BREAKING:

NFL Judgements: Broncos must overcome blown game

The SportsXchange

Now we find out about the Denver Broncos.

They didn't just blow a game Sunday night; their psyche may have taken a direct hit, too, after wasting a 24-0 halftime lead.

And quarterback Peyton Manning knows what we're talking about.

It was last season that he pulled off an improbable comeback victory after falling behind 24-0 to San Diego at the half, and the Chargers never recovered -- losing five of their next six and six of their next eight.

Of course, that was early in the season. This is not. The problem for Denver is that it must recover immediately. The next game is against Kansas City, tied with the Broncos at the top of the AFC, and the two meet at Arrowhead Stadium.

But the Broncos have more than an emotional setback to think about. They suffered key injuries to a defense that played without safety Rahim Moore and cornerback Champ Bailey, with their best cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson bowing out.

And running back Knowshon Moreno left the locker room after the game on crutches. That's welcome news for Kansas City, which lost its top pass rushers, linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, against San Diego and desperately needed a break. It may have just gotten it.

--2. Talk about a huge victory for New England. Not only did the Pats take down Manning after spotting him 24 points, they set themselves up for the playoffs, and here's why: Look at their schedule. All five of their remaining opponents have losing records. Better yet, they have a combined record of 20-35. If New England runs the table it's guaranteed nothing worse than the second seed in the playoffs.

--3. When is a tie not a tie? When it happens in the NFC North. Green Bay's tie with Minnesota puts the Packers back in play for a division title for this reason: The Packers didn't lose, and Detroit and Chicago did. Simple as that. Green Bay had to do something, anything other than lose another game before Aaron Rodgers returns, and they did just that behind Matt Flynn, the fourth guy to quarterback them the past four weeks. With the tie, the Packers are a half-game behind Chicago and Detroit, and they play the Lions Thanksgiving Day ... presumably, with Rodgers, who beat the Lions earlier this year -- and Chicago in the season finale.

--4. Peyton Manning's still the MVP favorite, but Tom Brady and Russell Wilson are closing the gap. One guy who won't get votes is Green Bay's Rodgers ... but maybe he should. The Packers haven't done squat without the guy, failing to win after he exited the lineup a month ago, and, yep, that's the definition of an MVP.

--5. Gary Kubiak, don't send out your dry cleaning.

--6. Hard to believe, but Houston is the trendy pick to wind up with the first pick in next year's draft. The Texans have the look of a club that won't win another game. Make their Dec. 5 date with Jacksonville the game that determines the No. 1 pick, with the Texans a slam dunk to draft a quarterback (Johnny Manziel?) with their first choice.

--7. The more you see of Geno Smith as a quarterback the easier it is to understand why the Jets have Josh Cribbs throwing to him.

--8. Congratulations to Dallas for figuring out the obvious: If you're going to win you better get Dez Bryant involved. The Cowboys didn't in their loss to New Orleans, with only two passes aimed at Bryant (he had one catch) in a 49-17 beatdown. So they tried something different. They threw 16 passes at him Sunday, and look what happened: Bryant had three catches on the game-winning drive, with two for first downs.

9. That settles it: There's no division better than the NFC West. The Rams' last two victories were over division leaders -- Indianapolis and Chicago -- and so what? They're the last-place team in the division.

10. Scratch Indianapolis from the clubs you can trust. Since losing wide receiver Reggie Wayne the Colts are 2-2, but that's misleading. They had to rally from 18 down against Houston, lost by 30 to St. Louis (at home, no less) and just got torched by Arizona. Worse, they've been outscored 93-12 in the first halves of their last four games, and nobody can win like that.

--11. Arizona is legit. The Cardinals not only are 7-4, they've beaten Detroit, Carolina and Indianapolis -- three teams in the playoff picture. If there's someone other than New England that should be annoyed by the Rob Gronkowski no-call in Carolina it's the Cards. They hold the tiebreaker with the Panthers.

--12. Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas is glue. Yours truly, Stevan Ridley.

--13. It's no mystery what happened to Kansas City: The defense that carried the Chiefs the first nine games has gone into retreat. I'm serious. The past two games it allowed 68 points (an average of 34 per start) and produced no sacks; the first nine it allowed 111 points (an average of 12.4 points per) and produced a league-leading 36 sacks. Connect the dots, people.

--14. I guess now we know why Case Keenum wasn't drafted.

--15. The NFL is making an impact with its endless flags and fines for hits on defenseless receivers. The proof: Rewind the videotape to the Baltimore-New York Jets game, and you'll find the Jets' Ed Reed pulling up on what could have been a front-end collision with Jacoby Jones in the end zone. That tells me something; it tells me the message is getting through.

--16. If the playoffs were to start today, Tennessee would be the AFC's sixth seed. Nevertheless, I'll still take the winner of this week's Baltimore-Pittsburgh game to make it, with the Steelers the slight favorite. After starting 0-4, the Steelers won five of seven, and you don't have to look far for an explanation: defense. The Steelers had four sacks and no takeaways their first four games; they've had 19 sacks and 14 takeaways since. Check, please.

