By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen, left, is congratulated by teammate Travis Kelce after intercepting a pass and running it back for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) runs with the ball past Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed (38) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward (35) is unable to intercept a pass as teammate Mike Hughes (21) watches during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Denver Broncos running back Mike Boone (26) runs with the ball as Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Melvin Ingram III (24) defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Denver Broncos' Diontae Spencer, left, returns a punt as Kansas City Chiefs' Armani Watts (23) defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) runs past Denver Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb (55) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) runs with the ball as Denver Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb (55) defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams runs with the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Denver Broncos tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (85) is stopped by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed (38) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater scrambles under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Jarran Reed (90) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Byron Pringle (13) struggles for yardage as Denver Broncos linebacker Baron Browning defends during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker (7) is congratulated by teammates after kicking a 56-yard field goal during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Chiefs' Andy Reid is an offensive-minded coach to his core, so the Kansas City defense must have done something special against the Denver Broncos on Sunday night for him to call its performance ''beautiful.''
Three turnovers. Three fourth-down stops. One pick-6 to seal a fifth straight win.
Yep, sounds like a fitting description.
''It was just beautiful to watch,'' Reid gushed after the 22-9 victory in chilly Arrowhead Stadium, which kept Kansas City in first place in the crowded AFC West as it chases a sixth consecutive division crown.
Patrick Mahomes had just 184 yards passing with a touchdown run and an interception, and his receiving corps dropped so many passes he probably thought the ball was greased. But despite the Chiefs (8-4) gaining 257 yards of total offense, they managed to keep a one-game lead on the Chargers thanks to the other side of the ball.
''Mostly it's been about a commitment to each other, believing in each other, not letting outside noise dictate what we feel,'' Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. ''It's been a total team effort to stay committed to each other.''
Things went haywire for the Broncos early in the game, when a 20-play drive ended with a failed fourth-down play rather than an easy field goal. And they didn't get much better when Teddy Bridgewater threw a pair of second-half interceptions, including the one that Daniel Sorensen returned 75 yards for a score with 9 1/2 minutes left to put the game away.
''We moved the ball well in certain areas, certain times of the game. Guys stepped up and made plays,'' Bridgewater said. ''But when you give them opportunities and you don't maximize your opportunities, it's a recipe to get beat.''
Bridgewater was held to 257 yards passing for the Broncos (6-6), who have lost 12 in a row to their longtime rival dating to the 2015 season. Javonte Williams started in place of injured running back Melvin Gordon III and had 102 yards rushing along with a touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter.
''The loss makes you feel empty no matter what,'' Broncos coach Vic Fangio said.
The Chiefs must have spent their bye working on their opening offensive script, because they effortlessly flew downfield for a touchdown. They even overcame an offensive pass-interference call before Mahomes scampered for the score.
After the Chiefs forced a second consecutive three-and-out, Harrison Butker made a 56-yard field goal.
That was just about the last anyone saw of Mahomes and Co. for a while.
The Broncos answered with a field goal of their own. Then, after forcing a quick punt, they embarked on a 20-play odyssey that carried them 83 yards and chewed up nearly 12 minutes of the second quarter - and resulted in no points.
Denver twice converted on fourth down to keep the drive alive, then went for the hat trick on fourth-and-2 at the Kansas City 8. Williams took the handoff and was stuffed by linebacker Willie Gay Jr. for a turnover on downs, the first time since 2009 that a 20-play driving lasting at least 11 minutes didn't result in points.
''Frustrating. That's all I can really say,'' Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton said. ''It would be nice to get points.''
That wasn't the end of the Broncos' woes. They went three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, Bridgewater was picked off by Juan Thornhill on their next, and Caden Sterns ran into returner Diontae Spencer after forcing Kansas City to punt; the Chiefs managed to hop on the muff for a fresh set of downs.
Butker hit his third field goal a few minutes later, extending the lead to 16-3 with 13 1/2 minutes to go, and Sorensen tacked on his pick-6 to put the game out of reach.
''It's tough to win in this league,'' said Reid, who improved to 20-3 coming off a bye, including 7-2 since his arrival in Kansas City. ''And to have that opportunity against a good football team, we'll feel good about ourselves for a minute here until we get ourselves ready for the Raiders come Tuesday.''
