Kansas City Chiefs: A.J. Jenkins

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Quarterback Alex Smith isn’t the only Kansas City Chiefs player with a homecoming of sorts on Sunday when his team plays against the 49ers in San Francisco. Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2012, will make the second start of his NFL career in place of the injured Donnie Avery.

A.J. Jenkins
"I can’t get too caught up in that kind of stuff, because I’ve got to be focused on what I’ve got to do," Jenkins said. "I’ll be ready for Sunday, but I’ll even be more ready if I’m not concerned about what’s going on out there this weekend or who we’re playing against. I’m not worried about San Francisco. I’m trying to get my playbook right.

"But it is crazy how things work out. My first start will be against the team that traded me. Things happen for a reason. Unfortunately my best friend and one of my teammates went down, but I have to step in and be accountable."

Jenkins started one game last season for the Chiefs, but that carries an asterisk. He started in San Diego against the Chargers in the final week of the regular season when the Chiefs rested many of their starters in preparation for the next week’s playoff game.

Like Avery, Jenkins is fast. His signature play since joining the Chiefs last season was the short pass he took for 27 yards late in the fourth quarter of the playoff game in Indianapolis.

But he hasn’t played a lot. Jenkins has four catches this season.

"The thing with Donnie is that he has that game experience, and you saw this past weekend he had some nice explosive gains and caught the ball well," offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. "Really, he and A.J. are similar in style. They’re both speed guys, and we’re going to utilize them in situations where we can maximize their speed on the football field."

Jenkins’ time in San Francisco was unusual. Though he was a first-round pick and stayed healthy, he didn’t get into uniform for a regular-season game until December of his rookie season. He didn’t catch a pass that year.

He was traded to the Chiefs during the preseason last year in return for wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, an underachieving former first-round pick of the Chiefs.

So Jenkins never caught a pass for the 49ers.

Chiefs offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Kansas City Chiefs' offseason moves.

Best move: It wasn't a popular move for the Chiefs to allow five of last season's regulars to depart in the opening moments of free agency and another a few days later, but the Chiefs did the right thing in each case. The players are more valuable to their new teams, and Kansas City would have had to overpay to keep them. The Chiefs had also built enough depth to withstand the losses.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/John BazemoreAaron Murray's selection by the Chiefs is surprising, but Andy Reid has been known to develop QBs.
Riskiest move: The Chiefs failed to add a proven wide receiver, a decision they could easily come to regret later. They had one of the NFL's least productive groups of wide receivers last season and then lost slot receiver Dexter McCluster to free agency. They have hopes for improvement from young A.J. Jenkins and acquired CFL veteran Weston Dressler and speedy rookie De'Anthony Thomas, but their needs would have been better served by adding a player with proven production.

Most surprising move: The drafting of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was a reasonable gamble because it happened in the fifth round, but the Chiefs looked to be set at the position without him. They have their starter in Alex Smith, a veteran backup in Chase Daniel and a developmental prospect in Tyler Bray. But Murray appears to have the skills to succeed in the offense of coach Andy Reid, who has shown a nice touch in developing quarterbacks. The addition of Murray sets up an interesting training camp battle at the position.

Progress from young players: It's clear the Chiefs are counting on improvement from a group that includes three of last season's draft picks. Foremost is tackle Eric Fisher, who moves to the left side after a rocky rookie season on the right. Tight end Travis Kelce missed all of last season with a knee ailment after showing impressive receiving skills in the offseason and training camp. Sanders Commings also missed most of his rookie season with an injury but could wind up starting at free safety.
Bigger is better when it comes to wide receivers. That’s not a secret around the NFL, and it’s not a notion that’s particularly new. Speed matters, but size is generally what wins out.

That’s something all teams, the Kansas City Chiefs included, believe. Bigger, stronger receivers are more capable of shucking physical coverage and making catches in a larger radius, thus giving the quarterback more room for error. That’s accepted fact in the NFL, not opinion.

Now comes my ESPN colleague, Mike Rodak, who covers the Buffalo Bills, with an interesting story. Rodak went through NFL rosters and figured an average height for the wide receivers for each team.

