Jan 09, 2022 3:05 AM

Nick Bolton's scoop-n-score lifts Chiefs to tough win over Denver Saturday

Posted Jan 09, 2022 3:05 AM

St. Joseph Post

DENVER (AP) — Nearly stumbling heading into the playoffs, Nick Bolton and the Kansas City Chiefs gathered themselves just in time to thunder into the postseason with an AFC-leading 12 wins.

They'll learn Sunday if that's enough to get them a first-round bye.

“We're ready to go wherever and against whomever,” Patrick Mahomes said after the Chiefs rallied for a 28-24 win Saturday over the Denver Broncos, a victory powered by Bolton's 86-yard fumble return midway through the fourth quarter.

To secure the pole position in the AFC playoffs, the Chiefs (12-5) need Houston to upset the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. If not, Kansas City hosts a wild-card game next weekend in its quest to reach a third consecutive Super Bowl.

The Broncos were ahead 21-20 and driving for another score when Melvin Ingram III blitzed, speeding past tight end Noah Fant untouched and blowing up the play just as Drew Lock handed the ball to Melvin Gordon on second-and-2 from the 9.

Bolton, a rookie linebacker who checks in at 237 pounds, scooped up the loose ball and rumbled down the Chiefs' euphoric sideline, nearly falling down at midfield before regaining his balance and outracing Lock, whom he played with at Missouri, to the end zone.

“I was hoping that he wouldn't stumble," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after his 250th NFL coaching victory, including playoffs. "Those guys don't get much of a chance to run that far that fast very often and he ran like a stallion. He took off and looked like a running back there.”

Like many of the other victories in the Chiefs' 13-game winning streak against Denver, this one was no cakewalk. The Broncos (7-10) led for much of the afternoon despite having nothing to play for but pride.

“I love the way our defense buckled down," Reid said. “All in all, a good win and an important win for the Kansas City Chiefs and we’ll see what we have by tomorrow night, who we’re playing. We sure look forward to bringing back a playoff game back to Arrowhead in front of our fans.”

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill could surely use the week off that goes to the top seed in each conference. He injured a heel in pregame warmups and was held to one catch for 2 yards. With Hill hurting, Mecole Hardman stepped up with eight catches for 103 yards.

“No one is Tyreek. He's a special player that has never been seen in this league,” Mahomes said. “But Mecole is pretty close. ... He was prepared for this moment."

After Mahomes scored a two-point conversion following Bolton's touchdown to give the Chiefs a seven-point lead, the Broncos quickly drove downfield again but settled for Brandon McManus' chip shot field goal rather than going for it on fourth-and-9 from the 13.

The Chiefs chewed up the final 4:37 and lined up in victory formation after the two-minute warning as the crowd  streamed for the exits, a fifth straight losing season in the books and the Broncos' playoff drought now stretched to six years.

The Chiefs now await their playoff matchup, and will cheer on the Texans when they face the Titans on Sunday at noon central in Houston.