AFC West: AFC West

Chiefs’ biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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One of the biggest reasons the Kansas City Chiefs have been unable to sustain success (no back-to-back winning seasons since 2005 and 2006) and have been among the NFL’s worst teams when they haven’t been in the playoffs (four victories or fewer in four of the past seven seasons) is their often ragged play at quarterback.

Smith
That changed last season after they traded for quarterback Alex Smith. After coming over from the San Francisco 49ers, Smith stabilized the most important position in a way no player had for the Chiefs in almost a decade. It’s no coincidence that the Chiefs returned to a double-digit win total and the playoffs with Smith running their offense.

The Chiefs need to sign Smith, who is headed into the final season of his contract, to a long-term extension and build around him if they are to sustain last season's success into the foreseeable future.

Smith is a good fit for the West Coast offensive system of Chiefs coach Andy Reid. He is an accurate passer who should complete a high percentage of his attempts. Smith does a good job of protecting the ball, and his low interception rate allows the Chiefs to be threats to score each time they gain possession of the ball. Smith's running ability allows him to frequently escape the pass rush and make a positive gain on what otherwise could be a busted play.

The Chiefs are already invested in Smith, having sent a pair of second-round draft picks to the 49ers for him. The Chiefs also have a veteran backup in Chase Daniel and developmental prospects in Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray, but neither is an obvious candidate to replace Smith in the long term.

The Chiefs would need to start over in regard to finding a starting quarterback if they failed to re-sign Smith. Since that path has left them reeling for much of the past decade, they need to get his signature on a new contract and move on to other issues.
Shannon SharpeTIM CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
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This is the second of three nominations for the most memorable play in Denver Broncos history. On Monday, we featured Tom Jackson's 73-yard interception return for a touchdown in 1977 to power the Broncos to their first Super Bowl trip and tomorrow we’ll feature Hall of Famer John Elway’s scramble in Super Bowl XXXII, known simply as the “helicopter play" to most of the team’s faithful.

Please vote for your choice as the Broncos’ most memorable play.

Score: Broncos 24, Steelers 21
Date: Jan. 11, 1998 Site: Three Rivers Stadium

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Which is the most memorable play in Broncos' history?

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Discuss (Total votes: 38,649)

After a crushing playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars abruptly ended what was thought to be a Super Bowl run the year before, the Broncos entered the playoffs following the 1997 season as a wild-card team, having finished 12-4 and a game behind the 13-3 Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.

They arrived to the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh having already thumped the Jaguars 42-17 in the wild-card round to go with a survival-of-the-fittest 14-10 victory over the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium in the divisional round, a game former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has always called “the hardest-hitting game I’ve ever been a part of in the National Football League."

And with the clock on Elway’s career starting to tick loudly at this point, the Broncos certainly had their eyes on the prize.

After a 17-point second quarter gave the Broncos a 24-14 lead, the Steelers had narrowed the gap to 24-21 with just under three minutes to play -– the only score of the second half for either team -– and the Broncos needed a quality possession to wind the clock and close things out.

However, following the Pittsburgh score, the Broncos took over on their own 11-yard line with 2:46 to play. Elway hit Ed McCaffrey for a 6-yard gain on first down to move the ball to the Broncos' 17. Running back Terrell Davis was then thrown a for 2-yard loss on second down, which left the Broncos facing a third-and-6 from their own 15-yard line and the all-too-real prospect of handing the Steelers' quality field position if they did not convert.

Shanahan sent in a play the Broncos, according to Shannon Sharpe, had not practiced in weeks and was not part of the game plan the team had made to prepare for the Steelers. And Sharpe has said after Elway called the play in the huddle, Sharpe said to the quarterback, “We don’t have that play in."

Sharpe then asked Elway, “What do you want me to do?" Sharpe said Elway responded with words now in the team’s championship lore -- “Go get open."