The Bills led the league with an average height of 6-2. Of more interest to you, the Chiefs came in next to last at slightly less than 5-11 1/2. And that doesn’t even count rookie De'Anthony Thomas, who should be playing at least some as a slot receiver but is being listed for the time being as a running back.

Thomas is 5-9.

A height of 6-2 is generally considered the dividing line for a receiver between having the right size and not. Dwayne Bowe at 6-2 is the only Chiefs' receiver who passes the test. Among the others who could or might play a significant amount next season, Donnie Avery is 5-11, A.J. Jenkins 6-0, Junior Hemingway 6-1 and Weston Dressler 5-7.

The Bills, as a comparison, have seven wide receivers who stand at least 6-2.

The Chiefs have some tall tight ends who can help compensate. Travis Kelce, who showed some impressive receiving skills last year before a knee ailment ruined his rookie season, is 6-5, as is Sean McGrath. Anthony Fasano, who caught three touchdown passes last year despite missing seven games with injuries, is 6-4.

But this is an issue for the Chiefs. Their receivers were at or near the bottom of the league in production last year and a lack of size is one reason why.

It’s not just my opinion here. Read what Bills general manager Doug Whaley had to say. The Chiefs may not go on the record as saying so, but they agree, too.

Roster analysis 2013 to 2014: WR

May, 16, 2014
Here’s another installment of our detailed look at the Kansas City Chiefs roster by position with a determination whether they improved or not since the end of last season. Keep in mind that the Chiefs can continue to make roster moves and could make significant additions or subtractions before they arrive at training camp. But the bulk of the roster they will take to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph is intact.

We’ll continue here with the wide receivers.

End of 2013: Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Dexter McCluster, A.J. Jenkins, Junior Hemingway.

Serious 2014 roster candidates: Bowe, Avery, Jenkins, Hemingway, Weston Dressler, Frankie Hammond, De'Anthony Thomas.

Analysis: This position was already a disappointment last year and trouble signs abound again. Bowe had what was statistically the worst full season of his career and he will be 30 in September. That’s not an age when many receivers make a leap in production. Avery had what for him was a typical season, so he probably won’t deliver much more. Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick, could have an impact as a slot receiver, but it’s not realistic to expect him to give more than McCluster did last season. The Chiefs are hopeful of a big jump from Jenkins, pointing to the big catch he had in the playoff loss to Indianapolis. It may happen, but it’s not wise for the Chiefs to count on it. Kyle Williams had knee surgery late last season, making it difficult to predict if he will make the roster or be able to contribute any time soon. But if he’s healthy in time, he could help.

Better or worse? Worse. The Chiefs lost McCluster, their second-leading wide receiver but didn't replace him with a proven commodity.
To the frustration of many of their fans, the Kansas City Chiefs did not draft a wide receiver. They did grab Oregon’s diminutive De’Anthony Thomas in the fourth round and though he played a lot of running back in college, he could figure prominently in the playing rotation at slot receiver

But other than the additions of Thomas, a similarly-sized acquisition from the Canadian Football League in Weston Dressler and, so far, a couple of undrafted free agents, the Chiefs are largely the same at wide receiver as they were last year. That’s minus Dexter McCluster, who was third on the team in catches before leaving as a free agent for the Tennessee Titans.

The Chiefs may sign a veteran receiver before they start training camp, but for now we’ll go with what we know. Here’s a look at their depth chart at wide receiver as I see it.

[+] EnlargeDonnie Avery
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesThe Chiefs will be looking for more consistency from receiver Donnie Avery in 2014.
No. 1, Dwayne Bowe. Bowe had the worst full statistical season of his career last year before turning in a huge game in the playoff loss to Indianapolis. Still, it’s natural to wonder whether the inevitable downhill slide all receivers face has begun for Bowe. He turns 30 in September and for a lot of players at his position that’s the beginning of the end.

No. 2, Donnie Avery. Avery was inconsistent in his first season with the Chiefs. He had three big games and was largely absent for the others. He dropped too many passes. But that’s been the story of Avery’s career, and the Chiefs wisely didn’t expect a whole lot more from him. Avery is fast and unless another player with his speed emerges, he’ll be a part of things again.

No. 3, A.J. Jenkins. The Chiefs are hopeful Jenkins is that player. He’s fast and a former first-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, so he has ability for them to work with. He had three catches for 67 yards in his only start last season and then had a big catch in the playoff loss.

