Forced to navigate choppy waters in November without head coach John Fox, Peyton Manning managed to consistently deploy his diverse attacking options with the only setback occurring in last week’s thrilling overtime defeat to the AFC’s second-placed New England Patriots.
Manning restored order Sunday with another incredibly effective display which delivered four out of his five touchdowns to wide receiver Eric Decker, whose starring role buffered the visitors against a late Chiefs rally, their 35-28 win giving the Broncos full control of the AFC West.
“I think [Manning] showed people why he’s so great,” Decker said. “We’re very versatile as far as going inside, outside, left, right; whatever it may be. Fortunately I had some play calls and took advantage of the opportunities I got.”
Fox was due to return to the camp yesterday after heart surgery, retaking the reins from assistant Jack Del Rio, who praised his team’s resilience at Kansas City.
“It was a great, gritty effort on the road,” he said.
Surprisingly, the Patriots were made to work for their victory over the Houston Texans who, despite falling to their 10th consecutive defeat, actually led this one by 10 at half-time. However, Tom Brady threw for 371 yards and two touchdowns before Stephen Gostkowski kicked two long field goals in the fourth quarter to edge the win for the Patriots, 34-31.
The Cincinnati Bengals and the Indianapolis Colts both kept their AFC divisional leads and automatic seeding hopes intact courtesy of gritty victories. The Bengals beat the San Diego Chargers 17-10 while Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, the oldest player in the NFL, equalled his best performance with five field goals that helped Indianapolis towards a 22-14 win over the Tennessee Titans.
In the NFC, meanwhile, last night’s clash between the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks was set to define the order of the conference’s top two with four games remaining in the regular season.
The Saints’ NFC South rivals, the Carolina Panthers, held up their push for an automatic slot, however, with a convincing 27-6 win over Tampa Bay.
Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Eagles halted the Arizona Cardinals’ good run with a 24-21 victory, while the San Francisco 49ers beat St Louis 23-13.
The New York Giants came from behind to win 24-17 at Washington, Jacksonville beat Cleveland 32-28, Minnesota overcame Chicago in a bizarre overtime game that eventually ended 23-20 and Atlanta beat Buffalo in Toronto, 34-31.
Meanwhile, the Thanksgiving Day slate on Thursday saw wins for the Detroit Lions over Green Bay, Dallas over Oakland and Baltimore over arch-rivals Pittsburgh.