Sharpe did, to the tune of a 18-yard gain before the Steelers’ Lee Flowers made the tackle. The Broncos ran four more plays to run out the clock and keep the opportunity of the franchise’s first Super Bowl win in their grasp.
Tom JacksonDenver Post/AP Photos
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Denver Broncos history. In the next two days, we’ll also feature: Hall of Famer John Elway’s 18-yard completion on a third-and-6 with two minutes to play in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 11, 1998 in Pittsburgh as the Broncos went on to earn the franchise’s first Super Bowl win two weeks later; and Elway’s scramble in Super Bowl XXXII, known simply as the "helicopter play" to most of the team’s faithful.

Please vote for your choice as the Broncos’ most memorable play.

Score: Broncos 27, Colts 13
Date: Nov. 27, 1977 Site: Mile High Stadium

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Which is the most memorable play in Broncos' history?

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    80%
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Discuss (Total votes: 38,649)

To sift through 53 years of plays to try to find three quality nominations for the most memorable play in Broncos history, some former players were polled, along with a former coach or two as well as the recently retired Jim Saccomano, a team employee of more than three decades. Fans also shared their thoughts on Twitter.

But the bottom line is the plays had to have some symbolism, the historical context that makes them important. And while Elway’s Hall of Fame career is an enormous presence in all the Broncos have done since their inception in 1960, Tom Jackson’s play has plenty of meaning, particularly for the Broncos of the Orange Crush era and even those who came before.

When the Baltimore Colts arrived in Denver for a Week 11 matchup between two 9-1 teams, the Broncos were a team that had never been to the postseason, in position for the franchise's first trip. The Broncos took a quick 14-0 lead on two touchdown passes from Craig Morton, only to see the Colts battle back to 14-13 on a Bert Jones to Bobby Mitchell touchdown pass with 11 minutes, 24 seconds remaining.

With Jones driving the Colts toward another potential score midway through the fourth quarter, the Colts quarterback tried to squeeze a pass to running back Don McCauley -- McCauley had 11 catches for 112 yards in the game -- but Jackson snatched the ball from the air and raced 73 yards for a touchdown. He tossed the ball into the stands after he had crossed into the end zone to extend the Broncos' lead with 7:20 to play.

Fellow Ring of Fame member Louis Wright added an interception later in the fourth quarter that led to another Broncos touchdown on the way to a 27-13 win. The victory went a long way toward giving the Broncos home-field advantage in the playoffs, and they went on to defeat the Steelers and Raiders in back-to-back weeks to earn a trip to Super Bowl XII.

It was the first of what is now seven trips to the league’s title game for the Broncos, including Super Bowl XLVIII to close the 2013 season.

AFC West's four-year draft review

May, 7, 2014
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With the NFL draft beginning Thursday, ESPN.com's team reporters Paul Gutierrez, Jeff Legwold, Adam Teicher and Eric D. Williams take a look at the past four drafts for the Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Total picks: 34. Picks still on roster: 17 (50 percent). Picks who are currently projected starters: 5. Pro Bowl players drafted: 0.

Best player: Center Stefen Wisniewski (second round, 2011). Without a first-rounder that year due to the Richard Seymour trade, "Li’l Wiz," the nephew of former Raiders standout left guard Steve Wisniewski, was more than a legacy pick for the late Al Davis, even if the Raiders initially targeted Orlando Franklin. Wisniewski, though, has been a steadying influence on an O-line that's constantly been in flux. He has started 30 games at center and 15 games at left guard.

Best value: Receiver Denarius Moore (fifth round, 2011). He was the 18th receiver drafted that spring and has shown big-play ability for the Raiders, catching 17 touchdown passes in the process. He averaged 18.7 yards per catch as a rookie but his inconsistency is maddening. Still, he has shown the knack to be a playmaker, when not battling injury -- he has missed seven games. Moore, though, is probably trade bait if the Raiders somehow land Sammy Watkins in the draft.

