The Broncos lead the league in moral victories and injuries.

Wile E. Coyote could claim the same.

But, at last, and at least, the Broncos played like a real football team Sunday. Jerry Jeudy got mad, got right and got open. Nathaniel Hackett won’t lose his job Monday. Patrick Mahomes was occasionally human, and Russell Wilson was his best until suffering a concussion. The stadium wasn’t empty as Broncos and Chiefs fans, like dogs and cats, commingled cordially as a crowd without becoming soccer rowdies. And the game eventually was thisclose.

The final result, though, was the usual against the Chiefs and in this season to forget forever. The Chiefs were stressed and hard-pressed, prodded and poked. But they survived to defeat the Broncos for the 14th consecutive game from 2015-2022.

In alleged football rivalries both teams are supposed to win sporadically, which Colorado once learned against Nebraska. The Broncos have to relearn against the Chiefs and the Raiders.

With 4½ minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Broncos were being blown away by the Chiefs 27-nil, and everybody watching wondered if a coach ever had been fired at halftime of an NFL game.

Yet, the Broncos’ defense and offense would decline to resign. The score became 27-7, 27-14, 27-21, 34-21, then 34-28 with 10:49 left in the fourth quarter when Jeudy produced the first multi-touchdown game of his short career with his third, on fourth down from the seven-yard line, at the back of the end zone, on an impeccable pass from backup quarterback Brett Rypien, who had replaced the concussed Wilson.

Following, the Chiefs and the Broncos each had three-and-out possessions. Next, Mahomes was intercepted for the third time, and Rypien was picked off for his first time.

With 4:21 to go, the Chiefs held on to the ball for 10 plays and held on for the triumph. The Broncos were out of timeouts and time.

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The rematch will be on Jan. 1, but not in a bowl. The Broncos are encouraged now that they can win in Kansas City without Peyton Manning.

This time the newly-goateed Hackett was not the goat. In the second quarter the invisible head coach had to be doubting that he would be going to Kansas City, unlike singer Wilbert Harrison in 1959, when a Wilson toss was deflected and caught by linebacker Willie Gay, who stiff-armed the quarterback and went 47 yards for the 27-0 advantage.

But Hackett was bailed by Wilson, Jeudy, linebacker Josey Jewell (who had two brilliant interceptions of Mahomes passes), cornerback Patrick Surtain II (one pick off the other Patrick) and an extraordinary effort by other backups and throw-in and walk-ons the Broncos are down to – against a Chiefs team that has reached double-digit victories for the eighth straight season going back to when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50.

What now for the Broncos? They’ve dropped five games in a row and haven’t won a game in the AFC West in eight.

Surely, the Broncos should be able to beat the Cardinals, who are a lousy 4-8 and will be coming off a game Monday night vs. the Patriots. But Wilson’s presence is uncertain because he entered the NFL’s concussion protocol after his head was slammed to the natural turf at the 2-yard line. The Broncos have won just two home games, and they haven’t won anywhere in America since the 11-10 victory over the 49ers at Mile High stadium Sept. 25.

Hackett said Sunday evening that the Broncos’ “goal is to win." But he did make reference to “that moral victory’’ and praised his players as “awesome’’ because they “had a choice’’ to surrender when behind by 27, but “had opportunities to win’’ late in the game before Rypien’s jersey/shoulder was grabbed and his pass attempt transformed into a balloon and was intercepted. And the Broncos, as in so many other games, couldn’t get the ball back, couldn’t win at the end and would lose for by seven points or fewer for the eighth time in 10 losses.

The Broncos could have quit on Hackett and in front of the faithful, so they must be commended. And all deserve a game ball even in defeat.

They did score four touchdowns for the first time since Dec. 12, 2021.

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