Eleven weeks of NFL Sundays are in the books, and this much is undeniable:
The Denver Broncos knocked the NFL's last remaining undefeated team off its perch Sunday night, beating the visiting Kansas City Chiefs, 27-17, to claim a share of first place in the AFC West.
Both teams are 9-1.
Peyton Manning was sharp, but it was Denver's defense that set the tone, upstaging a stifling Chiefs defense that rumbled into Sports Authority Field having allowed a league-best average of 12.3 points in its first nine games. The Broncos are the first Kansas City opponent to score more than 17.
Manning completed 24 of 40 passes for 323 yards and a touchdown, and wasn't knocked down by a defense that came into the game with a league-leading 36 sacks. Besides the bulky bandages around his ankles, he showed little evidence of a high ankle sprain that he suffered a week earlier.
"The protection was outstanding, we ran the ball consistently, tried to keep them off-balance," Manning said in NBC's postgame interview on the field. "We didn't want it to be just a 45-pass-attempt game. We wanted a mix of run game and pass game."
The chippy game was ammunition for those who argued the Chiefs — who went from 2-14 last season to 9-0 — were the beneficiaries of a soft schedule and a host of opposing backup quarterbacks, among them Buffalo's Jeff Tuel, Cleveland's Jason Campbell and Houston's Case Keenum in the three games that preceded the Denver matchup.
Although they have the inside track on a division title at the moment, the Broncos don't have the luxury of exhaling. They play at New England on Sunday night, then at Kansas City the following week.
The Broncos have won 20 of their last 21 regular-season games, with the only loss coming at Indianapolis.
Two bad hits by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday resulted in one big kick to the gut — a 23-20 loss to the Saints at New Orleans.
The 49ers, looking to stay within striking range of Seattle in the NFC West, were flagged for two critical personal fouls down the stretch that paved the way for a pair of Garrett Hartley field goals that decided the outcome. It was sweet redemption for Hartley, who'd missed four of six attempts in the previous three games.
The first miscue came with 3 minutes 22 seconds to play, when Drew Brees dropped back to pass on third down from the San Francisco 35 with the Saints trailing by three.
San Francisco's Ahmad Brooks tore around the right side of the line and flattened Brees, who fumbled as he fell to the turf. Fellow 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis recovered the ball. However, officials ruled that Brooks had hit Brees too high, at neck level, and flagged him for roughing the passer.
"All I remember is just getting clotheslined in the chin and as I'm on the ground, I'm saying, 'That's got to be a flag,'" Brees said. "One of my teammates kind of picked me up and said, 'Are you all right?' And he said, 'Don't worry, there's a flag.'
"I said, 'All right, good.' Just took a moment, and you've got to get ready to go."
Looking dazed with a line of blood running down his chin, Brees couldn't move the offense much. But the Saints were close enough for Hartley to tie it with a 42-yard field goal.
"It was very frustrating. The game could have gone a totally different direction than what it went," Brooks said. "I was just mad because that was a big play in the game. We lost, and that's probably the reason why."