Three plays later, Manning made the game's biggest play, spotting receiver Demaryius Thomas in single coverage on the sideline for a 70-yard gain that set up the quarterback's lone touchdown pass — a 9-yard strike to Julius Thomas for a 10-0 lead.
The Chiefs' defense, which came into the game also leading the league in points allowed (12.8), remained stout throughout against the league's highest-scoring offense (41.2). But eventually, Manning and Co., overwhelmed them, going 79, 65 and 62 yards for their last three scores and a 27-10 lead.
Ball capped two of the drives, once from 1 yard and another time from 8, to atone for the fumble, which was actually charged to Manning.
"We knew that once we got down to the red zone, getting touchdowns was critical," Manning said. "They make teams settle for field goals down there."
The Chiefs, who hadn't lost since a 38-3 setback in Denver last December to close out a 2-14 season, hadn't allowed more than 17 points all year — a simple and effective explanation for one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history.
But the offense, led by Alex Smith, simply isn't built to win a high-scoring showdown.
Smith finished with 230 yards and two touchdowns. He completed four passes for 57 yards to Dwayne Bowe, who started, as promised, while his legal case for marijuana possession plays out. Jamaal Charles, who came in leading the AFC in rushing with 725 yards, added 78 to that.
But there was no big-play ability and the cool weather — game-time temperature 43 degrees — that brought Manning's blue-and-gray glove out for the first time this season didn't slow the quarterback or his offense at all.
Knowshon Moreno ran for 79 yards and kept the chains moving for Denver, while Wes Welker took his turn as Manning's favorite target, catching eight passes for 72 yards before leaving to be evaluated for a possible concussion.