No. 4, Junior Hemingway. Hemingway isn’t particularly fast but he’s 225 pounds and uses his size well. The Chiefs have gotten some use from Hemingway as a slot receiver, particularly when inside the opponents’ 20. He’s also a good special-teams player, so while I don’t consider Hemingway a lock to make the roster, he’ll be difficult to beat out.

No. 5, De’Anthony Thomas. He has the size and skills much like those of McCluster, except he’s much faster so the Chiefs will give Thomas a long look as their slot receiver. The Chiefs need to find a way to get the ball to Thomas because he’s their fastest player and a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball.

No. 6, Frankie Hammond Jr. The Chiefs kept Hammond around last season as an undrafted rookie for a reason. He is fast and also has enough ability for them to work with and try to develop. If he makes progress, there’s an opening for some playing time.

No. 7, Weston Dressler. The former Canadian League receiver is on the outside looking in after the Chiefs drafted Thomas. The Chiefs don’t need two small players who play the same position and Dressler doesn’t have Thomas’ size or big-play ability. Unless there’s an injury to another player or Dressler shows unexpected ability, he will have a difficult time making it.

No. 8, Kyle Williams. I wasn’t sure exactly where to place Williams, who is coming off knee surgery. If he misses most or all of training camp, he won’t be of much help. But if he returns in time, Williams can help because he’s also fast and has some versatility as a receiver.

No. 9, Albert Wilson. An undrafted rookie, Wilson was a productive college receiver at Georgia State. The practice squad is the best he can probably hope for this year.

Nos. 10, 11 and 12, Jarrell Jackson, Fred Williams and Darryl Surgent. They’re probably just training camp bodies.

WR has to be priority for Chiefs

March, 17, 2014
You might like the Kansas City Chiefs to improve at any number of positions before starting the 2014 season and chances are they might agree with you at least in some of those areas. But the fact is they have enough at this point to line up, play a game and at least be competitive with most NFL teams.

You might think the Chiefs have holes in their starting lineup at right guard and free safety, but I don’t think the Chiefs agree with you there. Their actions in free agency would suggest they don’t. At right guard, they watched without a trace of panic as the two players who shared the starting spot last season walked out the door in free agency, Jon Asamoah to the Atlanta Falcons and Geoff Schwartz to the New York Giants. They did sign Jeff Linkenbach from the Indianapolis Colts and he could wind up claiming that vacant starting spot, though his versatility suggests they prefer him as a backup at both tackle and guard. The Chiefs have three developmental prospects in the middle of the offensive line in Eric Kush, Rishaw Johnson and Rokevious Watkins. At this point, it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of them was a starter next season.

The Chiefs don’t appear interested in re-signing Kendrick Lewis, their starting free safety. But neither have they appeared interested in replacing him through free agency. They could draft a free safety, but the two best prospects will likely be off the board by the time the Chiefs make their first pick. They did re-sign reserve Husain Abdullah, but for backup money. All signs there point to Sanders Commings, a rookie last season, inheriting that job. The Chiefs were impressed with Commings in offseason practice last year and he was going to challenge for playing time but broke his collarbone in the first practice at training camp. That effectively ruined his rookie season but he’s back and will find a role somewhere in their defensive backfield.

Then there’s wide receiver, which is a little bit of a different story. The Chiefs were last in the NFL last season in receptions, yards and first downs from their wide receivers, and that was before they lost Dexter McCluster to the Tennessee Titans as a free agent. It’s unfair and inaccurate to blame this problem on quarterback Alex Smith. The fact is, receivers weren’t getting open enough down the field and dropped too many passes.

The Chiefs tried to sign free agent Emmanuel Sanders of the Pittsburgh Steelers and thought they had an agreement with him on a contract. They believe Sanders’ agent then shopped the offer to other teams and he struck a better deal instead with the Denver Broncos. The Chiefs haven’t and most likely won’t say anything publicly on this matter but they’re not happy about things because the loss of Sanders stings. He would have been the solution to many of their receiving problems and they know it.

Instead, this is what they’re left with at wide receiver: Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins, Junior Hemingway and Weston Dressler, plus some developmental prospects. You like that mix? They’re good enough for the Chiefs to line up with and not get embarrassed. But probably not much better than that.

