It was a rough week for the AFC West, going 0-3 (the Raiders were on bye). The Chargers blew a 10-point lead on national television, the Broncos' comeback attempt fell short against the Patriots and the Chiefs' turnover woes continued in a loss to the Ravens.
What we learned: As improved as Denver’s defense might be, it’s still not up to the task of beating the league’s best offenses, similar to what we saw last season. A run defense that had been strong in three of the Broncos’ four games heading in could not stop Stevan Ridley, and Tom Brady was able to engineer the Patriots’ up-tempo offense with ease. The pass rush did a much better job than it did last season against New England, but like in their other two losses, the defense helped put Peyton Manning in too big of a hole for even him to dig out. The bright spot of the defense was Von Miller, who had a whopping five tackles for loss.
What’s in store next: The Broncos return to prime time for a key division game against the Chargers Monday night in San Diego. The Broncos and Chargers have separated themselves as the two best teams in the AFC West, yet the Chargers have a one-game lead over Denver. It will be another test for the Broncos, as the Chargers have weapons to be a balanced attack and are strong on defense against the run. The Chargers have picked Manning off 16 times in seven career games.
What the heck? Willis McGahee’s key fumble, which occurred with 3:48 left when the Broncos were about to cut it to a one-score game with two timeouts left, was on a curious play call to begin with. The Broncos relied on the pass all game long, and it was what kept them alive. The Patriots’ run defense had been stout throughout the game, and while time wasn’t a huge factor and Denver likely expected to catch New England off-guard with a draw, this was a 2nd-and-10 play. Even if McGahee got a couple yards, it would have set up a long third down with the clock ticking. Peyton got the Broncos into that situation, and the Broncos should have kept the ball in his hands to get the score.
— Kevin Fishbain
What we learned: The Chiefs have reached a flashpoint at quarterback. Whether it’s by injury or ineffectiveness or both, QB Matt Cassel might be done as the team’s starter. He suffered three turnovers (an additional fumble was credited to C Ryan Lilja on bad snap exchange, although another fumble appeared to be RB Cyrus Gray’s fault, and one INT was bobbled by Dwayne Bowe) on only 15 pass attempts in the 9-6 loss to the Ravens and was taken out after suffering what appears to be a concussion. Brady Quinn came in and completed all three of his passes for 32 yards but was unable to pull out the victory. But the most telling part was that prior to that, the Chiefs ran the spots off the ball and appeared to not want Cassel to throw. At this point, can they go back to that?
What’s in store next: They’ll travel to Tampa Bay on Sunday, where the Buccaneers are coming off an extra week of work, and then the Chiefs will be headed to a much-needed rest with the bye week. Unless they break out against the Bucs, it’s expected to be a refresh period where the team can search for (and hopefully find) its identity. Right now, the identity must change. Although Jamaal Charles is doing yeoman’s work — Sunday he rushed 20 times for 125 yards in the first half — the turnovers (that’s 10 now in the past two games alone) and lack of passing prowess are killing them. Defensively, the team is limiting opponents’ yardage output and has improved for a third straight game but isn’t consistently making big things happen. The bad field position and fatigue put on it by the offense are both factors.
What the heck? By now you likely have heard or read about ORT Eric Winston’s tirade, lashing out against Chiefs fans (it certainly was not the majority of them) cheering when Cassel was forced to leave the game. Winston’s caustic words appear a bit thin considering that most of the fans appeared to respect Cassel’s injury and cheered Quinn’s arrival, even if their true feelings about the starting quarterback were perhaps thinly veiled. If Winston’s words were meant as a rallying cry, then perhaps it can get the team going. It has been a quiet season otherwise in this regard, and rattling some trees might not be the worst thing ever. We’ll see if it has any effect.
— Eric Edholm
What we learned: This team is still not ready to win big games. The Chargers’ three wins are over the Raiders, Titans and Chiefs, teams with a combined record of 3-11. On national television, they had a chance to prove themselves, and things looked good thanks to a 10-point lead, but the secondary couldn’t slow down Drew Brees and the offense couldn’t finish in the fourth quarter. OLT Jared Gaither is not at 100 percent, or at least healthy enough to go coast-to-coast in a game, especially in a late-game situation, as he was beaten on back-to-back plays on the final drive, the second play culminating in the game-clinching strip sack for the Saints. Marcus Gilchrist couldn’t contain WR Marques Colston, and some big penalties on both sides of the ball hurt San Diego, most notably rookie Melvin Ingram's personal foul on Drew Brees, which wiped out a pick-six and completely turned the game around.
What’s in store next: The Chargers remain under the national spotlight, playing the Broncos in a key AFC West tilt on Monday night. With the Raiders and Chiefs clearly the bottom two teams in the division, this is the Chargers’ chance to prove supremacy in the division and beat a good team. The secondary will need to play better and the Chargers will have to be more disciplined in this game, because Peyton Manning will take advantage of any mistakes.
What the heck? Ryan Mathews seemed to regain the trust of Norv Turner, getting the ball in the red zone and showing a great burst on the outside for a 13-yard touchdown run to put the Chargers up 10. Mathews, who led the team with six catches and averaged just under seven yards a carry, wasn’t in on the final two drives. The Chargers went with veteran Ronnie Brown, likely for blocking, but Brown missed a play call on one play and Rivers was forced to throw it away. Brown is a good receiver, but Mathews is more electric in the open field. It remains a question when the Chargers will use Mathews as a true full-time back.
— Kevin Fishbain