DENVER -- In all of the words, both spoken and written, that have been devoted to the Denver Broncos this season, most have been quickly filed under "offense."
Filed with touchdowns, Peyton Manning and record performances, quarter after quarter, game after game. And with that the questions lingered. What exactly the Broncos would do if Manning wasn't, well, Manning and they had to get in touch with their defensive side?
Or as cornerback Chris Harris Jr. put it on his way into the locker room following a dirt-under-their-fingernails 27-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Sports Authority Field at Mile High Sunday night: "I thought y'all said we didn't play defense."
Perhaps it says something about the Broncos' season and how high the bar has been set that Manning had his ninth 300-yard passing game and the Broncos were "held" to 427 yards and 27 points, and it all still went down as a rough-around-the-edges affair. But it was just that at times, with Manning nursing an injured right ankle encased in a brace.
The Broncos needed something else. They needed to run for more than decoration on offense and they needed their defense, a defense that has enjoyed life in the jet wash of the Broncos' offense for much of the season, to stand up and raise its hackles.
They needed their defense to roll up its sleeves and get to work. To outperform the Chiefs' defense that came in as the league's leader in scoring defense and sacks.
"Without a doubt, we heard all this hoopla about which offense is best, and which defense is best," Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "We just wanted to get out there and play our style of football and that’s physical. l We got this win and we’re happy to get this win."
Sunday really belonged to the Broncos' defense that both made the critical play of the night and checked off the biggest item on the to-do list they had carried into the game. The play came just seconds after Manning and rookie running back Montee Ball didn't connect on a handoff. The Chiefs recovered the fumble at the Broncos' 18-yard line in a game the Broncos led 3-0.
On first-and-10 from the 18, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith flipped a pass to fullback Anthony Sherman. Cornerback Quentin Jammer arrived first to stand Sherman up and linebacker Danny Trevathan then crashed into Sherman knocking the ball free. Jammer recovered the ball at the Broncos' 16-yard line. Five plays later the Broncos scored a touchdown for a 10-0 lead.
"They were kind of blitzing and I rushed the handoff and I didn't give him a good handoff at all," Manning said. "Obviously you're not feeling good leaving the field and they turn around and fumble right away pretty critical series there."
"I love the way Danny plays," Woodyard said. "He goes out there and plays hard every time and they didn't get any points out of that."
Then there was the matter of Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.
After the Chiefs' first nine games, all wins, Charles was their leading rusher and leading receiver with 47 catches, or 14 more than Dwayne Bowe. If you had added it all together in those nine wins Charles had accounted for 39 percent of the yardage (1,114) the Chiefs had gained on offense and had 48 percent of the touches (217).
And the Broncos gave Charles the attention those numbers deserved, often slowing the pass rush from the edge at times to keep a linebacker within sight of Charles. The Broncos also used plenty of defensive backs in the pass pattern against Charles and swarmed him in the run game.
In the end Charles finished with 78 yards rushing, 35 of those yards coming on one second-quarter sprint around the left end, to go with minus-6 yards receiving on two catches. Those 72 total yards accounted for Charles' lowest output of the season.
"We tried to come out there and move the ball," Charles said. "But give credit to their defense, they did a great job scheming us."
"That was the key to the whole game, really, because if we can't stop Jamaal Charles, that's a long night for us," Harris said. "We wanted to make them one dimensional if that one dimension wasn't him."
So, here they are at 9-1 with Manning on a sore ankle, wide receiver Wes Welker with a concussion and tight end Julius Thomas with a sore knee. But the Broncos brought a little more to the table Sunday night and showed a little something some folks might have believed they didn't have.
"We all know, everybody in here, we're capable of playing on defense the way we played [Sunday]," Harris said. "We have the talent, we still didn't play our best game, but we've improved each week. People will see the real us, I think, when we put it all together. But this is a team and we think our defense, we have a lot to offer, we can be there when we're needed and I think we will be."