Week Nine in the AFC West was a microcosm of what we’ve seen from the division most of the season. The Broncos continue to be the class of the division after winning in Cincinnati. The Chargers beat up on another bad team — this time, the Chiefs, for the second time this season, as K.C. appears to be the worst team in the NFL. The Raiders battled back against Tampa Bay, but interceptions did them in, as they fell by 10 to the Bucs.
What we learned: In their third consecutive win, this one on the road against the Bengals, the Broncos certainly showed some vulnerabilities on both sides of the football, but as long as Peyton Manning is at the helm, the Broncos are going to be a tough out. Manning finally threw to the wrong team, throwing a pair of interceptions in the second half, but his three touchdowns were enough for Denver. The defense had some struggles against the pass and gave up several big plays, but Von Miller had his best game of the year (three sacks) and the corners continue to play well in the absence of Tracy Porter. The O-line was superb in pass blocking, keeping Manning unscathed, but it couldn’t open holes up for the run game. Willis McGahee averaged just 2.9 yards on 23 carries.
What’s in store next: The Broncos stay in the Eastern time zone and have a meeting in Carolina against the Panthers, who ended their losing streak with a win over the Redskins in Week Nine. Denver’s defense will need to contain Cam Newton, and while Carolina’s defense is far from imposing, it performed well in containing Robert Griffin III.
What the heck? After breaking out for 86 rushing yards against the Saints last week, rookie RB Ronnie Hillman had only one carry — a four-yard run in the first quarater — and a catch for five yards. Granted, the offense managed fine without him, but with the run game struggling, one would expect a little more from Hillman.
What we learned: It doesn't matter who starts at quarterback. Even though Matt Cassel didn't play badly, per se, he was sacked for a safety (on a backside pressure) and intercepted once (a dropped pass that was run back for a TD) and the Chiefs failed to generate consistent drives in a 31-13 loss to the Chargers. The loss ended any hope — was there really any? — of a semi-successful season, falling to 0-3 in the division, 0-5 in the conference and 1-7 overall.
What's in store next: Did we mention the Chiefs are 0-4 at home? They'll put that mark on the line in two weeks with back-to-back games against the Bengals and Broncos, but right now it's all systems go for the team's second consecutive prime-time (gulp) contest: "Monday Night Football" against the Steelers, who are fresh off a huge win over the Giants, in Pittsburgh. The Chiefs won't attempt what the Steelers did this past Sunday, traveling in the day of the game, but at this point head coach Romeo Crennel should be willing to try anything. His job is on the line, and the Chiefs are prime candidates along with the Jaguars, Browns, Panthers and Saints, for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
What the heck? One Chief might have played his final game with the team. DE Glenn Dorsey, a solid and serviceable though hardly dominant defender, finally returned to the lineup against the Chargers following a calf injury but reinjured it during the game. Crennel hinted at first that the injury could be more severe than the one that cost Dorsey the previous four games but has since tempered his dismay a bit. Either way, even if Dorsey does come back, it appears the former No. 5 overall pick's time in Kansas City is winding down. In the massive rebuilding project that lies ahead, there likely is little demand for a good but not irreplaceable five-technique, even if the staff is fired and the new coaches switch back to a 4-3 scheme that suits Dorsey's skills more aptly. He's a free agent at season's end and is almost certain to move on. The injury is a perfect example of the team's run of poor luck the
past two seasons but also its draft failures, especially with first-round picks, in the last several years.
What we learned: The Raiders are not ready to take the next step they need to be considered a legitimate playoff contender in the AFC. Oakland’s offense kept fighting vs. the Bucs on a day when injuries left its RB corps punchless and the defense was scorched by the Bucs’ attack. However, it was not enough, and QB Carson Palmer’s two late interceptions ended the Raiders’ chance of pulling off a comeback after they had cut an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit to three with 3:51 to play. Instead of 4-4, the Raiders are 3-5, and the Broncos and Chargers both won in Week Nine, which is a significant setback to the Raiders’ chances of remaining a viable contender in the AFC West.
What’s in store next: The Raiders will try to become the first team to defeat the AFC North-leading Ravens on their home turf this season. Ray Rice rushed a season-high 25 times for 98 yards in Baltimore’s win over the Browns in Week Nine, and Rice has to be salivating at the prospect of getting a chance to run against the Raiders after the way Bucs rookie RB Doug Martin gashed them on Sunday. The Raiders were able to pull off the upset at home against the Ravens’ division rivals, the Steelers, in Week Three, but the cross-country trip will be a rough one if Oakland’s defense does not tighten up vs. the run.
What the heck? Did the Raiders only watch tape of Martin from the first quarter of the season, when he started his rookie campaign slowly? They had to have taken a good look at his 214-yard breakout game against the Vikings in Week Eight, but it seemed like they were totally unprepared for him Sunday, even in the Bucs’ first game without All-Pro OLG Carl Nicks. Martin had touchdowns runs of 45, 67, 70 and 1 yards vs. Oakland and finished with 25 carries for 251 yards (10.0 average). It was a complete gutting of the Raiders’ run defense, which must be lacking any confidence heading into a meeting with the Ravens’ Rice. Head coach Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and their players had absolutely no answer for Martin.
What we learned: This team is still talented enough to at least take care of business against poor teams, and they will fight for Norv Turner. In what appeared to be a must-win game, the Chargers put together one of their best outings of the season. Philip Rivers was automatic — aside from a terrible decision at the end of the first half, which resulted in a pick in the Chiefs' endzone — completing 18-of-20 passes. The Chargers gained 4.7 yards per carry, with Ryan Mathews averaging 5.2 yards. The defense was the story on Thursday night, though, scoring two touchdowns and forcing four turnovers. Jamaal Charles rushed for only 39 yards and Dwayne Bowe was the only Chiefs pass catcher to have more than 27 receiving yards.
What’s in store next: The Chargers travel to the East Coast to face a hot Buccaneers team that has scored 36 points or more in three of its last four games. Doug Martin vs. the Chargers’ run defense will be a key matchup to watch, and the Chargers corners will see a familiar face: former teammate Vincent Jackson. San Diego’s offense might need a better game, and getting WRs Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal back would be beneficial.
What the heck? Injuries to Meachem and Royal forced the Chargers to dress three wideouts vs. the Chiefs — Malcom Floyd, Danario Alexander and Seyi Ajirotutu. Alexander signed prior to the Cleveland game and Ajirotutu had been back with the team for only a few days, yet it didn’t seem to be a problem — Alexander led the team with 61 receiving yards. One of the reasons the Chargers didn’t need the extra receiver is Ronnie Brown’s contribution as a receiver. Brown is making four catches per game and he had 11 touches (six runs, five catches) in 15 snaps on Thursday night.