In the best-case scenario, Bowe bounces back after a down season, Jenkins plays like the first-round draft pick he once was and Dressler makes the transition from the CFL to the NFL look simple.

The odds are against any of those things happening, much less all three of them. Minus all three things happening, the Chiefs need help at wide receiver in a big way. That's why their priority the rest of the offseason has to be on upgrading their roster of wide receivers.
Kansas City Chiefs fans have been less than thrilled with the first few days of free agency. They've watched their team lose five players who were regulars at some point last season while they've added Joe Mays, an inside linebacker who will probably play only on running downs, and Jeff Linkenbach, an offensive lineman who may be just a backup.

But the NFL Network reports the Chiefs will visit with Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. If the Chiefs could get Sanders under contract, that should be a signing for their fans to be excited about.

If he came to Kansas City, Sanders could wind up being the slot receiver who replaces Dexter McCluster. Sanders caught 67 passes and scored six touchdowns for the Steelers last season and since he turns 27 next week, he should be headed into the best seasons of his career.

Wide receiver is the position of biggest need for the Chiefs. Their No. 1 receiver, Dwayne Bowe, had the least productive full season of his career last year. The Chiefs were last in 2013 in wide receiver receptions, yards and first downs and were near the bottom in touchdowns. That was with McCluster in their lineup.

They were also last in targets, which suggests they weren't getting open. Alex Smith's history is to throw the checkdowns and shorter and safer patterns, so that's part of the issue. But Smith hasn't made a habit of neglecting open receivers down the field, either.

With Sanders, Bowe, A.J. Jenkins, Donnie Avery and perhaps a first-round draft pick (the more I think about it, the better LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. would look in a Chiefs uniform), the receiving positions would be improved. Far from best-in-the-league improved, but good enough to pose a threat to opposing defenses.

Let's put it this way: That group should be good enough to get the Chiefs out of last place in wide receiver production.
On to this week's questions:
As if it wasn't bad enough for the Kansas City Chiefs that a former first-round draft pick, wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, was a bust, they are still paying for their error. Baldwin, who is now with the San Francisco 49ers, will count almost $1 million against the Chiefs' salary cap this season because of bonuses the Chiefs gave to Baldwin when he played in Kansas City.

The Chiefs' new administration of coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey tried to distance themselves from the mistake last summer when they sent Baldwin to San Francisco in return for another former first-round draft pick, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. He, too, was considered a bust by his former team. Jenkins, in limited playing time for the Chiefs, caught eight passes for 130 yards in 2013. But he also delivered a big 27-yard catch on third down in the fourth quarter of the playoff game against Indianapolis, allowing the Chiefs to continue what was their final scoring drive.

Jenkins probably won't become a starter or big producer for the Chiefs, but they should feel better about those chances or Jenkins' ability to deliver the occasional big play than they would have with Baldwin. And then there's this: Jenkins is costing the Chiefs about the same as Baldwin is this year, $1.02 million. His salary is guaranteed, so the Chiefs will likely keep Jenkins at least one more season.

Baldwin, in two seasons with the Chiefs, caught 41 passes for 579 yards and two touchdowns. He played in seven games for the 49ers in 2013, catching three passes for 28 yards and no touchdowns.

Baldwin isn't Kansas City's leader this year in dead money, so called because the team is accounting for players no longer on the roster. The Chiefs saved more than $3 million against their cap last week when they released cornerback Dunta Robinson. But Robinson still counts $2 million against their cap.

Robinson and Baldwin make up most of the Chiefs' total of $3.5 million in dead money. They also have cap obligations ranging from $228,000 for former wide receiver Devon Wylie and $107,000 to former cornerback Jalil Brown, to $1,334 for wide receiver Frankie Hammond, who was released last year and has since re-signed.

Kiper/McShay mock draft reax: Chiefs

February, 6, 2014
Wide receiver is the biggest position of need for the Kansas City Chiefs, so both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are thinking clearly in their latest mock drafts. For those with ESPN Insider access, Kiper has the Chiefs taking one receiver, Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, with their first-round pick, which is 23rd overall.

McShay gives a different wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. of Louisiana State, to the Chiefs in the first round.

