AFC West Spin cycle: Manning's miracle on Monday night

PFW staff
Pro Football Weekly
AFC West Spin cycle: Manning's miracle on Monday night

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 1:55 p.m. ET

Peyton Manning and the Broncos pulled off a stunning comeback against the Chargers on Monday night. The Raiders nearly pulled off what would have been one of the season's most stunning upsets, while the Chiefs plunged to new depths without maligned QB Matt Cassel in Week Six.


What we learned: If you leave the door open the slightest for a comeback, Peyton Manning will take advantage, and this time, the Broncos finally finished. Denver has made fourth-quarter rallies in losses to the Falcons, Texans and Patriots that have come up short, but against the Chargers they created game-changing turnovers and Manning threw three touchdowns in the historic win. San Diego put good pressure on Manning, but he was extremely accurate (24-of-30) and hit reliable target Brandon Stokley to take the lead for good. On defense, we saw what the Broncos’ front can do with a lead, as Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil wreaked havoc when the Chargers had to try to come from behind. Reserve CBs Tony Carter and Chris Harris each had a defensive touchdown, and the run defense held Ryan Mathews to 3.4 yards a carry.

What’s in store next: The Broncos head into a Week Seven bye with a 3-3 record and the favorites in the AFC West. They host the Saints on Sunday night in Week Eight, a game that should figure to be another shootout.

What the heck? Denver’s third-down defense and run defense were abysmal against the Patriots, and it appears one of the culprits was MLB Joe Mays, who received a contract extension in March. Mays, who was suspended for one game earlier in the season for an illegal hit on Matt Schaub, did not play a single defensive snap, making most of his contributions on special teams after playing 89-of-94 defensive snaps against New England. Veteran Keith Brooking got the start and rookie Danny Trevathan helped out playing 15 snaps.

— Kevin Fishbain


What we learned: Old habits die hard. Philip Rivers’ turnovers helped ignite a collapse of epic proportions, putting Norv Turner’s job security in serious question. The offense got off to a slow start but big plays on special teams and defense gave San Diego a 24-0 halftime lead, setting the Chargers up to enter the bye at 4-2, atop the AFC West. But the second half was a nightmare. On six possessions, the Chargers fumbled twice, threw three picks and punted once, allowing the Broncos to complete a remarkable comeback victory. Rivers turned it over six times, the pass protection broke down and the defense couldn’t keep the Broncos off the scoreboard when it needed to. There was a clear emphasis, as expected, on getting Ryan Mathews involved, but he averaged only 3.4 yards a carry.

What’s in store next: The Chargers have plenty to think about during their bye in Week Seven, coming off back-to-back losses on national television in which they blew fourth-quarter leads. They travel to Cleveland in Week Eight.

What the heck? As impressive as the Chargers’ front seven has looked all season, it didn’t get the job done in the second half. In the first half, San Diego held Willis McGahee to five yards on seven carries. In the second half, McGahee had 10 carries for 51 yards and while the Chargers got near Manning, they couldn’t bring him down, or do enough to slow Denver’s attack. San Diego finished the game with zero sacks and one QB hit. 

— Kevin Fishbain


What we learned: It’s definitely not all Matt Cassel’s fault. Fans got their wish of seeing Brady Quinn start, and the results were shockingly familiar. Quinn was 22-of-38 passing for only 180 yards (4.7 yards per attempt) with two interceptions, one run back for a touchdown. The Chiefs now have gone more than two games without an offensive TD — they last scored one in the fourth quarter of the Week Four loss to the Chargers. The Chiefs have not led this season (think about that a moment) and haven’t scored a touchdown on their first offensive possession in six tries — in fact, they haven’t scored a TD on their opening drive since the 2010 season. On Sunday, three passes netted a loss of a yard and set the tone for another miserable offensive performance in a 38-10 loss at Tampa. Head coach Romeo Crennel was left searching — yet again — for answers after the game. Four of the five losses have been by 16 or more points. This is a bad team right now.

What’s in store next: The Chiefs will drag their tails into the bye, ripe with questions. There’s a good chance that Cassel, once he regains medical clearance following his Week Five concussion, will be the starter when the Chiefs face the Raiders at home in Week Eight, their first trip home since Eric Winston’s postgame rant. But will it matter? Things are starting to look a bit hopeless in Kansas City, as any positive momentum they might have carried over from the second half of the loss to the Chargers came to a screeching halt at Tampa Bay. The Bucs rolled up 463 yards of offense on only 51 plays, a gaudy average of 9.1 yards per play. You can’t win too many games giving your opponent 2nd-and-1 situations all game.

What the heck? A week after running Jamaal Charles 25 times in the first half (and 30 times in the game), the Chiefs handed the ball off a mere 12 times to Charles and 16 times combined to Shaun Draughn and Nate Eachus. Week Five’s distribution was far too slanted in the first half toward Charles, and Sunday’s workload — carrying over from the second half of last week — was far too little for the Chiefs’ best offensive player. Who is determining this division of labor? A week ago, Crennel looked desperate in giving Charles the ball so often, as if the coach was trying to save his job, Charles’ long-term health be damned. This week, the Chiefs were far too pass- and substitution-heavy, changing backs nearly every play. It didn’t work. Charles was held to 40 rushing yards, and Draughn and Eachus combined for a long run of seven yards.

— Eric Edholm


What we learned: The Raiders have a pretty good shot of righting the ship in the next three weeks if they tighten things up just a bit. They might even be able to start a winning streak. Oakland went on the road in Week Six and nearly beat an undefeated Falcons team in their most impressive performance of the season — yes, even more impressive than their win over the Steelers at home. If not for a pick-six thrown by QB Carson Palmer, who later led a TD drive that tied the game, in the fourth quarter, Oakland might be 2-3 right now. Sunday will mark the start of the soft part of the Raiders’ schedule, as their next three opponents (Jacksonville, Kansas City, Tampa Bay) have a total of only four wins, and two of the three games are at home. If the Raiders do not rally now, they probably never will this season.

What’s in store next: The Raiders return home to face a club with the same record as them — the 1-4 Jaguars, who had a bye in Week Six after getting blown out by the Bears, 41-3, in their last outing. Oakland certainly stands a chance of winning for the second time this season against a Jacksonville squad whose anemic offense is ranked last in the league and is generating a league-low 13 points per game.

What the heck? It’s probably best not to look at the stat sheet for those trying to figure out why the Raiders managed to lose to the Falcons. It will only cause more head shaking. Oakland outgained Atlanta by almost 200 yards (474-286). The defense held the Falcons to converting only 2-of-9 third downs. The Raiders forced three turnovers and dominated in time of possession. Atlanta had only one offensive TD. This is a game the Raiders should have won, but they were just a bit too sloppy (three turnovers, 12 penalties).

— Dan Parr