Biggest disappointment: Linebacker Rolando McClain (first round, 2010). He was supposed to be Oakland’s middle linebacker for years to come but ended up having more off-the-field incidents, arrests and attitude problems than highlight reel plays. The Raiders' new regime had enough of McClain and cut him after one season and he has since retired … twice.

DENVER BRONCOS

Total picks: 32. Picks still on roster: 20 (62.5 percent). Picks who are currently projected starters: 9. Pro Bowl players drafted: 3.

Best player: You could certainly make the argument for linebacker Von Miller (first round, 2011) with 30 sacks in his first two seasons combined, but in terms of consistency and performance it's wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (first round, 2010). Thomas has had back-to-back seasons of at least 92 catches and at least 1,340 yards receiving. He is the unquestioned No. 1 option in the league’s most high-powered passing attack.

Best value: Tight end Julius Thomas (fourth round, 2011) already has one Pro Bowl selection on his résumé and is poised to be a star if he can keep his eyes on the prize. But to this point linebacker Danny Trevathan (sixth round, 2012) is the highest-value pick over the past four drafts. Trevathan is an every-down player, led the team in tackles last season with 124 and has the look of a future captain.

Biggest disappointment: Quarterback Tim Tebow is certainly the most polarizing after going from first-round pick in 2010 to being without a roster spot last season, but if Miller can’t resurrect himself after a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy as he also returns from ACL surgery, it would be a significant hole in the team's blueprint after being the No. 2 pick of the 2011 draft.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Total picks: 32. Picks still on roster: 16 (50 percent). Picks who are currently projected starters: 8. Pro Bowl players drafted: 3.

Best player: Safety Eric Berry (first round, 2010). Berry has made the Pro Bowl in three of his four seasons, failing to make it only in 2011, when a knee injury in the first game ruined his season. He is an effective run defender, has improved greatly in pass coverage and last season had 3.5 sacks.

Best value: Linebacker Justin Houston (third round, 2011). Houston has developed into one of the NFL's best pass-rushers. He has 11 sacks last season despite missing five games because of a dislocated elbow. He is also a solid presence against the run.

Biggest disappointment: Wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin (first round, 2011). Baldwin broke his thumb in a locker room fight at training camp as a rookie and his stay in Kansas City never got much better. He caught 41 passes and scored two touchdowns in two seasons before the Chiefs unloaded him in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Total picks: 27. Picks still on roster: 20 (74 percent). Picks who are currently projected starters: 11. Pro Bowl players drafted: 1.

Best player: Running back Ryan Mathews (first round, 2010). The Fresno State product had his best season as a pro last year. Mathews, who played 16 games for the first time in four NFL seasons, finished with career highs in yards (1,255) and carries (285). Heading into a contract year, Mathews has to put up similar numbers to earn a big pay day in 2015. Defensive end Corey Liuget (first round, 2011) has developed into one of more disruptive interior defensive linemen in the league, and is a close second to Mathews.

Best value: Receiver Keenan Allen (third round, 2013). The eighth receiver drafted last year, Allen led all rookies in receiving yards (1,049), receptions (71) and touchdowns (8). The Cal product elevated his play in big games, and has a chance to develop into a true No. 1 receiver. He’ll make just $550,000 in total compensation in 2014, and is signed through the 2016 season.

Biggest disappointment: Linebacker Jonas Mouton (second round, 2011). The middle linebacker out of Michigan has had trouble staying on the field, playing just three games in three seasons with the Chargers. Mouton missed all of 2013 after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during training camp. He missed his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury.

Top free-agent roundup: AFC West

March, 10, 2014
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The AFC West produced three playoff teams and the eventual AFC title winner in the Denver Broncos, so it should come as no surprise that many top free agents come from the division. Oakland Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez, Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold, Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and San Diego Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams break down the top 15:

1. Branden Albert, Chiefs offensive tackle: Kansas City won’t franchise him this year. Albert will get a nice contract elsewhere.

