KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs knew what was coming, even after the Denver Broncos' top two running backs went down with injuries. Their AFC West rivals were going to keep running behind Tim Tebow until the Chiefs proved they could stop them.
Just when it looked like they finally did, Tebow went to the air.
The former Heisman Trophy winner connected with Eric Decker on a 56-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, helping the Broncos to a humbling — even humiliating — 17-10 defeat of Kansas City.
"''It's just a mindset. It's a low-risk offense. It's not an indictment on Tim Tebow or whoever our quarterback is," Broncos coach John Fox said. "It's just whatever is working for us. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. We tried to possess the ball and keep our defense fresh."
Willis McGahee went down with a hamstring injury on the Broncos' first offensive series, and Knowshon Moreno left later in the first quarter with a knee injury. That left journeyman Lance Ball to tote the ball 30 times for 96 yards, churning up the Chiefs' banged-up defense.
Tebow finished 2 of 8 for 69 yards, but added 44 yards and a score on the ground, as the Broncos (4-5) moved into a tie with Kansas City and San Diego behind AFC West-leading Oakland (5-4).
"I'm not trying to send a message," said Tebow, who is 3-1 since taking over as the starter. "I'm just trying to be a football player. We can improve from what we did today and get better."
Fox scrapped a large chunk of his playbook when he made Tebow the starter, trying to cater to his deft ability to run the read-option. And despite losing his best two running backs, Fox stuck with the ground game, content to wear down the Kansas City defense.
The Broncos made that clear when they ran eight straight times on their opening possession.
Moreno had the highlight carry when he hurdled the Chiefs' Brandon Flowers on a 24-yard scamper, and Tebow finished off the drive when he scored up the middle from 7 yards out.
The way the Chiefs played, that nearly was enough.
"We knew that was going to be a great challenge coming into this game," Kansas City coach Todd Haley said. "We had a Plan A, B and C for how we were going to stop the run, because it's a numbers issue, and no plans ended up working like we needed it to."
Nothing worked on offense, either.
Matt Cassel was 13 of 28 for 93 yards and a touchdown, and the Chiefs only managed 258 yards of total offense, a performance every bit as ugly as last week's 31-3 loss to Miami.
"It was a tough game," said Cassel, who didn't go out for the Chiefs' final series because the medical staff decided he was too banged up to continue. "We didn't do enough offensively, we didn't execute throughout the day, and we just need to execute better."
Cassel said he hopes to play next Monday night against New England.
Rookie wide receiver Jon Baldwin tried to give Kansas City a spark when he hauled in an acrobatic 58-yard pass in the second quarter, reaching around safety Brian Dawkins to make the grab. Baldwin held onto the ball, still behind Dawkins' back, as both players fell to the ground, but the play was called back because wide receiver Steve Breaston had lined up illegally.
Matt Prater's 38-yard field goal gave Denver a 10-0 lead at halftime.
Tebow wound up missing all four of his pass attempts in the half, making Denver the first team to lead at the break without a completion since the Green Bay Packers led the Chicago Bears 14-0 on Oct. 31, 1994, according to STATS LLC. Brett Favre was 0 for 6 at halftime of that game.
Kansas City finally scored when Cassel hit Le'Ron McClain on a play-action pass from just outside the goal line midway through the third quarter. It was the first points scored by the Chiefs' offense since 12:01 left in the fourth quarter against San Diego two weeks ago.
The Broncos snuffed out the comeback bid with 6:44 left in the game, when Tebow hit Decker with the long touchdown pass. Ryan Succop kicked a field goal with 7 seconds left for Kansas City, but the Broncos recovered the onside kick, sending the Chiefs to their second straight loss.Comment on this story
"We have to do a better job of playing on Sundays, because it doesn't matter how practices go, how things look, you have to do it on Sunday," Haley said. "The good thing is I know we can. We've done it against quality opponents, and we have some quality opponents coming up."
Notes: Chiefs DE Glenn Dorsey left late in the game with an undisclosed injury. ... There were no turnovers in the game, though a fumble by Chiefs RB Dexter McCluster was overturned after video review. ... QB Tyler Palko was 5 of 6 for 47 yards while running the Chiefs' no-huddle offense that set up Succop's field goal. ... Miller finished with seven tackles and 1½ sacks for Denver.