--17. The biggest difference in Carolina isn't just its overall record; it's the Panthers record in close games. The Panthers' last three wins have been by no more than four points, and, yes, that's significant. Because until then, they were 0-6 under Cam Newton in games decided by four or fewer points.

--18. Suggestion to "Family Feud:" Call the Long brothers. They should host the next show.

--19. Just a hunch, but Rex Ryan is back on hot seat.

--20. If the NFL is going to protect quarterbacks -- and the league has made it clear that is a priority -- then somebody should remind officials to be consistent with those roughing-the-passer calls. Meaning? Meaning you can't flag the Giants' Mathias Kiwanuka for wrapping his arms around Tony Romo's neck when you do nothing about the Steelers' William Gay collaring Jason Campbell or the Saints' Akiem Hicks' hammering Matt Ryan in the grill last Thursday.

FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED

--1. Don't count San Diego out of the wildcard chase. Four of the Chargers' last five games are home. Plus, this is a team that should be better than 5-6, with four losses decided in the last 15 seconds of games they could have ... or should have ... won. Only one problem for the Bolts: They lose the tiebreaker to Tennessee, which beat them earlier this season.

--2. Jets quarterback Geno Smith is NOT a star, as the New York Daily News proclaimed him earlier this season. For the first time this year he showed consistency, as in he was as bad this weekend as he was last. The record book, please: In his last two games Smith is 17 for 45 for 230 yards, with no touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 15.28. In short, he stinks, and he needs to sit.

--3. Referee Gene Steratore is one tough guy. He officiated Sunday night's bone-chilling Denver-New England game, and he did it without hand warmers, without gloves, without a turtleneck, without a facemask, without anything but his normal attire. Who knows? Maybe that was a dress rehearsal for Super Bowl XLVIII.

--4. Safety Ed Reed made a bad career decision when he left Baltimore. Since winning the Super Bowl his team(s) have gone 0-9 in games where he played (0-7 with the Texans and 0-2 with the Jets), with two of those losses against his former team, the Baltimore Ravens.

--5. New England coach Bill Belichick isn't afraid to take the road less traveled. That's not exactly news, but electing to take the wind ... and giving the ball to Peyton Manning ... in OT was gutsy. "I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive," he said. He was right, with the wind causing the havoc that resulted in that muffed punt. "Great decision," said tight end Rob Gronkowski.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

--Any chance we can we sign up for Manning-Brady every year?

--Can anybody win the NFC North?

--Where was the blood, Jason Pierre-Paul?

--How does Indianapolis get its mojo back?

--What's worse -- Stevan Ridley's hair or his hands?

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO

--1. Denver wide receiver Wes Welker. He wasn't himself, and maybe that concussion he suffered last weekend had something to do with it. First of all, he atypically dropped passes and cut him some slack. The weather might've had plenty to do with that. But the muffed punt -- where the ball hit teammate Tony Carter -- was on Welker, with the returner not calling off Carter until it was too late. To his credit, Welker later accepted responsibility for the gaffe, but that won't clear the conscience. That had to be a long, long flight home.

2. Miami safety Reshad Jones. How many times do these guys have to be reminded that you absolutely, positively cannot hit a quarterback who is out of bounds? Jones must have missed the memo, going Lavonte David on Cam Newton -- with a costly penalty that kept the Panthers' game-winning drive alive.

--3. St. Louis offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Tavon Austin touched the ball on offense three times Sunday, gaining 7, 32 and 65 yards. So why does he touch it only three times? The guy is a playmaker ... if, that is, he has the ball, which he usually doesn't. So get it to him. Geez, this isn't brain surgery, fellas.

--4. Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter. He was the victim of a Brandon Myers' touchdown catch, and that can happen ... only it shouldn't have. All Carter had to do was touch Myers after he fell to the ground. But he didn't, Myers got to his feet and touchdown, G-Men. "Inexcusable," said Fox analyst Troy Aikman. That's a big 10-4. Someone remind Carter he's not playing college ball anymore.

--5. New England running back Stevan Ridley. You fumbled against Carolina. You fumbled against Denver. You fumble, fumble, fumble. Either nail the football to your hands or get used to a seat at the end of the bench.

NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING

--0-6 -- Jack Del Rio vs. New England

--4 -- Stevan Ridley fumbles this season, all lost

--4 -- Times that Philip Rivers has thrown for 390 yards this season

--4-0 -- Dallas vs. the rest of the NFC East

--6 -- Indianapolis series with no first downs

--7 -- Straight Carolina victories

--10-4 -- Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning

--16-1 -- Ben Roethlisberger vs. Cleveland

--23-5 -- Tony Romo's record in November

--224 -- Knowshon Moreno yards rushing against New England

--280 -- Denver yards rushing

NEXT WEEKEND'S FIVE BEST GAMES

--Green Bay @ Detroit

--Pittsburgh @ Baltimore

--Arizona @ Philadelphia

--Denver @ Kansas City

--New Orleans @ Seattle

-- Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selections Committee.
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