2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Broncos cornerback: He’s not yet 30 and still a top-tier athlete.

3. Eric Decker, Broncos wide receiver: Productive in scoring zone, will be one of the biggest wide receivers on open market, but rarely faced opponents’ top cornerback in Broncos offense.

4. Lamarr Houston, Raiders defensive end: Better suited to the left side because he’s not the prototypical speed-rusher.

Moreno
5. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos running back: Has had multiple knee surgeries, including one on a torn ACL in 2011, but he runs with passion, is solid in pass protection and a productive receiver.

6. Jared Veldheer, Raiders offensive tackle: Didn’t have a very good season in 2013 but would attract some attention as a free agent.

7. Geoff Schwartz, Chiefs guard: Was a free-agent find for Kansas City last season. Can play right tackle if needed.

8. Jon Asamoah, Chiefs guard: A better pass-protector than run-blocker. He will be only 26 in July.

9. Shaun Phillips, Broncos linebacker: He’ll be 33 in May but showed last season that he can still be an effective situational pass-rusher.

10. Zane Beadles, Broncos guard: For a movement-based front, he’s a smart, durable option who played in every game while with Denver.

McCluster
McCluster
11. Dexter McCluster, Chiefs wide receiver/punt returner: Hasn’t had a huge impact on the offense in Kansas City, but he will be only 26 in August.

12. Robert Ayers, Broncos defensive end: Had his best season in 2013, so maybe he’s a late bloomer.

13. Tyson Jackson, Chiefs defensive end: Like Ayers, he had his best season in 2013, so maybe he’s figuring it out as well.

14. Tracy Porter, Raiders cornerback: He’s versatile enough to cover the slot receiver, and he had one of his better seasons in 2013.

15. Kendrick Lewis, Chiefs safety: He’s only 25 but was a better player earlier in his career. He hasn’t been the same since a shoulder injury in 2012.

Prediction: Chargers 31, Chiefs 17

December, 29, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- Though they've been mysterious about specific plans for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers, it's easy to know what to expect from the Kansas City Chiefs.


Players and coaches to a man have talked about how important it is for the Chiefs to beat the Chargers, but Andy Reid has talked about resting key players and trying to keep them fresh for next week's opening-round playoff match, a game that really is important.

If Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles and other star players are out of the lineup early in the game, that sends a stronger message about Kansas City's desire to win this game than anything they say.

Meanwhile, the Chargers may or may not be vying for a playoff berth by the time the game kicks off. If both Baltimore and Miami lose in early games Sunday, San Diego would get the final wild-card spot by beating the Chiefs. If either Baltimore or Miami win, the Chargers are eliminated and as far as the playoffs go will have the same motivation as the Chiefs, which is to say none.

The Chargers seem more motivated than Kansas City does regardless. The 8-7 Chargers have talked about the importance of finishing with a winning record and building momentum for next season. While those incentives aren't nearly as strong as playing for the playoffs, they are more than the Chiefs have going for them.

So the playing field definitely isn't a level one in this regard. Maybe the Chiefs will surprise with their effort but more likely they will be watching the clock and waiting for it to expire like a kid on an average school day.

The Chargers are an improved team since they came to Arrowhead Stadium and beat the Chiefs late last month. They had been allowing a lot of points and gave up 38 that day but since have progressed considerably on defense.

Outside linebackers Melvin Ingram and Jarret Johnson are finally healthy and playing well. The Chargers made a lineup change in the secondary, benching cornerback Derek Cox, and suddenly they're creating turnovers and getting opponents off the field on the third downs. San Diego is allowing just 16 points per game in the four games since they played against the Chiefs.

Offensively, the Chargers may be without running back Ryan Mathews and wide receiver Eddie Royal because of injuries. But it's hard to shake the memory of how easy things were for Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen against the Chiefs the last time. And they were playing reserves at the end of the game against the Chiefs. It was seldom used wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu who caught the winning touchdown pass.

