DENVER — A dozen years after retiring, John Elway still can spark the Denver Broncos.
Energized by the Hall of Fame quarterback's pep talk last week, the Broncos rolled to a 49-29 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in their highest-scoring game in five years.
Relying on a steady rushing attack, a solid defense and a quick early lead, the Broncos (3-6) snapped a four-game skid and pulled within two games of the Chiefs (5-4) and Raiders in the middling AFC West.
They may have just won back some disgruntled fans, too.
When the Broncos last took the field at home, they were humiliated 59-14 by Oakland.
"We owed this to them," said linebacker Mario Haggan, who had a career-high three sacks. "Hopefully, we continue to play that way the rest of the season."
Maybe No. 7 is available for more inspirational speeches. Elway's words at practice certainly hit home.
"Sometimes, it takes someone coming in to say something," Brian Dawkins said. "You say it a little bit in-house, but especially a guy with John's stature and what he means to this organization and to us, for him to say it, I think it resonated with a lot of guys."
Possibly with Knowshon Moreno and Kyle Orton, both of whom had career days for Denver.
Moreno went over the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in his 1½ seasons in the NFL, gaining 106 yards, while Orton tossed four TD passes for the first time as a pro.
"It was a good day," said Moreno, who also added a touchdown catch. "We were just clicking."
Especially early when the Broncos raced out to a 35-0 lead behind three touchdown passes from Orton, a 1-yard run by rookie Tim Tebow and a 75-yard fumble return for a TD by linebacker Jason Hunter. The only time the Broncos scored more than 49 points was in 1963, when they put up 50 on the Chargers. They also had 49 against Philadelphia in 2005.
This from a team that has struggled early in games all season, scoring just seven points in the opening quarter of their first eight games combined.
"We started fast, which is something we talked about a lot," coach Josh McDaniels said. "That was a really good thing for our football team tonight, to be able to play from ahead and then just build on a lead as the game went along."
Behind by such a big margin early, the Chiefs all but abandoned their top-ranked rushing game as Jamaal Charles was held to 41 yards and Thomas Jones managed only 3.
The last time Charles stepped foot on this field, he couldn't be stopped, rushing for a franchise-record 259 yards. On Sunday, he never had a gain longer than 7 yards.
"They put in a hell of a game plan against us," Charles said.
That was even with linebacker D.J. Williams sitting out the first series as part of a team-imposed penalty following his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving.
Williams, the team's leading tackler, paced the sideline as Wesley Woodyard started in his place.
It was a tumultuous week for Williams, arrested a little before 3 a.m. Friday when police spotted him driving his car without headlights. He was cited for DUI and taken to a detox facility.
Williams was stripped of his captaincy for the season and fined an undisclosed amount by the team. He faces a multigame suspension from the league because this was his second such arrest, although that's not likely to happen until next season. He's due in court Dec. 13.
"It's always fun to have D.J. on the field," Haggan said. "I love the way he plays."
Trailing big, the Chiefs had no choice but to resort to the right arm of Matt Cassel, who threw for a career-high 469 yards. He hit Dwayne Bowe for two touchdowns as Bowe finished with a career-high 13 catches for 186 yards.
But Cassel was knocked around and sacked four times.
"This was a tough one to take," he said. "The Broncos came out ready to play and they really dominated us. There is not much else to say."
Apparently, Kansas City coach Todd Haley didn't have much to say to McDaniels after the game, refusing to shake his hand afterward.
In replays, McDaniels appeared confused when Haley wagged his finger in his face before storming off.Comment on this story
Later, Haley didn't directly answer a question about the exchange. He talked about how his players continued to play hard when the game got out of reach and "sometimes you see indicators" of where the opponent "thinks the game is."
The Broncos are finding new ways to incorporate Tebow into the offense. After scoring from 1 yard out, he later threw his first NFL pass, a 3-yard TD strike to fullback Spencer Larsen.
"We needed a win, and we were able to come together and find a win and that was big," Tebow said. "We've just got to keep that momentum and keep trying to get better every day."