Marty Schottenheimer insisted it was nothing personal, but his Kansas City Chiefs saw it differently.
After Steve DeBerg threw three touchdowns passes Sunday to lead a 31-20 victory over the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs all but dedicated the victory to Schottenheimer and his coaching staff.
“There was nothing said, but you could sense all week that this was a special one, and you know why it was special,” linebacker Dino Hackett said.
“We’ve all grown very close to this coaching staff. We wanted it for ourselves and for our team, sure. But it was nice to get it for them, too. They had suffered some tough losses to those guys, some heart-breaking losses.”
Schottenheimer and several of his assistants came into the game 0-6 against Denver, including two last-minute losses in the AFC title game while he was in charge of the Cleveland Browns.
He finally broke through in his 100th game as a head coach as the Chiefs (9-4) moved a half-game ahead of the Raiders, who play at Detroit tonight, in the AFC West.
“It has nothing to do with the personal thing,” Schottenheimer said. “Personal things don’t mean a lot in this game.”
The victory was the fourth in a row and fifth in six games for the Chiefs, while the defending AFC champion Broncos (3-10) lost their sixth consecutive game, their longest losing streak loss since a nine-game slide in 1967.
It was also the eighth time this season the Broncos lost after leading at halftime.
“The typical things that seem to happen all year,” Denver Coach Dan Reeves said. “We are ahead at halftime and we come out and lose the game. They did an excellent job of executing their game plan.”
John Elway directed Denver to two touchdowns after the Chiefs took a 7-0 lead on their first possession.
DeBerg connected with Stephone Paige for 49-yard touchdown on the fifth play of the game when Kansas City fooled the Broncos with a flea-flicker.
“I knew it was a touchdown coming out of the huddle,” Paige said. “The play had been clicking so beautifully in practice, and then I saw we had exactly the kind of coverage we wanted.”
Elway got the Broncos the lead when he threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Shannon Sharpe and connected with Michael Young on a 16-yard scoring play. Kansas City’s Nick Lowery kicked a 33-yard field goal, his 14th without a miss, to make it 13-10 at halftime.
Elway had the Broncos driving in the third quarter, but Hackett recovered Shannon Sharpe’s fumble to turn the game around. Eight plays later Barry Word scored on fourth-and-goal from the one to put the Chiefs ahead for good, 17-13.
“As soon as I got the ball to secure it, I got hit and dropped the ball,” Sharpe said.
It was 24-20 in the final minutes when, on fourth down, DeBerg threw a short pass to Robb Thomas, who turned it into a 27-yard scoring play.
“I was a little surprised on fourth and three that they went for it,” Elway said. “It was a bold move and a great call.”
DeBerg, a 15-year veteran who completed 18 of 27 passes for 254 yards, did not have a pass intercepted for the eighth consecutive game.
He was not surprised by Schottenheimer’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-three from the 27 with a little more than 2:50 left.
“I think it showed confidence in our football team,” DeBerg said. “To be honest, I thought we’d go for it. If I was the one making the call, I would have gone for it. If we make the first down, the game’s over. If we make a touchdown the game’s really over.”
Elway completed 24 of 36 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns to keep the Broncos in the game.
Denver got a scare in the second half when Elway went down with what appeared to be a knee injury, but he stayed in the game.
Said Schottenheimer: “Everybody talks about John Elway and his great ability, but the one thing that people don’t talk about is the single most important thing--that he is as fine a competitor as I have ever seen play this game.”