The Chiefs could rise up and play well, but it's not wise to expect that given the circumstances. They have bigger prizes to play for than Sunday's game and the result should reflect that.

Prediction: Chargers 31, Chiefs 17.

Broncos declare Welker out

December, 20, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As expected, the Broncos formally designated wide receiver Wes Welker as out for Sunday's game in Houston.

Welker
Welker is also expected to be held out of next week's regular-season finale in Oakland as he continues to go through medical evaluations for a concussion suffered Dec. 12 against the Tennessee Titans. It was the second concussion Welker suffered in a four-game span.

Welker has not practiced with the team since, though he has begun light physical activity in recent days.

Defensive end Derek Wolfe (illness) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right thumb), who like Welker have not practiced this week, were also ruled out of Sunday's game.

Webster, who had surgery to repair a fracture last Friday, is expected to practice at least on a limited basis next week with a cast on his right hand. He is also expected to play with the cast against the Raiders and into the postseason.

“Everything's good," Broncos head coach John Fox said of Webster following Friday's practice. "... He missed this week because he is recovering from an actual surgery, don't want to risk any infection ... but I think next week there is more of an opportunity in a cast he could be able to play."

The Broncos are optimistic on Wolfe, who has not practiced since suffering seizure-like symptoms Nov. 29. He will return for the postseason as well. Like Welker, Wolfe has done work with the team's strength and conditioning staff in recent days.

Everyone else listed on the Broncos injury report this week, including cornerback Champ Bailey (left foot), was designated as probable and is expected to play Sunday against the Texans.

Bailey has said he's "ready to go."
Sean SmithAP Photo/Gary WiepertThe defense scored both of the Chiefs' touchdowns -- including a Sean Smith pick-six in the third quarter.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Brilliant football minds can watch all the video they want but they have no explanation for why the NFL’s best teams are not just good but lucky as well.

They can have no justification for what happened early in the third quarter Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs and their unbeaten season were teetering on the brink against the Buffalo Bills.

With Buffalo at the Kansas City 2, the Chiefs blew a coverage and left Buffalo’s best and most accomplished receiver, Stevie Johnson, uncovered in the end zone. The ball did not go to Johnson but in another direction and eventually the hands of Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith.

One hundred yards later, Smith scored a touchdown himself and rather than falling behind by 14 points for their first double-digit deficit of the season, the Chiefs tied the score. They went on to win 23-13 to go 9-0 and remain as the NFL’s only unbeaten team.

“We make mistakes while we’re in there," said linebacker Tamba Hali, who in the fourth quarter scored Kansas City’s second defensive touchdown of the day. “We blow coverages. There’s a lot that happens but we just focus on the positive. Sometimes things are going their way and we just keep playing and [then] things happen to go our way. Our guys are just strong-minded men."

Football purists might not like Hali’s answer but it better captures what’s happening with the Chiefs than any other reasoning. The Chiefs won’t be able to get away with leaving receivers open in the end zone in their next game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the following week against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers or in the subsequent game, a rematch against the Broncos.

The fact remains that Sunday they were playing against the Bills and undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel. He is Buffalo’s fourth-string quarterback, playing only because of injuries to the three quarterbacks ahead of him.

On the game’s most important play, Tuel didn’t go to Johnson but tried to force the ball into coverage instead. The whole stadium was shocked by his decision, Smith included.

“So surprised," Smith said. “It was like Christmas. You know, you go downstairs as a little kid and there’s a big box right there? That’s how I felt.

“Those are the plays that you always wish happens to you when you’re watching on TV. It was my day."

It was the Chiefs’ day, really. But all the days this season have belonged to the Chiefs and particularly in the fourth quarter. They again won the final period, which began with the score tied at 13.