Either player makes sense for the Chiefs. Both players entered the draft as juniors so they may need more time to develop. The Chiefs would need immediate help from either player, but not necessarily as a starter. The Chiefs have veterans in Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins and Weston Dressler, so they wouldn’t have to ask a rookie to carry the load.

But eventually the Chiefs would need him to grow into the No. 1 role, which has been occupied by Bowe for several years. Bowe had a down season, a sign that perhaps he’s started the inevitable downhill slide. Even if not, he will turn 30 in September so the Chiefs have to think about finding his eventual replacement.

Benjamin at 6-4 and 232 is bigger than Beckham Jr. at 6-0 and 193 but Beckham has kick return ability. Otherwise there is little to choose from. Both are fast and run well after the catch.

So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either Benjamin or Beckham Jr. wind up with the Chiefs.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Today's look at a position on the Kansas City Chiefs roster is at wide receiver, where the Chiefs need plenty of work.

Roster (10): Donnie Avery, Dwayne Bowe, Frankie Hammond Jr., Junior Hemingway, Jerrell Jackson, A.J. Jenkins, Dexter McCluster, Rashad Ross, Fred Williams, Kyle Williams.

Potential 2014 free agents: McCluster and Kyle Williams.

The position: No area on the Chiefs could use an upgrade quite like this one. It's not a good sign for an Andy Reid offense when a running back, Jamaal Charles, led the Chiefs in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. In addition to finding help for 2014, the Chiefs need to start looking to the future as well. Bowe had what for him is a down season. It's possible he bounces back but the Chiefs can't count on that. Either way, he's going to be 30 in September and if his career slide hasn't started, it will be upon the Chiefs soon. So the Chiefs need to think about replacing him as the No. 1 wide receiver, eventually if not immediately. If they go the draft route for that, they will need to give the player time to develop into the role. Bowe was signed to a lucrative, long-term contract last year so it's cost-prohibitive for the Chiefs to release him this year. The Chiefs have another decision on McCluster, a potential unrestricted free agent. He gave the Chiefs 53 catches but had little impact in the form of big plays on offense. Because of that, he's not worth a lucrative contract but finding an upgrade at a reasonable price could be a problem. The Chiefs would also have to find a suitable replacement as a punt return specialist. Otherwise, Avery and Jenkins are fast but have yet to prove themselves dependable from week to week and down to down. Avery had more than half of his yards in three games. Hemingway is big and uses his body well, but he may never develop into more than a possession receiver. Hammond is an intriguing developmental prospect.

The Chiefs should keep: Avery, Bowe, Hammond, Hemingway and Jenkins. But all of these players except Bowe because of his contract are vulnerable depending on what the Chiefs do in free agency and the draft.

The Chiefs should dump: Jackson, McCluster, Ross, Fred Williams and Kyle Williams. McCluster is worth keeping but only on terms that are friendly to the Chiefs.

Free agency/ draft priority: If there's a player the Chiefs like and believe could eventually step into Bowe' role available when they draft in the first round, it would be a mistake for them to pass on him. Other than the ill-fated selection of Jonathan Baldwin in 2011, the Chiefs haven't picked a wide receiver in the first round since Bowe in 2007. Given that they haven't filled in well at receiver through free agency, it's time they look at doing so again.

Kansas City Chiefs season wrap-up

January, 8, 2014

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 10
Preseason Power Ranking: 19

Biggest surprise: The Chiefs plucked rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, off waivers to start the regular season. Cooper played better than the Chiefs had a right to expect for a long stretch of the season as the third cornerback. He had a rough stretch late in the season before bouncing back at the end. At 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, Cooper has the size to match up with the league's bigger receivers. Cooper projects as nothing less than the Chiefs' third cornerback next season and could eventually become a starter.

Biggest disappointment: Offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the first overall pick in the draft last year but rarely played like it. The Chiefs used Fisher on the right side, and he initially had trouble making the transition. He also had trouble avoiding nagging injuries, which caused him to miss four games, including the playoff loss to Indianapolis. Fisher should eventually develop into the kind of player the Chiefs envisioned. He showed great athletic skills that will help him reach his potential. Fisher was usually unable to anchor against a strong pass rush and that's where many of his problems occurred. A year in Kansas City's strength program will benefit Fisher greatly.

