KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Denver Broncos offense has been rolling so strong -- and for so long -- that its greatness sometimes becomes easy to take for granted. On Sunday, wide receiver Eric Decker provided a reminder of why that unit really is so special. Everybody knows a Hall of Fame quarterback like Peyton Manning makes a world of difference, as does an assortment of gifted weapons. But when you see how dangerous the supposed weakest link is on that offense, you start wondering how much damage Denver will do once the postseason arrives.
Decker didn't merely deliver a timely performance in Denver's 35-28 win over Kansas City. He dominated a game that gave the Broncos a critical one-game lead in the fight for the AFC West. The box score will say Decker had eight receptions for career highs in yards (174) and touchdowns (four). What's harder to track is how many times he broke the Chiefs' spirits with game-turning plays on a day when his team needed them most.
Just as important, Decker stepped his game up after barely making an impact in recent weeks. He had 170 total receiving yards in Denver's last four contests prior to Sunday's win, including a one-catch, 5-yard effort in a loss to New England last Sunday. "To be honest, I had a tough month," Decker said. "It was kind of a struggle for me. But it makes it a lot easier when you have some of the best receivers -- like [Wes] Welker and D.T. [ Demaryius Thomas] -- on your side. They cover a lot of ground, and today we had an opportunity to make some plays."
The key thing to remember about Decker is that he's a victim of circumstance. He'd easily be the first or second option on most teams, but he's been running a distant fourth in the Broncos' system for good reason. Thomas is a Pro Bowl-caliber talent, Welker has 836 career receptions, and tight end Julius Thomas is a budding star. Somebody in the Denver offense was going to get shortchanged as this season played out, and Decker -- who had a breakout season with 85 catches and 1,064 yards in 2012 -- ultimately suffered that fate.
The Chiefs surely treated him as a player they were willing to challenge Sunday. Kansas City routinely shifted most of its defensive attention to Thomas and Welker, believing that shutting them down meant stifling Manning's playmaking potential. What the Chiefs weren't counting on was Decker, who had three touchdowns coming into this game, taking that opportunity and running wild with it. The minute Manning realized that Thomas had sustained a shoulder injury early in the game, the star quarterback went to Decker relentlessly.
Decker already had 103 receiving yards in the first half, when Denver trailed 21-14. He went on to score the Broncos' next three touchdowns -- coming on long (37 yards), intermediate (15) and short (1) plays. The easy assumption was that Manning was terrorizing Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, but Decker torched Kansas City's best cover man, Brandon Flowers, as well. As Manning said, "If you run good routes and you have time to throw, it's tough to defend that."