patrick Mahomes knows the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense is still trying to put everything together.
It was evident in the way they struggled against Denver on third down Thursday night. The way they kept getting bottled up in short-yardage situations. And in how they failed time after time to turn red-zone trips into touchdowns.
“Luckily for us,” Mahomes said, “our defense is playing great.”
So great, Mahomes’ lone touchdown pass and Harrison Butker’s four field goals were enough to squeak out a 19-8 victory against the Broncos, whose own woeful offense could only manage 197 yards behind a shaky performance from Russell Wilson.
“We have guys that are starters on other teams that are trying to find a way on the football field, and when they get on the field, they’re making plays,” Mahomes said of the Kansas City defense. “And they’re playing with confidence.”
Mahomes finished with 306 yards passing and an interception, and a big chunk of his production went to Travis Kelce, who had nine catches for 124 yards with Taylor Swift again cheering him on from an Arrowhead Stadium suite.
Still, the inability of the Chiefs (5-1) to score touchdowns rather than field goals nearly proved costly.
Butker’s first three field goals helped them to a 16-0 lead, but Wilson’s touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton -- ruled incomplete but overturned upon review -- with about six minutes remaining kept the Broncos (1-5) alive. And when Javonte Williams bulled into the end zone for the 2-point conversion, what had been a one-sided shutout was a one-possession game.
The Broncos’ league-worst defense couldn’t make a stop, though. Mahomes converted third-and-2 with a 28-yard pass to Rashee Rice, and that put Butker in position for a 52-yard field goal with 1:55 left that put the game away.
“Our defense was incredible tonight, as it has been,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “But we have to take care of business in the red zone. We had a lot of yards, positive yards, but you can’t stall down there.”
The Broncos have not beaten the Chiefs since Sept. 17, 2015, the year Peyton Manning led Denver to the Super Bowl. That was six head and interim coaches ago, and nothing changed with Sean Payton leading them Thursday night. In a league built for parity, their losing streak is the fourth-longest for any team against another in NFL history.
“I’m disappointed but I’m not discouraged,” Payton said. “Offensively, we struggled throwing the ball. Our third-down numbers were poor. The turnovers, against a team like this, it’s going to be tough to win the game, and yet we were still in it going into the fourth quarter. Sometimes you don’t know how a game is going to unfold.”
As bad as the Broncos’ defense has been this season, it was Wilson and their offense that kept dragging them down. He had 37 yards passing in the first half, and the only drive Wilson led past midfield ended on fourth down.
The Chiefs weren’t doing a whole lot better.
Their first three forays into the red zone netted three points, thanks to an interception by Justin Simmons and a failed tush push out of a field-goal lineup on fourth down. Mahomes, who has struggled by his standards all season, only found his rhythm once in the first half, when he ended a 62-yard drive with a short touchdown pass to Kadarius Toney.
Butker made it 13-0 at the break when he drilled a 60-yard field goal as time expired.
The Chiefs’ red-zone woes continued in the second half. They began by swiftly marching downfield and setting up first-and-goal at the Denver 8, but that soon turned into fourth-and-goal at the 7-yard line and Butker had to kick another field goal.
That was all Kansas City could muster until his clinching kick in the final minutes.
Thanks to the defense, that was all the Chiefs needed.
“I thought we did a lot of good things, just obviously red zone and some third downs we didn’t execute at a high enough level,” Mahomes said. “I still think there were a lot of good things we can take from it.”
Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones had a sack in his eighth straight regular-season game, which trails only his own 11-game streak in 2018 for the longest in franchise history. With at least one in his first five this season, Jones broke the club record to start the season held by Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.
Notes: Swift watched Kelce and the Chiefs for the third time Thursday night. The two began a relationship a few weeks ago, when he invited Swift to a Chiefs game after failing to meet her during her Eras Tour. Swift flew in from Los Angeles, where she walked the red carpet on Wednesday night for the premiere of her concert film. … Broncos TE Greg Dulcich, who had just come off injured reserve, left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. It’s the same injury that landed Dulcich on IR after hurting it in Week 1 against the Raiders. … Chiefs S Justin Reid, who had an interception earlier in the game, briefly left in the second half. WR Justin Watson left in the fourth quarter with an elbow injury sustained while trying to make a diving catch. … Both teams return to action Sunday, Oct. 22. The Chiefs host the Los Angeles Chargers for another AFC West matchup and the Broncos host Green Bay.