Biggest need: The Chiefs need a fast wide receiver to energize their passing game. They gambled by giving Dwayne Bowe a lucrative long-term contract last offseason, but Bowe didn't play like a No. 1 wide receiver until the playoff loss to the Colts. Bowe will turn 30 next season, so if nothing else, it's time for the Chiefs to plan for someone else to step into that top receiver's role. The Chiefs have a couple of fast wide receivers in Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins. While Avery delivered some big plays, he dropped too many passes and disappeared too many times. Jenkins hasn't been able to establish himself as a consistent threat.

Team MVP: The Chiefs have at least a couple of defensive candidates but the better choice is running back Jamaal Charles. He supplied much of Kansas City's offensive production, particularly early in the season when the offense around him frequently sputtered. Charles led the league in touchdowns and expanded his game to become a much more dangerous pass-catcher. Coach Andy Reid and his offensive staff did a much better job of getting Charles matched up against linebackers in the open field, and he rewarded them with a number of big plays. If the Chiefs had not lost five of their final seven regular-season games, Charles would have been a strong candidate for league MVP.

Here's one way to cure dropped passes

December, 5, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If the Kansas City Chiefs are serious about reducing their number of dropped passes, as they should be, I have an idea for them: play Junior Hemingway more at wide receiver.

Hemingway is Kansas City's most reliable receiver when it comes to catching the ball. According to the insightful numbers from Pro Football Focus, Hemingway has caught all seven of the catchable passes thrown his way by quarterback Alex Smith. Not one dropped pass.

Hemingway will certainly drop a pass the more the ball heads his way. But the Chiefs are still going to be ahead playing Hemingway, who can play any of the receiving positions, giving the Chiefs no excuse not to find more playing time for him.

"We’re throwing a lot at him,'' offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. "We’re putting him in different spots. We’re giving him the flanker spot, we’re giving him the slot spot and we’re giving him the split end spot. He’s done a nice job of handling that.''

Among the Chiefs' other wide receivers, seldom used Chad Hall also hasn't dropped a pass but he's had only one catchable ball thrown his way. Dexter McCluster has four drops, or 8.7 percent of the catchable passes thrown his way. Dwayne Bowe has five drops (10 percent), Donnie Avery 5 (12.82 percent) and A.J. Jenkins 2 (28.57 percent).

Avery dropped two deep passes and Jenkins one in last week's loss to the Denver Broncos. If they had made those catches, it's possible that today we're all talking about how Smith outgunned Peyton Manning and, more importantly, whether the Chiefs would hold on to first place in the AFC West after this Sunday's game against the Redskins in Washington.

Avery and Jenkins are the fastest of the Chiefs' receivers and that deep speed, something Hemingway doesn't have, is important. The Chiefs have to be careful in taking that off their field.

Hemingway might not get open as often. But when he does he will catch the ball, and what good is getting open if you can't do that?
Dwayne BoweAAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesThe Chiefs led 21-7 until four unanswered TDs gave the Broncos control of the game and the division.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The day began with the Kansas City Chiefs entertaining visions of regaining a grasp on the AFC West race. It ended in frustration, with the Chiefs having been sent a message by the division's bully about just how far they really are from being a championship team.

The Chiefs played with great energy for the game’s first 19 minutes, building a two-touchdown lead in front of a raucous home crowd. The Denver Broncos then showed the Chiefs how a true Super Bowl contender gets things done by shifting their game into a higher gear, reeling off four unanswered touchdowns and taking control of what ended up a 35-28 victory.

In doing so, the Broncos realistically ended Kansas City’s hopes of a division title. At 10-2, Denver has a one-game lead over the Chiefs, a sweep of the season series between them and four regular-season games remaining, all against teams with sub-.500 records.

Two times in three weeks the Chiefs have tried and failed to keep up with the NFL’s highest-scoring team. Those failures, wrapped around last weekend’s defensive collapse against the San Diego Chargers, have left the Chiefs pondering what appears to be a certain fate: a berth in the playoffs as a wild card.

“Certainly we are in a position to go another direction, not to say we still can’t win the division," quarterback Alex Smith said. “There are still a lot of games left, but those things are out of our control at this point.

“There certainly are two other ways to get into the playoffs, with the two wild-card spots, and we’re sitting pretty good with that."