The Chiefs scored both of their touchdowns on defense and managed just three field goals with their offense. But that’s not a crazy thing for them. They have five defensive and two special teams touchdowns this season and coach Andy Reid didn’t have to go back too far in his memory to recall winning a game in a similarly bizarre fashion.

“We’ve had a couple this year," Reid said. “We’re not making excuses for it."

Nobody is asking them to, but if the Chiefs think they can compete against the Broncos playing as they did against the Bills, they’re only fooling themselves. They were outgained in total yards Sunday 470-210 by a 3-6 opponent playing its fourth-string quarterback.

Yet if the Chiefs have proved one thing, it’s that it’s risky to underestimate them. They are on an amazing roll that goes beyond X's and O's.

Take the two touchdowns scored by Hali this season. Both have come from short range. He intercepted a pass in the season opener in Jacksonville and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown.

Hali on Sunday scooped up a fumble and returned it 11 yards for the touchdown that put the Chiefs ahead for good.

The Chiefs were fortunate it was Smith called to go 100 yards and not Hali, who is one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers and a relentless player who gives a maximum effort on every play. He’s just not built to go long distances, something he jokingly acknowledged.

“With blocking, I can run 100 yards if you’re not going to chase me," he said.

Smith is much better equipped to go the long haul. In truth, though, his touchdown return was so well-blocked that indeed even Hali could have scored.

“Do you know," Smith said, “how long 100 yards is in the cold?"

For the Chiefs, no distance has been too long, no hurdle too big. After going deep into the fourth quarter the past three weeks before outlasting under-.500 teams from Houston, Cleveland and now Buffalo, the Chiefs don’t appear they will pass any smell test.

Conventional wisdom will undoubtedly hold that they’ll have trouble against the high-scoring Broncos in two weeks, after their bye. But little to happen this season to the Chiefs has followed conventional wisdom.

That Nov. 17 game in Denver will probably fall into that category as well.

Bengals' loss might help Chiefs

November, 1, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In a normal year or maybe in most other divisions, the 8-0 Kansas City Chiefs could already be looking ahead to playoff seedings and trying to secure home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

But since they have a mere one game lead over the 7-1 Denver Broncos for the lead in the AFC West, they're busy right now merely trying to secure a division championship.

We, however, can look ahead toward playoff seeding, and the Chiefs received some help Thursday night when the Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Miami Dolphins. The Bengals, most likely the eventual AFC North champions, are now 6-3 and 2 1/2 games behind the Chiefs, a deficit that grows to three games if Kansas City beats the Bills on Sunday in Buffalo.

That helps the Chiefs, of course, only if they win the AFC West. As wild-card playoff entrants, they would be buried in the seeding process by any division champion, even if they have a better record.

The leaders in the other two divisions, Indianapolis and New England, each have two losses. Each also has some tough upcoming games. The Colts are at Houston on Sunday night, at Tennessee on Nov. 14, and at Cincinnati on Dec. 8. The Patriots are at Carolina on Nov. 18 and play the Broncos at home on the following Sunday.

Kansas City's schedule also gets more difficult after Sunday's game in Buffalo. The Chiefs have two games against Denver, two against the San Diego Chargers, and a home game with the Colts in the final seven weeks.

Not counting the Broncos, the Chiefs have some margin for error with regard to playoff seeding and the AFC's other top teams. They have enough of an edge at this point that, as long as they win their division, the Chiefs shouldn't have to leave the comforts of home during the playoffs.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- More evidence that Andy Reid’s aggressive philosophy is taking hold in Kansas City came in Sunday’s win against the Cleveland Browns. One of the NFL’s top return specialists, Quintin Demps, took the opening kickoff six yards deep in the Kansas City Chiefs' end zone.

Demps
Rather than sit on the ball and put the Chiefs at the 20 to start the game, Demps brought the ball from the end zone, but was soon swarmed by the Browns and tackled at the Kansas City 12.

