KANSAS CITY -- The best throw that Russell Wilson made all night gave the Denver Broncos a chance against the Kansas City Chiefs.
He made precious few good ones on either side of it.
Wilson was 13-of-22 for 95 yards with a marvelous touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton and two interceptions Thursday night, and his inability to keep the Denver offense on the field proved costly in a 19-8 loss. Wilson was sacked four times, missed too many open targets and looked a lot more like he did last season than he had the first few weeks of this season.
“We knew it was going to be a four-quarter battle,” said Wilson, whose quarterback rating of 46.6 was among the worst of his career, and who has only thrown for fewer than 95 yards twice. “We had some opportunities we could have capitalized on. We had a chance. We have to play better and play cleaner. I have to play better.”
After a miserable season by any standard a year ago, Wilson came into Thursday night’s game completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 1,210 yards with 11 touchdown passes and just two interceptions, and his renewed efficiency was one of the few things Denver could point to as progress under new coach Sean Payton.
It certainly couldn’t put forth its last-ranked defense, which has been equally miserable against the run and the pass.
Yet it was that much-maligned defense that kept Denver (1-5) alive against the Chiefs, forcing them to settle for four field goals. Justin Simmons ended one Kansas City drive with an interception near the goal line, and the defense stopped a fake field-goal try on another occasion, ultimately holding Patrick Mahomes and Co. to a single touchdown.
“I thought our defense played great tonight,” Wilson said. “They did a really good job.”
Yet Butker’s four field goals, including a 60-yarder as time expired in the first half and a clinching 52-yarder with 1:55 left in the game, ultimately proved to be the difference in the Chiefs handing the Broncos their 16th straight loss in the series.
That’s because Wilson and the rest of the Broncos’ offense were downright inept.
They failed to convert on fourth down to end their first drive, which turned out to be their only one into Chiefs territory in the first half. Wilson was picked by Nick Bolton on the next series, and four punts followed as Kansas City built a 13-0 lead.
“I think Coach Spags did a great job of mixing up looks,” Bolton said of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, “getting them in third-and-longs. When you get in third-and-2 or third-and-3, it’s hard to heat them up a little bit. We got them in second-and-long and third-and long and that allowed the defensive line to do their thing.”
Most of the second half was no better for Denver: Wilson had a tipped ball picked by Justin Reid on his first chance with it, and three straight incomplete passes led to a punt on the Broncos’ next series. Their third chance in a swift-moving game ended with Sutton’s TD catch, which was initially ruled incomplete but overturned by video review.
Even that came after the Broncos were bailed out by the officials, who threw a questionable flag for roughing the passer on what would have been a third-down incompletion. The touchdown pass from Wilson came on the very next play.
The Broncos made the 2-point conversion to make it a 16-8 game with just more than six minutes left, but that’s when a defense that had played so well finally caved. The Chiefs moved deep enough into Broncos territory to set up Butker’s 52-yarder, and Samaje Perine’s fumble after the ensuing kickoff allowed Kansas City to run out the clock.
“We played an imperfect game but I was pleased. I thought we had great effort and energy,” Payton said. “I thought we played hard and that’s not always good enough when you turn the ball over. But that gives you a chance. And I was encouraged with how we were prepared to play.”