The Chiefs were embarrassed three weeks ago against Kansas City when Josh McDaniels ran out to a 35-0 lead thanks to the explosive, big-play passing game of Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd. This time around, Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel made sure it would not happen again, bringing a more aggressive array of pressure and putting Orton on his back twice in the first quarter.
Chiefs CBs Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers matched up very well with the Broncos' receivers this time. Carr was isolated most heavily on Lloyd throughout the day and gave the NFL leader in receiving yards little room to breathe while offering a helping hand, peeling off man coverage on a crossing route and delivering a knockout shot on Jabar Gaffney. With Eric Berry and Jon McGraw roaming over the top, Broncos receivers had a reason to keep their heads on a swivel. Carr has started the past three seasons since arriving out of Grand Valley State as a 2008 fifth-round pick and is a very underrated cover man, breaking up a number of passes with great positioning on several off-the-mark Orton passes. Flowers was hobbled against the Broncos, but looks a lot like a young Ty Law, jamming up receivers at the line and showing great awareness in manning short zones. With the help of a strong draft, the Chiefs' secondary went from one of the worst in football to one of the best, greatly helping the cause of the Chiefs' pass rush.
• On the other side, Broncos CB Champ Bailey did an equal number on Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe, who has come on more strongly than any other receiver in football the past month. Bailey locked down Bowe, who came into the game on a seven-game streak owith at least one TD catch per game, with ease, at times appearing to run Bowe's route for him, and held him without a single catch.
• Charlie Weis has done an excellent job managing QB Matt Cassel and playing to the signalcaller's strengths, running bootlegs, play-action and heavily sprinkling the underneath passing game with a steady diet of Thomas Jones and Tony Moeaki on short crossers, outs and flat passes that allow him to get into the rhythm of the game. Few coaches are better than those from the Belichick/Parcells coaching tree at playing to the strengths of their talent.
• Credit the Giants' coaching staff and a well-scripted, initial game plan for New York getting off to a fast start agasint Washington. The past five games, the Giants have not allowed a sack and it can be attributed to a culmination of a number of factors. For one, with a revamped receiving unit, they have moved to more of a quick-hitting passing game, featuring more bubble screens and lateral passes that involve three-step drops that allow QB Eli Manning to get rid of the ball more often. Two, the Giants are using more bootlegs and roll-out action and taking advantage of the reliable, sure-handed route runners Kevin Boss and Bear Pascoe. Three, there has been an increased reliance on the running game, and the combination of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw appears re-energized since Bradshaw was benched for putting the ball on the ground too much. Redskins LB Rocky McIntosh appeared intimidated stepping into the hole to stop the bruising Jacobs and appeared especially stiff in coverage and coming downhill. Lastly, with Albert Haynesworth inactive for allegedly not getting enough reps this week, the defensive line really struggled to create any pressure on its own.
• The one time that Bradshaw did not see a backside blitz and FS Reed Doughty had a clear lane, Manning threw an interception to London Fletcher in the endzone, being forced to throw off his back foot and not putting enough mustard on it to get it over the top of the deep zone. The Redskins' defense was a sieve and struggled to stop the Giants on the ground or through the air. Giants OL coach Pat Flaherty is one of the best in the business and has done a very good job coordinating the Giants' protection, and when Manning has a clean pocket to pick apart the field, he is excellent. The Giants' resurgence has been predicated on the strong play of both of their lines.
• A big emphasis in Perry Fewell's defense is creating turnovers, and the Giants created six against the Redskins, as Donovan McNabb was stripped by Dave Tollefson on the sideline, Deon Grant stripped Chris Cooley, Justin Tuck knocked a shovel pass out of Keiland Williams' hands and the Giants' secondary preyed on McNabb. Perhaps fittingly, the game ended with a Corey Webster interception.
• Giants WR Devin Thomas deserves kudos for downing a punt inside the Redskins' five-yard-line, showing up in special-teams coverage and beating Redskins upback Kareem Moore in punt coverage despite being held on his way to partially blocking a punt. Thomas showed up as a dominant special-teams performer against his former team.
• What really stands out about the Bears' defense is the imprint of Rod Marinelli. Cleared away from the unit is much of the underachieving play that plagued it in recent seasons. Julius Peppers is playing as hard as he ever has, not giving up on the rush and keeping stride with explosive RB Jahvid Best down the field in pursuit on several long second-quarter runs. Israel Idonije is a bull in a china shop and plays as hard as any Bears defender, treating each snap like it's his last. Matt Toeania and Anthony Adams are not exceptionally gifted, but they bring their "A" game every play and give Marinelli comfort that he does not get with Tommie Harris in the lineup. That also allows Harris to stay better rested. All three of the Bears' linebackers have been very aggressive filling gaps and have benefited from a more disciplined front four. CB Tim Jennings has ably stepped into the starting lineup this season and played well opposite Charles Tillman. D.J. Moore has really come on in the slot this season. And with Major Wright and Chris Harris rotating alongside Danieal Manning, the Bears' secondary — while not sensational — has been very solid.
When DE Mark Anderson and CB Zack Bowman were not getting the job done, Marinelli moved them out and had no qualms benching Harris — a stark departure from ways of the past. Historically, the Bears' greatest nemesis has been handling success.
The vision and leadership was not in place to keep a dominant 1985 defense intact, and the Bears went into a tailspin after Lovie Smith let Ron Rivera go following the team's Super Bowl loss to the Colts, as Smith put his own imprint on the coaching staff. Sitting in the pole position in the NFC North, the Bears have exceeded expectations this season, but they must prove they can maintain their success and close out the fourth quarter of the season against the NFL's toughest remaining schedule, with the Patriots, Vikings, Jets and Packers up next. New England and New York sit atop the AFC standings, the Vikings have been firing on all cylinders since Leslie Frazier took control and it's never easy for any team to head into Lambeau Field in January, especially when a playoff spot could be at stake.
• Jay Cutler showed a lot of toughness coming back into the game midway through the fourth quarter after Lions DT Ndamukong Suh violently chucked him into the ground, forcing the QB's head to bounce off the turf. Cutler returned to throw the game-winning TD pass to Brandon Manumaleuna. The protection has not been great and Cutler is still getting beat up on deep drops, but he appears more comfortable with live bullets flying by and is getting rid of the ball more quickly than he did early in the season. Keeping him upright the next four weeks will be a great challenge.
• QB Carson Palmer had one last chance to lead the Bengals down the field after a 47-yard Bernard Scott kickoff return put Cincinnati near midfield on the game's final drive, but after tossing a screen to Brian Leonard, who fought for extra yardage instead of getting out of bounds, Palmer let six seconds run off the clock before realizing that he was going to have to use a timeout, which he did with eight ticks left. With 14 seconds remaining, Palmer and Marvin Lewis should have been more alert to kill the clock sooner. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams wisely overloaded the Bengals' struggling O-line with pressure on the final snap of the game and S Roman Harper sacked Palmer to clinch a 34-30 victory for the Saints. The win extended New Orleans' winning streak to five thanks to Drew Brees 14th career comeback victory.
The battle for NFC South supremacy is as closely contested as the highly competitive AFC East, which takes center stage Monday night. The Jets have the more talented team, but Bill Belichick seldom is beaten twice in the same season by the same opponent and his Patriots will be prepared. Who will wind up in the Super Bowl is very much up in the air heading into the final quarter of the season, but it sure looks like it will run through those two divisions, with Atlanta carrying a five-game winning streak of its own after rallying to win at Tampa Bay.