The next time Demps had the chance to return a kickoff, he made the catch nine yards deep in the end zone. Instead of being afraid of a repeat from his first trip outside the end zone, Demps brought it out for a 34-yard return, giving the Chiefs possession at their 25.

The extra five yards was not a game-changer. But the Chiefs went on to score a touchdown after Demps’ second return, going 75 yards in six plays.

Demps later said he’s been told by his coaches to be aggressive with his decisions and not be afraid of mistakes. It’s indeed another example of how Reid’s coaching philosophy is benefitting the Chiefs.

“Not necessarily,’’ Reid said Monday when asked whether Demps was being too aggressive with his decisions. “There are certain places you want to down them and other times we’re confident in what we’re doing and confident in him.’’

Chiefs 8-0, but living on the edge

October, 27, 2013
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Anthony FasanoAP Photo/Ed ZurgaNothing has come easy for tight end Anthony Fasano and the Kansas City Chiefs this season.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In many corners of their victorious locker room, the 8-0 Kansas City Chiefs claimed they were energized by being the last ones standing. Jamaal Charles said being the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team makes all the work worthwhile. Quarterback Alex Smith said it’s an honor to have opponents coming hard after them, as has been the case in recent weeks.

Their actions on the field send a much different message. The Chiefs suddenly look weary, like a team carrying a burden.

They survived again on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, winning 23-17. But they continued their unsettling habit of letting losing teams hang around and get to the fourth quarter with a chance at victory.

The Browns fell behind 13-0 at Arrowhead Stadium only to charge back behind their new starting quarterback, Jason Campbell. Campbell was playing only because the Browns’ first choice at quarterback, Brian Hoyer, is out for the season with a knee injury and the first backup, Brandon Weeden, was so bad he was benched.

The Chiefs still had to sweat a stressful fourth quarter. Where last week, there was much joy over their ability to hold off the Houston Texans, this time the emotion was pure relief.

“These grind-it-out games, they’re tough," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You work hard during training camp so you’re mentally strong enough to be able to handle things like this, and that’s what we did. We’ll continue to work hard, and I’m sure there will be other games like this where you have to grind them out."

That’s not a good look for a team having just completed the easy portion of its schedule. The Chiefs on Sunday concluded a three-game homestand against opponents who won’t be going to the playoffs. There’s something to be said for emerging with their winning streak intact, messy as things might have looked.

"The best you can be right now is 8-0, and that’s where we’re at," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “Everybody is going to give us their best. We know that. If we can take that punch and keep rolling, that’s what we did today."

Next week, the Chiefs go back on the road for the first time in almost a month to face the Buffalo Bills. What follows certainly qualifies as a gauntlet: two games each against the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers, road games against the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders and a home game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Every last one of those opponents figures to be coming after the Chiefs, much as the Texans and Browns did the past two weeks.

“We know next week we’re going to get Buffalo’s best shot, playing up in Buffalo," Charles said. “We know they’re going to give us all they can give us."

Charles went on to say he welcomed the challenge, but his words didn’t have the proper conviction to be convincing. Their games have become a grind and, to their credit, the Chiefs have often been grittier than their opponent. They had five sacks two weeks ago in the fourth quarter against Oakland, and four in the final quarter against the Texans.

That kind of effort requires a lot of energy, and they didn’t show they had it late in the game Sunday. Maybe they’ve given too much and the tank, at least temporarily, is empty.

Again, that’s not the party line.

“Not that anybody sneaks up on anybody in this league, but when you’re the only undefeated team, I think teams have recognized how we’re playing and no question they’re coming prepared," Smith said. “We love it. You want the stages to get bigger. That’s why you put in all the work in the offseason. That’s why you do training camp. You want these opportunities. You want that honor."

That much, of course, is true. The Chiefs have lost 12 or more games in four of the past six seasons, so to get to 8-0 is beyond any of the survivors’ dreams.

That doesn’t explain how the second half looked like it meant more to the Browns, who are now 3-5. They were the ones who turned up the heat in the second half, sacking Smith five times.

