Kansas City, Mo. Not even the best start in John Elway's career could overcome Denver's lethargic beginning.
The Broncos' offense sputtered in the first half, producing four first downs and driving into Kansas City's territory once in a 15-7 defeat Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
Denver was also called for 12 penalties in the first half, three shy of the team record.
"We had a lot of penalties," Broncos' head coach Wade Phillips said. "In the second half, we got a lot better. But in the first half, we had a lot of problems."
Elway threw for 300 yards, completing 28 of 45 passes. Elway has thrown for over 250 yards in each of the first three games.
"If the offense just wouldn't have made the mental errors, Elway would have had a superb game," Broncos' wide receiver Vance Johnson said. "He didn't have the time to do things right, because of the fact of the penalties and offsides."
THE FIFTH-LARGEST crowd in KC history made matters more difficult.
"The situation was tough and we knew that coming in," Elway said. "We knew we were walking into a hornets nest. We just didn't answer the bell."
Denver was its own worst enemy. Its offensive linemen were nailed for seven false starts in the first half.
"We kept talking about composure, getting our composure back and the need to stop beating ourselves," Elway said. "The Chiefs' defense is tough enough and beating ourselves makes it that much more difficult."
Denver treaded on Kansas City territory four times in the second half, but scored only once. Running back Glyn Milburn fumbled at midfield in the third and Elway was intercepted at the KC 6 by Jay Taylor with 8:25 remaining.
"I KNEW IT was going to be awfully tough and that we had to make some big plays," Elway said. "The thing that I didn't anticipate was the penalties, fumbles, and the interception that I threw. We knew that we weren't going to be able to do that and come out of here with a win."
Denver was 4-for-13 in third down conversions, zero of its first nine. Meanwhile, the Chiefs' settled for five Nick Lowery field goals.
"They made the field goals when they needed to make them," Phillips said. "We got into their territory and couldn't make the play."
Kansas City's defense halted the Broncos' ground game, yielding only 35 yards.
"We stayed in the game, but we should have done better offensively," safety Dennis Smith said. "We didn't let them score any touchdowns, but we let them have control of the ball more than we should have."
Denver finally found the end zone with 1:24 left when Elway hit Johnson with a 2-yard touchdown strike.