DENVER — Christmas came early for the Denver Broncos.
Bronco Coach Dan Reeves had conceded three points when Kansas City's Nick Lowery lined up to attempt a 37-yard field goal in the waning seconds Saturday. But Lowery, virtually automatic from that distance, missed with 34 seconds left, and the Broncos escaped with a 20-17 victory that moved them one step closer to the playoffs.
"I was hoping for overtime," Reeves admitted. "I really didn't think he'd miss the field goal. He's one of the best. Certainly the good Lord smiled on us.
"I was thinking that we had two timeouts left if he made it. I was thinking about getting good field position (after the kickoff)."
Running back Sammy Winder said, "I couldn't bear to look at it."
Quarterback John Elway also said he fully expected Lowery to convert, and he was stretching to get ready to go back on the field.
Instead, Lowery's kick went wide, and Denver ran out the clock.
"It was two different halves of football," Reeves said. "We won the first half (taking a 17-3 lead). They won the second half. Bill Kenney did a great job of bringing them back. Thank goodness we had more points when it was over.
"It seemed like every time we had a chance to take charge, we let them back in it. This doesn't get us where we want to be, but it was a good win."
Elway passed for 237 yards and a touchdown--on an 8-yarder to Winder--as the Broncos built a big lead, then hung on in the second half.
"You can't wait until the second half against Denver," Kansas City Coach Frank Gansz said. "You have to come out and put some points on the board.
"I thought we'd at least send it into overtime. It's a disappointing loss, and we've had a disappointing season."
Lowery thought he had made the kick. "I hit it well and I hit it high," he said. "It must have missed by an inch or two. For some reason, all my kicks today were going right. Maybe it was because of kicking on grass. I haven't kicked on grass for a couple of weeks."
Denver raised its record to 9-4-1, the best in the AFC. But contrary to calculations made earlier in the week by the NFL, the Broncos did not clinch a playoff berth with the victory. A loss on Sunday by one of four teams--San Diego, Seattle, Cleveland or Pittsburgh--would, however, give Denver that playoff spot.
Denver could clinch the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory over San Diego here in the regular-season finale next week.
The loss dropped Kansas City to 3-11.