Kansas City 27, Denver 24
When: 4:25 PM ET, Sunday, December 31, 2017
Where: Sports Authority Field, Denver, Colorado
DENVER -- The Kansas City Chiefs got what they could out of a regular-season finale that they had rendered meaningless by locking up their playoff position the week before.
Rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes led four scoring drives, the last leading to Harrison Butker's decisive field goal with no time left, and the playoff-bound Chiefs rested key starters and pulled out a 27-24 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
"We're keeping it rolling," said running back Kareem Hunt, whose lone carry resulted in a Chiefs touchdown. "Winning is the only thing for right now. That's all we need to do right now is keep winning and keep advancing."
Mahomes, in his first career NFL action, completed 22-of-35 passes for 284 yards with an interception. Linebacker Ramik Wilson returned a fumble 11 yards for a score, Kareem Hunt ran 35 yards for a touchdown, and fullback Anthony Sherman ran 1 yard for a score. Butker added a pair of field goals, including a 30-yarder for the game-winner to help the Chiefs (10-6) beat Denver (5-11) for the fifth straight time.
"It was a tough game," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "They spotted some people. We spotted some people. The guys that played on both sides, I think, did a heck of a job. My hat goes off for my guys for how they battled."
Both sides showcased their younger players in the finale, though for very different reasons. The Chiefs clinched their second straight AFC West title with last week's 29-13 win over the Miami Dolphins, locking Kansas City in as the No. 4 playoff seed in the conference. They will host a playoff game next Saturday against Tennessee.
"Being in the game and having the opportunity to play with these guys was awesome," Mahomes said. "It's something I will have to build on going into the playoffs and into the offseason."
The Broncos, going nowhere after a season that included an eight-game losing streak that stood out as their longest in 50 years, took advantage of a chance to see what they have in some of their younger players. That included quarterback Paxton Lynch, who came back from an ankle injury to make his second start of the season, completing 21-of-31 passes for 254 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a fumble. The Chiefs scored 10 points off the turnovers.
"Turnovers obviously hurt us, but at the end of the day, you have to turn around and keep playing," Lynch said. "I'm very proud of myself and this group on how we continued to battle against adversity tonight."
Mahomes was relieved by Tyler Bray midway through the fourth quarter and his first play resulted in a bad exchange to Sherman that was fumbled away. Linebacker Zaire Anderson swooped in to pick up the loose ball and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown, pulling the Broncos to within seven points with 7:02 left.
Denver evened the score 24-24 with 2:53 remaining when Lynch completed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on fourth down. Cornerback Terrance Mitchell slipped and fell on the play, leaving Thomas wide open.
Mahomes returned to the field to lead the next drive, ending in Butker's game-winner.
"We just couldn't get it done a lot of times this year in all phases," Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "It was just kind of sad. It is not like us."
Reid decided to rest quarterback Alex Smith, averting the risk of injury to his starter while giving Mahomes, who hadn't taken a snap in a game prior to Sunday's finale, some practical experience ahead of the playoffs.
Among the fellow starters joining Smith on the sideline were tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and cornerback Marcus Peters, who were among the team's inactive players.
Leading by four at the half, the Chiefs stretched their lead to 24-10, highlighted by Wilson's scoop-and-score after defensive end Chris Jones sacked Lynch, forcing a fumble.
Mahomes also led an 18-play, 90-yard drive ending in Butker's 20-yard field goal with 3:58 remaining in the third quarter.
Hunt, the NFL's rushing leader, did not return after his only carry resulted in a 35-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that put Kansas City up early. That enavbled him to pass Rams running back Todd Gurley II to become the NFL's elading rusher with 1,327 yards.
The Chiefs took a 14-10 halftime lead on Sherman's 1-yard scoring run with 1:07 remaining in the second quarter. Initially, it was believed Mahomes had scrambled for a 6-yard touchdown, but the play was overruled on replay review when it was determined that the Chiefs rookie had stepped out of bounds just shy of the goal line.
Denver got a 36-yard field goal from Brandon McManus and Lynch went 5-for-5 for 65 yards on a subsequent touchdown drive that running back De'Angelo Henderson finished with a 29-yard score off a screen pass.
NOTES: Chiefs S Leon McQuay left the game in the first quarter to be evaluated for a concussion. ... Former All-Pro T Ryan Clady, who was signed for one day last week so he would retire as a Bronco, was honored in a pregame tribute. "I played most of my career here and I loved it while I was here and had great success here," Clady said. "It meant a lot." ... Chiefs PR De'Anthony Thomas was carted off the field with a right leg injury after being pulled to the ground awkwardly at the end of the return. Thomas, who was injured on the final play of the first quarter, did not return. ... Broncos RB Jamal Charles, a former Chief who complained last week about his limited role, was among Denver's inactive players. ... Chiefs P Dustin Colquitt got off a 77-yard punt to end the second quarter.
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Team Stats Summary
Kansas City will play their next game at home against Tennessee. The Chiefs have a W/L % of .800 after a win and .333 after a loss.