The Broncos survived a scare from an inspired Chiefs team, and are a win away from clinching the AFC West, while the Chargers suffered yet another crushing loss and the Raiders got blown out, again.
What we learned: Knowshon Moreno has new life and appears to be the man in place of Willis McGahee, Romeo Crennel still can contain Peyton Manning and the Broncos found things to work on down the stretch. It was not a surprise to see Moreno active for the first time since Week Two, but for the former first-round pick to start over rookie Ronnie Hillman? That was a stunner. Moreno, who was lauded for his improvement and blocking in the preseason, only to be a nonfactor once Hillman got healthy, had 20 carries and four catches for 111 total yards in the 17-9 win, Denver’s sixth in a row. Hillman had only three carries. Crennel’s Chiefs defense made things interesting, holding the Broncos to their lowest point total all season, and future Broncos opponents might take a look at that tape to try to contain Manning and company. In addition to the offense having its struggles, the run defense had its issues with Jamaal Charles, allowing 107 yards on 23 carries (4.7-yard average). The 148 rushing yards allowed by the Broncos is the third-most Denver has allowed this season.
What’s in store next: The Broncos host the Buccaneers in a stiff test for the defense. Bucs RB Doug Martin, QB Josh Freeman and WR Vincent Jackson have helped put Tampa Bay in the NFC wild-card hunt and they can score, a lot, and the Broncos’ defense can’t get too comfortable, as the Bucs have had success coming from behind. A win would clinch the AFC West for Denver.
What the heck? Normally automatic PK Matt Prater struggled on Sunday, missing two field goals, including one from 33 yards out. Those misses kept the Chiefs in it a lot longer than John Fox would have preferred. … In a statistical anomaly, Manning completed 59.5 percent of his passes for the second week in a row — tied for his second-lowest completion percentage this season.
What we learned: The Chiefs have not yet given up. They battled hard and executed a smart defensive game plan against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, keeping it a one-score game throughout, but could not win. Despite sacking Manning twice and intercepting him once, the Chiefs lost because Brady Quinn and the passing game remained dormant. There’s no question what the Chiefs lack. Quinn averaged just over five yards an attempt and threw an interception on his final pass. It didn’t matter. The Chiefs were not going to win Sunday with that kind of passing prowess.
What's in store next: The Chiefs try to end their eight-game losing streak against the Panthers, who will be coming off a short week (they play Monday) and traveling for a second straight game. Both teams could be looking for new head coaches next season and at this point likely are playing for pride and pride alone. That and perhaps draft status — both teams are in the mix for the No. 1 selection in the 2013 draft, whomever that might be.
What the heck? The Chiefs are approaching some historically bad numbers for a franchise with a wealth of history, a lot of it good. At 1-10, they are threatening to have their worst season ever, with two-win seasons twice before, in 2008 and 1977 (in a 14-game schedule). The Chiefs this season are a nearly impossible 0-6 at home; that hasn’t happened since 1976. They have scored 15 points combined in the past two games, all field goals. The team is still fighting, yes, but for how long? And will it matter?
What we learned: A week after Raiders owner Mark Davis told reporters he wanted to see progress from his team, the Raiders did not give their boss what he wanted. They didn’t even show up to play, falling behind 24-0 heading into halftime in their 34-10 loss to the Bengals. Oakland has not been competitive against teams that are hovering around the .500 mark in the past two weeks, suffering blowout losses to the Saints (at home) and at Cincinnati. They are finding ways to hit new lows and have lost four games in a row for the first time since the 2008 season. At 3-8, the Raiders are five games behind the division-leading Broncos with five games left to play.
What’s in store next: The Raiders will host a fellow 3-8 team, the Browns, on Sunday. Cleveland took advantage of its opportunity against a Pittsburgh team that was down to its third-string quarterback and forced eight turnovers in a win over its division rival in Week 12. The Browns have an excellent opportunity to win back-to-back games — something the Raiders did earlier this season, believe it or not — for the first time in more than a year. The Browns have won only five of their last 32 road games, however.
What the heck? The game took an odd turn in the fourth quarter, when Raiders CB Joselio Hanson stripped the ball from Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu and the fumble was returned for a touchdown by Raiders SS Tyvon Branch. However, an inadvertent whistle had blown the play dead, and the Bengals were able to replay the down. On the next play a brawl broke out. Bengals OT Andrew Whitworth and Raiders DT Tommy Kelly and DE Lamarr Houston were ejected from the game after Houston sacked QB Andy Dalton despite a false start having been called. There could be fines or suspensions doled out by the league for the players involved in that incident.
What we learned: Nothing seems to go right for this year’s Chargers team, and many of the issues came to light in a loss to the Ravens that all but sealed San Diego’s fate of sitting at home this postseason. Philip Rivers had one of his better days (no interceptions!), and the defense harassed Joe Flacco all day (five sacks, six QB hits), but one defensive lapse was the difference. When Flacco checked down to RB Ray Rice on 4th-and-29 with less than two minutes to go, it appeared the Chargers had notched a huge win over a very good Baltimore team. Instead, Rice eluded tacklers, got a huge block from Anquan Boldin and dove for the first down — which was confirmed after a long delay for replay. The deflating play seemed typical of this year’s Chargers club, as it was yet another fourth-quarter collapse. The Ravens went on to win in overtime, and two offensive issues remained for San Diego — the O-line struggled in protection, allowing six sacks, and the run game was not much of a factor (23 carries, 91 yards as a team).
What’s in store next: If the Chargers want to pull off a miracle and win five in a row to get into the wild-card conversation, they can start in Week 13 against one of the several teams they’ll have to jump, the Bengals, who have won three in a row. Cincinnati’s defensive front, especially DT Geno Atkins, will look to cause problems and get after Rivers. Bengals WR A.J. Green will be a tough test for the Chargers’ secondary, especially if FS Eric Weddle (concussion) isn’t cleared.
What the heck? To add insult to injury to Norv Turner’s club, multiple replays appeared to indicate that Rice might not have gotten the first down. The challenge took longer than usual, yet, the new spot for the ball didn’t seem different than the original, and it gave the Ravens a first down by a wide margin when multiple television replays said otherwise. That play will be replayed in the minds of Chargers fans when they look back to this season, especially the moment when Rice changed direction, and three Chargers missed tackles and fell to the turf — a portrait of the 2012 Chargers.