Having won all eight of their games at Arrowhead Stadium this season, and their last six matches of the regular season, the Chiefs were expected to overcome their divisional rivals. Instead, the Broncos prevailed 14- 10, with their quarterback John Elway once again Schottenheimer's nemesis.
Elway threw for 170 yards and orchestrated the game-winning drive when they fell 10-7 behind in the third quarter. The key play was his 43-yard pass to Ed McCaffrey which took the Broncos to the Chiefs one-yard line. Three plays later Terrell Davis went over for the winning score, his second touchdown of the game.
Elway has frequently thwarted Schottenheimer in the play-offs, most famously in 1986 when he beat Schottenheimer's previous team, the Cleveland Browns, in a match that has entered NFL folklore thanks to a 98-yard series in the closing minutes known as "The Drive".
"I don't play Marty Schottenheimer, I play other great teams," Elway said. "He's a great football coach. He always has his teams ready to play and we're just fortunate that we came out on the right end today."
"This is hard to take but it isn't about John Elway," said Schottenheimer, whose record in the play-offs now stands at 5-11. "I'm disappointed. I told our football team that I have no words of wisdom that are meaningful to them at this point. Without a doubt, the men in that room gave everything to this organisation that one could ever ask."
The Chiefs had taken a 10-7 lead in the third quarter, thanks to a 20-yard field goal from Pete Stoyanovich and a 12-yard touchdown pass from Elvis Grbac to the tight end Tony Gonzalez, who was alone in the back of the end zone.
Grbac completed 24 of his 37 passes for 260 yards, including eight catches by Andre Rison for 110 yards. However the key statistic was that Davis rushed for 70 yards in the second half, having been limited to 31 in the first.
The Denver cornerback Darrien Gordon made two vital plays in the final quarter to deny the Chiefs, first tackling Louie Aguiar three yards shy of a first down on a fake field goal, and then deflecting the final pass from Grbac away from its intended receiver Lake Dawson in the end zone with 12 seconds left.
The win was especially poignant for Neil Smith, who the Chiefs decided not to retain at the end of last season and then joined the Broncos. "This is a sweet victory but this is not our goal." the defensive linemen, who had a sack and a forced fumble, said. "We have to go into another hostile environment next week and play a team that beat us very soundly [in the regular season]."
The Denver defeat marked the second time in three years that Schottenheimer's Chiefs entered the play-offs as the AFC's top seed only to lose their first match. The Broncos will meet the Steelers in Pittsburgh in next Sunday's AFC Championship game.
In the NFC Championship game later that day the San Francisco 49ers will entertain the defending Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers, following the Packers' 21-7 defeat of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.