STATS AND STREAKS
The Broncos are 3-20 in December when playing at Kansas City dating to the days of the AFL. ... Bridgewater had not thrown an interception in four straight games before the Chiefs picked him twice. ... The Broncos' Patrick Surtain II, the reigning AFC defensive player of the week, had an interception. ... The Chiefs' defense has allowed 17 points or fewer in five straight games. ... Mahomes needs 73 yards passing to pass Alex Smith (17,608) for the third most in Chiefs history. ... Darrel Williams led the Chiefs in rushing (54 yards) and receiving (three catches for 60 yards).
Broncos NT Mike Purcell was a surprise inactive with a thumb injury.
Chiefs CB Chris Lammons left late in the first half with an ankle injury.
The Broncos host Detroit next Sunday. The Chiefs host Las Vegas the same day.
On Thursday, the Chicago Bears hired former Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus to be their head coach. Eberflus took a Colts defense that was ranked 26th and 27th in total defense before he arrived and made them a top-10 unit. The Colts never featured tremendous pass rush rates and blitzed at one of the lowest rates in the league, but the Bears defensive scheme only blitzed 2.4% more and both teams ran a variation of a 4-3 base defense, so it's possible there won't be much change in philosophy. However, the biggest question will be who Eberflus hires as offensive coordinator and what that means for Justin Fields. Since Eberflus spent four years coaching under former NFL quarterback Frank Reich, it wouldn't be a stretch to assume that he soaked up some knowledge in that relationship and will use it to make a hire that's in the best interest of his quarterback's development.
After earlier reports that Byron Leftwich was set to be the next head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, reports surfaced early on Wednesday that the negotiations were held up because Leftwich wanted Jacksonville to get rid of General Manager Trent Baalke to hire Adrian Wilson, who is Vice President of Pro Scouting for the Arizona Cardinals. Not long after that, Adam Schefter reported that the Jaguars interviewed former Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio for their head coaching position. While we don't know where this will end up, Fangio has been a far more run-heavy coach in his career than we'd expect Leftwich to be since Leftwich has learned under Bruce Arians. It's possible that if Fangio were to be hired in Jacksonville, we could see a running back committee of Travis Etienne and James Robinson in the same way Denver deployed Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon this year. It would also potentially sap the upside of Trevor Lawrence, Laviska Shenault Jr., and D.J. Chark, so let's hope Jacksonville does the right thing here.
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn has told teams that he will remain with the Cowboys next year and not pursue any more head coaching positions. Six teams had requested interviews with Quinn, but he decided to return in pursuit of a Super Bowl. The Dallas defense under Quinn this year finished as the number one fantasy defense thanks to their propensity for turnovers., so Quinn's return should be good news for the Cowboys DST next year as well. Also, fantasy managers in IDP leagues don't have to worry about new schemes for studs like Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement Thursday, Jan. 27.
Fantasy Spin: Big Ben will be remembered for this size, athletic ability and big arm. He was different and will surely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The Steelers will pivot to Mason Rudolph, for now, but there will be a number of options in free agency. Rudolph will be a QB2 in fantasy if he's the starter.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (knee) popped up on the injury report with a knee issue. Despite showing up on the latest injury report, the 25-year-old was a full participant in Wednesday's practice. He is expected to be all systems go for the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The former No.1 overall pick completed 28-of-37 passes for 348 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception in Saturday's 19-16 Divisional-Round win over the Tennessee Titans. He's been on absolute fire recently, throwing for 1,563 yards, 10 touchdowns, and one pick over his last four games. Burrow is an excellent QB option with a $7,500 price on FanDuel for Sunday's main DFS slate.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (thumb) popped up on the injury report with a thumb issue. He was a full participant in Wednesday's practice despite showing up on the latest injury report. In last week's Divisional-Round win over the Tennessee Titans, the 23-year-old hauled in seven receptions on nine targets for 96 yards. He is expected to be all systems go for the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Higgins caught three passes for 62 yards in the Week 17 win over the Chiefs and is an excellent mid-tier option at his $6,400 price tag on FanDuel for Sunday's main DFS slate.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Darrel Williams (toe) participated fully in Wednesday's practice. Last week, the 26-year-old was limited with a toe injury and was inactive for the Divisional -Round game against the Buffalo Bills. He is expected to be available for Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Williams will split touches out of Kansas City's backfield with Clyde-Edwards Helaire and Jerick McKinnon. Due to the uncertainty of his role, Williams is more of a GPP option in Sunday's main DFS slate.
