by Nate Winkler (@natewinkler)
AFC West Arrowhead Apologist.
The AFC West failed to pick up a victory Sunday with losses coming from the Chiefs, Broncos, and Chargers to teams that all made the playoffs in 2011. The Oakland Raiders are the only team that isn't doing some serious soul-searching after the poor showing throughout the division but unfortunately for them this was their one and only bye of the season.
Here are Five Things we Learned:
1. Peyton Manning out-duelled Tom Brady in Foxboro, but the Denver Broncos defense got their teeth kicked in along the line of scrimmage en route to a 31-21 loss to the New England Patriots.
Manning was 31/44 for 345 yards and three touchdowns, but once again the Broncos found themselves down by 20+ points in the second half and their comeback bid fell short for the third time in as many chances. Brady let his supporting cast do most of the work, as the Patriots were able to control the game with 54 rushes for 251 yards (4.6 YPR) and a franchise record 35 first downs. Denver's defense didn't give up any big plays, but they failed to make any, either. Brady drove the Patriots on scoring drives of 80 yards or more four times on Sunday and New England won the turnover battle 3-1.
The Broncos took the opening drive right down the field and were on their way to a perfect start when a wide open Demaryius Thomas caught a deep pass down the middle from Manning and appeared to be headed to the end zone. Two steps later, the ball was punched out of Thomas' hand and the Patriots recovered the football. The whole complexion of the game turned right there on the first drive, and the Broncos were behind the eight-ball for the rest of the afternoon.
Thomas has now fumbled three times in the first five games, two of which were either touchdowns or would have set the Broncos up in a favorable position to score. On his career he is averaging a fumble every 14.5 touches, which is unacceptable regardless of his physical skills. By comparison, the greatest wide receiver in NFL history, Jerry Rice, fumbled 27 times in 1636 career touches, or one every 60.6 touches.
2. In case you missed it, the Kansas City Chiefs suck. Their fans apparently suck even worse as they showed during Sunday's 9-6 loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Chiefs were supposed to contend for a playoff spot this season but now sit at 1-4 with virtually no shot at making the post-season. They were able to neutralize Joe Flacco and the Ravens' offense, keeping them out of the end zone and out-gained the Ravens 338-298 in total yardage. Kansas City turned the ball over four times, making 19 giveaways in five games this season. It doesn't matter if Matt Cassel or Len Dawson is the quarterback, you can't win football games when you've had at least three giveaways in every game.
The Arrowhead faithful made it known before the game how they felt about the team's current state of affairs, suggesting GM Scott Pioli and his hand-picked quarterback Matt Cassel take the next train out of town. As if that wasn't enough, the constant rain of boos directed at Cassel during the game have become more commonplace in Arrowhead than a pulled pork sandwich. Chiefs fans are widely regarded as some of the best in the game, but that all changed Sunday when Cassel fell to the turf after taking a blow to the head. The loudest cheers this season came as Cassel was carted off the field, something that no team, no fan, and especially no player should ever be subjected to. Chiefs' offensive lineman Eric Winston voiced his disgust with the fans in an epic rant after the game, and this may signify "Rock Bottom" for the Chiefs, yet again.
3. The San Diego Chargers let one slip away as Sean Payton watched his Saints beat the bolts 31-24 in the Superdome.
Since Payton was suspended for his role in "Bounty-Gate", we've heard over and over about how the players make plays and Drew Brees is so awesome that it wouldn't have a huge impact on the Saints' season. After an 0-4 start, Payton should be the front-runner for coach of the year as the Saints have appeared to be a rudderless ship without him. Payton received permission from the league to be in attendance to watch Brees break Johnny Unitas' record with his 48th consecutive game throwing a touchdown. The cameras were on the coach seemingly all night, so if he was slipping signals down to the sideline it went undetected, but the Saints grinded out a gutty performance to get their first victory of the season.
Brees threw for 370 yards and four touchdowns, three to Marques Colston, who set the Saints record for TD receptions. His counterpart, Philip Rivers, threw for 352 yards himself but came up short in the fourth quarter, throwing an interception to Roman Harper with 6:00 left and then coughing the ball up on a strip-sack in the final moments to clinch a Saints' victory. The Chargers entered the game with a Negative Pass Play Percentage of 10.44%, 23rd in the league. They had 52 pass plays with five sacks and an interception Sunday night, giving them a NPP% of 11.5%. Crucial errors have plagued Rivers and the Chargers for the last few seasons, and they'll have a hard time sustaining success unless Rivers can correct it.
4. Demaryius Thomas isn't the only goat in Denver as Willis McGahee made the case for less playing time himself.
McGahee has been the lead horse in Denver since winning the starting tailback job in training camp before last season. His physicality helped set the tone during the Teball era but he's still trying to find himself in the re-vamped offense that is evolving with Peyton Manning under center. McGahee is averging the same amount of carries per game as he did a year ago (16.6) but already has more receptions (14) through five games than he did all of last season (12). He had a crucial drop on 4th & 1 late in the game with the Broncos trailing by 17 points, then fumbled the ball away at the Patriots' 10 yard line when a score would have made it a one possession game.
The Broncos are now minus six in turnover differential but thanks to the Chargers' loss to the Saints are only one game out of the lead in the division. They travel to San Diego this week for Monday Night Football in a matchup that will go a long way towards deciding how the AFC West race will shape up. If the Broncos fall to 2-4 and 2.5 games behind the Chargers they will have an uphill battle to reach the postseason. One look at the standings shows the AFC in shambles, with only five teams possessing winning records and only six (including the Broncos) with a positive point differential. Denver has had the league's toughest schedule thus far and despite their record they appear to have the look of a playoff team.
5. The NFL is a quarterback league, and if Brady Quinn is the anwswer, you're doing it wrong.
Maybe we're wrong about this. Maybe all the time Quinn has spent with the Mannings' coaches and all the impressive scout team work he's done over the last four years has changed him into a legitimate NFL quarterback. Look at the bright side, he went 3 for 3 for 32 yards and a 10.7 YPA after he entered the game in the fourth quarter. Only Alex Smith (156.2) and Peyton Manning (116.2) had a higher Passer Rating than Quinn's 111.1. Of course, they threw the ball 65 more times than Quinn did, but that's not important, is it?
The Chiefs travel to Tampa Bay next week and it's hard to imagine Cassel will be able to shake the cobwebs in time to get the start. If Quinn is able to perform well, and more importantly if the Chiefs are able to win, it may be the end of the Matt Cassel era in Kansas City. Time will tell if Pioli will follow him. Like we always say, it takes elite quarterbacks to win in the NFL, and according to this hilarious facebook post that went viral over the weekend, there's only a few of them.