Kansas City, Mo. The nicknames are the same. Not much else is in Denver and Kansas City.
In today’s NFL, franchises that have played one another twice a year for half a century can become almost like strangers in just 12 months. Since the Broncos beat the hapless Chiefs, 24-17, last Dec. 7, both teams have changed head coaches, offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators, general managers and quarterbacks, among others.
Leading rushers for the Chiefs that day were Larry Johnson and Tyler Thigpen. Both are gone, as are the top receivers, Tony Gonzalez, who was traded, and Dwayne Bowe, who is suspended.
Jay Cutler threw two touchdown passes for Denver that day, but he’s playing for Chicago now. One of his passes went to Chiefs cornerback Maurice Leggett, who returned it for a touchdown. But he won’t be on the field either today when the Chiefs and Broncos meet for the 99th time.
Denver’s leading rusher that day was Peyton Hillis. He’s still there. But the running attack now is more directly keyed to Knowshon Moreno, who leads NFL rookies in with 688 yards rushing and 784 yards from scrimmage.
While getting ready this week, it may not have done much good to study film of recent meetings. Too much has changed.
“Other than personnel and some one-on-one matchups, you can’t gain something out of it. I do believe they are two different teams now,” said Chiefs coach Todd Haley.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson sees both old and new.
“There have been an awful lot of changes for both of us. But it’s still the Broncos and they still have an explosive offense with guys like (wide receiver) Brandon Marshall,” he said. “And I’m sure it will be typical of all the games the Chiefs and Broncos play — very high-energy.”
Here’s one thing that’s just the way it was: The Chiefs (3-8) are struggling to escape mediocrity while Denver (7-4) contends. The Broncos, behind rookie coach Josh McDaniels, won their first six games, lost their next four and then got straightened out on Thanksgiving night with a 26-6 victory over the New York Giants.
“I won’t say we’re back on track,” said defensive end-linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who leads the league with 14 sacks. “But I think we’re headed back in the right direction. We did have a couple of stumbles. But it’s a long season and it shows the character of a team when you can stay together.”
The Chiefs stumbled out of the gate 0-5 in Haley’s first year. In their last six games, however, they’re 3-3 and feeling better about themselves.