KANSAS CITY — With one scintillating punt return, Dante Hall broke everything: an NFL record, numerous tackles and Denver’s hearts.
Hall’s 93-yard touchdown return in the fourth quarter gave Kansas City a 24-23 win against Denver on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs improved to 5-0 for the first time in the 44-year history of the franchise. The Broncos suffered their first loss, falling to 4-1.
After Denver’s drive stalled at the 50 with 8:45 to play, punter Micah Knorr kicked a high, spiraling punt to the Kansas City 7. Hall, to his own surprise, didn’t call fair catch and made his first move.
With no seam to run through, Hall went backwards to the 2 where he appeared to run out of room. Instead, he juked several Denver defenders, including former Texas A&M teammate Chris Cole twice, to tie the game at 23. Morten Anderson’s extra point gave Kansas City its first lead and the final margin.
Hall’s touchdown return was his fourth of the season, tying him for the NFL record for most in a season. Hall, who finished with 206 yards on seven returns, also became the first player in NFL history to have a touchdown return in four consecutive games.
Hall said he almost got himself in trouble when he ran backward.
“I thought, I’ve got to get myself out of this one,” Hall said. “I’m supposed to be smart. I think I caught it on the 8. I retreated back to the 5, then to the 2, and I just kept getting dumber and dumber.”
Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil said the play was one of the best he remembers seeing.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better punt return than that one,” Vermeil said.
After Hall’s return, the Broncos had two chances to win. Denver got the ball back at its 31 and moved into scoring range. Quarterback Jake Plummer hit Shannon Sharpe for a 21-yard gain and the Broncos moved to the Kansas City 35.
On third-and-2, the Chiefs pressured Plummer and he threw the ball to center Tom Nalen, which resulted in a penalty. Vermeil declined and gave kicker Jason Elam a chance to give the Broncos the lead. Elam missed a 53-yard field goal attempt and Kansas City took over at its 43.
The Chiefs, intent on running out the clock, gave the ball to Priest Holmes. Holmes, who finished with 97 yards on 17 carries, fumbled for the first time in 426 touches – dating to September 2002 – when Kelly Herndon stripped him from behind at the Chiefs’ 18. Lenny Walls recovered the ball at the 8 with 2:21 to play to give Denver renewed hope.
Plummer completed a 19-yard pass to Rod Smith to the Kansas City 24 and Ashley Lelie caught a 4-yard pass two plays later, but that was all the Broncos could muster. Plummer’s fourth-and-6 pass to Ed McCaffrey fell incomplete and the Chiefs ran out the clock.
Denver had plenty of chances to put Kansas City away, outgaining the Chiefs 469-261. The Kansas City defense made the plays when it had to, though, including a key goal line stand early in the fourth quarter.
Vermeil said most undefeated teams find ways to win that perhaps they shouldn’t.
“Sometimes you win when maybe you aren’t that perfect that day,” Vermeil said. “You have to win a game or two that maybe the opponent could have easily won if they had made that big play.”
Tailback Clinton Portis, who finished with 141 rushing yards on 23 carries and 79 receiving yards on five catches, failed to get in the end zone in the third quarter on three tries from the Chiefs 5. John Browning, a Kansas City defensive tackle, stopped Portis for a 1-yard loss on third down, forcing Denver to settle for an Elam field goal to go up 23-17.
Things looked bleak for Kansas City after Portis started the second half with a 65-yard touchdown run through a gaping hole on the right side of the Chiefs defense to give Denver a 20-10 lead.
Kansas City came right back with a five-play, 77-yard drive spanning 2:41. Trent Green hit Johnnie Morton on a 28-yard fade to the left corner of the end zone to make it 20-17.
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said it was disappointing to lose, despite outplaying Kansas City.
“Kansas City found a way to get the job done,” Shanahan said. “The bottom line is find a way to win and that’s what they did. They made some plays there in the fourth quarter.”
Denver scored first on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Plummer to tight end Dwayne Carswell with 5:16 to go in the first quarter. On Denver’s first play of its second possession, Smith took a reverse and threw a long pass to Portis for a 72-yard gain to set up the score.
Kansas City tied the game at 7 on Green’s 20-yard scoring strike to Tony Gonzalez. Elam kicked a 48-yard field goal two possessions later to give the Broncos a 10-7 lead. The Chiefs responded with Anderson’s 23-yard field goal to tie it.
The Broncos drove 63 yards in 1:16 to set up Elam for another field goal, this time from 29 yards out to give Denver a 13-10 halftime lead.