Green Bay Packers PK Mason Crosby is likely to be released during the offseason as a cap casualty, according to The Green Bay Press-Gazette's Pete Dougherty.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers indicated he should have made a decision about his future by late February during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, which coincides with when the Packers would potentially utilize the franchise tag on WR Davante Adams, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
Fantasy Spin: If Rodgers and Adams return to Green Bay in 2022, or reunite elsewhere, both would be No. 1 options at their respective positions. Rodgers' decision as to whether he'll play in 2022 figures to be the first domino to fall.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (thumb) practiced fully on Wednesday. The 49ers have removed his sprained shoulder from the injury report, but his sprained right thumb remains. The 30-year-old has somehow led the 49ers to the NFC Championship despite throwing for 303 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions over both playoff games. He threw for 316 yards, one touchdown, and two picks in the Week 18 win over the Rams. Garoppolo should be all systems go against the Los Angeles Rams and is the only value option at quarterback for Sunday's main DFS slate with a $6,200 price tag on FanDuel.
San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (knee) did not participate in Wednesday's practice. Teammate Elijah Mitchell also missed Wednesday's session with an ongoing knee issue. Wilson suffered a low-ankle sprain during the first quarter of Saturday's Divisional-Round game over the Green Packers and did not return. According to head coach Kyle Shanahan, he could play in the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams. The 26-year-old has two more chances to practice in some capacity and will most likely be questionable for Sunday's game. If active, Wilson could have an expanded role if Mitchell (knee) cannot suit up. Stay tuned.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Van Jefferson (knee) did not practice on Wednesday due to a knee injury. The 25-year-old did not participate in the Rams walkthrough session and was listed as a non-participant. He's considered day-to-day, and it's unclear if Van Jefferson will miss the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. He caught two passes for 31 yards in the Week 18 loss to the 49ers. Fantasy managers should continue to monitor his status throughout the week. If active, Van Jefferson provides salary relief with his $5,200 price tag and is a solid option against the 49ers in Sunday's main DFS slate. Stay tuned.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle isn't listed on the injury report ahead of Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams. He was seen limping at the end of the Divisional-Round win over the Green Bay Packers but is expected to be all systems go for Sunday. The 28-year-old logged a full practice Wednesday and was removed from the injury report. He caught five of seven targets for 10 yards in his previous contest against the Rams. Despite the dud against Los Angeles in Week 18, Kittle provides excellent value at his $5,800 price tag on FanDuel for Sunday's main DFS slate.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (knee) isn't listed on Wednesday's injury report ahead of the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams. The 26-year-old said he was sore after taking a helmet to the knee in last Saturday's Divisional Round win over the Green Bay Packers. On Wednesday, he logged a full practice and was removed from the injury report. Samuel caught four passes for 95 yards and rushed for 45 yards on eight carries and a score in his previous game against the Rams. Deebo will have a vital role in the NFC Championship Game and is a strong option with his $8,400 price tag on FanDuel for Sunday's DFS slate.
San Francisco 49ers DE Nick Bosa (non-injury), C Alex Mack (non-injury), RB Elijah Mitchell (knee), OT Trent Williams (ankle) and RB Jeff Wilson Jr. (ankle) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Jan. 26. CB Ambry Thomas (knee) was limited during practice, while QB Jimmy Garoppolo (thumb) fully participated in practice.
Atlanta Falcons TE Lee Smith announced his retirement from professional football Tuesday, Jan. 25.
Free-agent WR Josh Gordon was signed to the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad Wednesday, Jan. 26.
Kansas City Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu (concussion) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Jan. 26. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder), CB Rashad Fenton (back), WR Mecole Hardman (hip), WR Tyreek Hill (heel), LB Anthony Hitchens (back), DT Chris D. Jones (groin), CB L'Jarius Sneed (knee), CB Charvarius Ward (neck), RB Darrel Williams (toe) and OG Andrew Wylie (elbow) fully participated in practice.
Buffalo Bills OG Ike Boettger (Achilles) and CB Tre'Davious White (knee) are on schedule in their recoveries, according to head coach Sean McDermott.