The window for reclaiming the A.F.C.’s top seed was closing quickly. Kansas City, which had surrendered its hold on the No. 1 seed with last week’s loss to Cincinnati, trailed the Denver Broncos through three and a half quarters.
On second down, deep in Kansas City territory, Broncos running back Melvin Gordon readied himself to take a handoff from quarterback Drew Lock, but Melvin Ingram, whom Kansas City acquired at the November trade deadline, had been eyeing him. Before Gordon could firmly grasp the ball, Ingram had burst into the backfield unblocked and knocked it loose. His teammate, linebacker Nick Bolton, scooped up the ball and darted toward to the end zone with Lock in tow.
The 86-yard score and ensuing two-point conversion gave Kansas City the win it needed, 28-24, to possibly reclaim the No. 1 seed, home-field advantage and a first-round bye in the playoffs. For that to happen, the Chiefs would need the Tennessee Titans, who are currently the A.F.C.’s top team, to lose to the Houston Texans on Sunday. If the Titans win, Kansas City (12-5) would drop no lower than the No. 2 seed and would host the No. 7 seed in the first round of the N.F.L. playoffs.
In a game that Kansas City needed to win in order to have any chance of improving its seeding, it took overcoming self-inflicted mishaps to get past a Broncos (7-10) team that had little to play for beyond trying to snap a 12-game head-to-head losing streak that stretched back to November 2015. Denver had already been eliminated from playoff contention and played without starting cornerbacks Pat Surtain II and Ronald Darby against one of the N.F.L.’s most potent passing offenses.
But Denver built a startling lead early on Saturday behind the backup Lock, who was 12 for 24 with 162 yards. The quarterback had two rushing touchdown in the first half, including one on a third-down play in which none of Kansas City’s defenders accounted for him as a runner, and he danced into the end zone relatively untouched to put the Broncos ahead, 14-7.
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- Saturday’s N.F.L. Games: The Eagles could spoil the Cowboys’ plans for the No. 2 seed in the N.F.C., and Kansas City’s defense powered it to a win over the Broncos.
- Buccaneers Cut Antonio Brown Over Injury Dispute: It was the receiver’s fourth departure from an N.F.L. team in four seasons, and perhaps the end to his career.
- The Season That Ran Too Long: With only one true elimination game, Week 18’s bloat should feel anticlimactic.
Kansas City’s rehabilitated defense had seemed to revert to early-season form at the worst possible time. Gordon gashed the Kansas City defense for 110 yards, including a score in the third quarter. On the play, Gordon took a handoff from Lock and skirted between Kansas City defenders on a 47-yard scamper into the end zone to put the Broncos up, 21-17.
But Kansas City has ridden the ebbs and flows of this inconsistent season, and did so again in this final regular season game, leaning on its offense to push the ball down the field when it absolutely needed to score, despite injuries to many of the team’s skill position players.
Tyreek Hill, Kansas City’s electric receiver, was in and out of the game with a right heel injury. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire sat out with a shoulder injury.
Mahomes’s first touchdown pass of the game was a short throw to tight end Travis Kelce on Kansas City’s opening drive. The team’s second touchdown score came on a physical 14-yard rush by running back Jerick McKinnon.
But in a game marred by missed tackles and breakdowns in its defensive front and in the secondary, Ingram’s big play and Bolton’s return secured the win and kept Kansas City’s hopes of clinching the A.F.C.’s top seed alive.
Preview: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
8:15 p.m., ABC and ESPN
Dallas (11-5) clinched a playoff spot and the N.F.C. East title in Week 16 and is the No. 4 seed in the N.F.C. heading into Saturday’s matchup. The Eagles (9-7) have won seven of their last nine games after starting the season 2-5 and grabbed the No. 7 seed with last week’s win over the Washington Football Team. This game isn’t about making the playoffs but could determine seeding. Dallas could move as high as the No. 2 seed with a win over Philadelphia, plus losses by Arizona and the Rams, while Philadelphia will finish with either the sixth or the seventh seed.
In their first meeting, the Cowboys blew out Philadelphia in quarterback Dak Prescott’s first home game for Dallas since his gruesome ankle injury last season. Prescott had three touchdowns and over 200 passing yards in that Week 3 game.
Dallas’s high-powered offense has sputtered in recent weeks, however, stamped by a 25-22 loss to the Cardinals last week. The Cowboys’ run game has been inconsistent (Dallas rushed for just 45 yards last week), and the offense has not pushed the ball down the field — both, in part, because of struggles on the offensive line.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott hasn’t had the same impact many are used to seeing as he deals with a knee injury. Micah Parsons, Dallas’s 2021 first-round pick, has been part of its defensive turnaround this season but was put on the reserve/Covid-19 list this week and could miss Saturday’s game.
Still, Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ owner and general manager, indicated in a radio interview on 105.3 the Fan this week that the team had no plans to rest its starters.
Much of Philadelphia’s success this season has come behind a dominant ground game, led by running back Miles Sanders, who is the team’s second leading rusher behind quarterback Jalen Hurts. Sanders will miss this game with a fractured hand. Hurts has been a hesitant runner in recent weeks as he plays through a high ankle sprain.
Philadelphia could also be without a host of other starters as the team placed 12 players, including center Jason Kelce, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and tight end Dallas Goedert, on the reserve/Covid-19 list on Monday. It remains unclear whether Eagles Coach Nick Sirianni plans to rest any of his starters.