By Tom Kensler
KANSAS CITY, mo. — Getting his first carries in more than two months, running back Knowshon Moreno said after the Broncos' 17-9 victory Sunday his goal was to focus on each carry.
How focused was he at Arrowhead Stadium? Consider this: Moreno made one of the key first downs in the game on a 17-yard gallop in the fourth quarter to keep the clock moving but didn't realize at the time how big a play it was. Less than five minutes remained and the Chiefs were running out of time.
"I don't even know what play that was; I don't even know what quarter that was," Moreno said in the locker room afterward. "I looked up and it was like, 'There's just that many minutes left?' "
Moreno, inactive for eight consecutive weeks, wanted to keep his head down, block out distractions and go to work. While other running backs might have shown some rust, Moreno looked fresh and eager.
He rushed for 85 yards on 20 carries, a 4.3-yard average, and also caught four passes for 26 yards. Moreno hadn't run for that many yards since netting a career-best 161 yards Dec. 5, 2010 against Kansas City. Moreno had a good game at Arrowhead Stadium in 2009 when he produced 86 yards and two touchdowns. But he also harbors a bad memory of this place.
Last November, Moreno suffered a season-ending knee injury (torn ACL) on Arrowhead's field. Not surprisingly, Moreno said considering his inactivity he would have been excited to play anywhere.
"It felt good," he said. "It was a little iffy at the beginning, but then I settled down."
Broncos coach John Fox had said last week that replacing injured starter Willis McGahee likely would be by committee — with Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball sharing carries.
As it turned out, Moreno got the bulk of the work. Hillman had only three carries; Ball got none. Moreno had more carries Sunday than McGahee usually gets. That's saying something, considering that the former first-round draft pick (No. 12 overall in 2009) appeared to be relegated to the doghouse after he fumbled during the second quarter of Denver's Sept. 17 loss at Atlanta.
There was little doubt that Denver coaches had lost confidence in the former Georgia All-American. Just a couple of weeks ago, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy talked about how the Broncos had decided to go in "a different direction" in the running back pecking order — with Hillman and Ball listed behind McGahee, and Moreno watching games from the bench, or the press box in nongame team gear.
McGahee's injury has given Moreno new life.
"I'm very happy for Knowshon right now," Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen said Sunday. "The thing about his situation is, a lot of guys could have sulked and that would have been the end of their career. He had something to prove. He played like it. He ran like it."
Perhaps to relieve Moreno of any early jitters — or to test him — the Broncos called his number on their first two plays from scrimmage Sunday: a run up the middle and a swing pass. Those two netted minus-2 yards, including a 4-yard loss on the reception.
But Moreno said he felt like he was off and running.
"That first play is the one that you kind of see what's going on," he said.
Fox said he wasn't surprised by Moreno's production.
"Knowshon has a great attitude," Fox said. "Things haven't always gone perfect for him, (but) I knew he would perform well and I think his teammates knew he would perform well. We're proud of his effort."