By early in the second quarter on Sunday, the Chiefs looked ready to take command of the division race again. They raced to a 21-7 lead by doing all the things they failed to do in their loss to the Broncos in Denver two weeks ago. They were getting pressure on Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. They intercepted a pair of Manning passes. Their offense scored a pair of touchdowns. They got a big special-teams play in a 108-yard kickoff return from Knile Davis.

At that point, the Broncos did what the league’s best teams do when faced with adversity on the road. They didn't just match Kansas City’s energy -- they topped it.

The Broncos scored four touchdowns in five drives to leave the Chiefs flailing in their wake. They weren't content to take only what the Chiefs were giving them, which at that point probably would have been enough to help them win the game.

Instead, the Broncos started protecting Manning and gouged the Chiefs for five plays of more than 30 yards. In what seemed like an instant, Denver moved from being in a precarious position with regard to the game and the division race to controlling things.

The Chiefs scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and later, down by seven points, moved as far as the Denver 13-yard line. That’s where they relinquished the ball on downs with less than two minutes remaining.

“We weren't going to knock that team out with 10 minutes left in the second quarter," Smith said. “Yeah, we jumped on them 21-7, but we knew what they were capable of. You knew they were going to battle back and be able to put up some points. There was just so much game left at that point.

“I don’t think we were in a place to finish them off."

The trouble is that the Chiefs played for a long stretch as if their 21 points would hold up. From the time the Chiefs went ahead 21-7 to the point where Denver’s 28-point blitz was finished, the Broncos outgained Kansas City 356 yards to 97.

Where the Broncos put together one big play after another, the Chiefs bungled their chances at big plays. Donnie Avery (twice) and A.J. Jenkins (once) dropped deep passes from Smith that could have halted Kansas City’s slide.

“Those things are going to happen," Smith said. “It’s my job just to keep throwing them. That’s the nature of the passing game. You’re striving for perfection. You’d love to hit every single one, but it’s not going to happen."

That’s one of the things that separates the Chiefs from the Broncos. Denver expects to make those plays and then, more often than not, the Broncos go out and do it.

Now, there’s something else separating these teams. It’s just one game in the standings, but it might as well be a mile.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs

December, 1, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs' 35-28 loss to the Denver Broncos:

What it means: The Chiefs lost both games in the season series to the Broncos. While at 9-3 the Chiefs trail the 10-2 Broncos by one game in the AFC West standings, they effectively trail by 1 games, because Denver has the tiebreaker. So the Chiefs would need to finish ahead of the Broncos in the standings to win the division, while the Broncos could finish tied in the standings with the Chiefs at the end of the season and still be the division champion.

Stock watch: The Chiefs again failed to sack Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. They were able to get some pressure on Manning early in the game and affect some of his throws, but that pressure dissipated as the game went on and Manning was able to step into all of his throws. They were frequently asked to cover for too long, but the cornerbacks again had a tough day. That’s particularly true for Marcus Cooper, who was beaten cleanly off the line by Demaryius Thomas on one of the game’s crucial plays. Thomas had a 77-yard catch and run in the third quarter to set up the Denver touchdown that put the Broncos ahead for good.

On offense, wide receiver Donnie Avery dropped a pair of deep passes, and a reserve, A.J. Jenkins, dropped another pass. The Chiefs received some contributions from unexpected places, though. Rookie Knile Davis returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown in the first half, the longest such return in Chiefs history and second-longest in NFL history. Wide receiver Junior Hemingway had a pair of catches, including a 17-yard reception for the first touchdown of the game.

Losing steam: The Chiefs had everything going in the first half as they built a 21-7 lead. They came after the Broncos in all three phases with great energy and, with the backing of a loud home crowd, appeared headed for a lopsided victory. The Broncos weren’t matching their intensity. But while Denver put its game into a higher gear, it was the Chiefs who couldn’t sustain the pace. The Chiefs owned the last half of the fourth quarter, but after scoring one touchdown, their final drive stalled and they relinquished the ball on downs at the Denver 13.

What’s next: The Chiefs begin a two-game road trip next Sunday with a game against the Washington Redskins. The Chiefs will finish the road trip on Dec. 15 against the Oakland Raiders.