“We’re not trying to be beauty queens," wide receiver Dexter McCluster said. “It’s never too close for comfort when it’s a win."

That doesn't change the fact that the Chiefs are living on the edge. Maybe they can continue happily on that way. More likely, going on the road to Buffalo, historically a graveyard for the Chiefs, or to Denver in its subsequent game on Nov. 17 will be enough to push them over the edge.

One way or the other, the Chiefs seem intent on finding out.
Terrelle Pryor and Jamaal CharlesUSA TODAY SportsThe Raiders are reborn with Terrelle Pryor under center, but the Chiefs have been flawless this season and are looking to end a six-game home losing streak at the hands of their division rival.
The Kansas City Chiefs last beat the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 19, 2006. The 17-13 victory was secured only in the final moments, when safety Jarrad Page intercepted a pass from quarterback Aaron Brooks in the end zone.

Since then, the Raiders have won six straight games in Kansas City. The 5-0 Chiefs and 2-3 Raiders have exceeded expectations, which could make for an interesting game Sunday when the teams meet in Kansas City.

Here, ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez take a look at the matchup:

Teicher: It only seems like forever since the Chiefs have beaten the Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. What chance do you think Oakland has of making it seven in a row?

Gutierrez: Indeed, the Raiders are riding a six-game winning streak in Kansas City, their longest such streak in this rivalry that stretches back to the dawn of the AFL in 1960. The last time the Chiefs beat Oakland at Arrowhead was on Nov. 19, 2006, when Aaron Brooks, who rocked No. 2, was under center for the Raiders and Larry Johnson was busy rushing for 154 yards and two TDs. That 17-13 loss, ahem, helped the Raiders solidify that No. 1 overall draft pick the following spring, a pick that became JaMarcus Russell, who also wore No. 2. But I digress. Things have changed in Oakland as far as optimism regarding QBs wearing No. 2, and that's where Terrelle Pryor comes in. He was not allowed to wear the number coming out of college but switched back to his old Ohio State digit this year. Al Davis' final draft pick has brought an excitement to a fan base thirsting for it. Pryor can extend plays and if the defense can bottle up Alex Smith, I would not be surprised if Oakland made it seven in a row in Middle America.

Speaking of Smith, from the outside looking in it appears as though he should be the toast of the town in leading the Chiefs to that 5-0 record. But have there been rumblings about his being a one-dimensional game manager? Did fans not read the scouting report, or is it all much ado about nothing?

Teicher: Fans are difficult to please. The Chiefs, to their credit, have tried to play to Smith's strengths by using in large part a shorter passing game. Smith, to his credit, has mostly done what has been asked of him. The Chiefs have opened up their passing game in the past couple of weeks by going downfield more. Smith has thrown only three interceptions and really just one could be pinned on him, so he's not putting the Chiefs in bad situations. The Chiefs trailed in the fourth quarter for the first time this season in last week's game against Tennessee and Smith responded by taking the Chiefs on what proved to be the winning touchdown drive, so he delivered in the clutch in his first try. One area where Smith needs to improve is completion percentage. With so many short throws, he needs to be way better than 58 percent. That's an area of growth for their offense.

Pryor is off to a nice start for the Raiders but has any opponent tried to pressure him like the Chiefs no doubt will? If not, how do you think he responds?

Gutierrez: The Colts tried to pressure him in the opener, and he responded with 112 yards rushing -- a record for a Raiders quarterback. Granted, much of that came on zone-read option plays, though he was able to take off for long runs on busted coverages when Indy overloaded the pursuit. Truly, his mobility and ability to extend plays has made a makeshift offensive line look pretty solid. Lately, though, teams have been putting a spy on him and his rushing totals have gone down. And really, while the Raiders want him to use his athleticism to make things happen, they don't want him running for his life, either. I'm curious to see how he responds if the Chiefs make it a priority to stop him from rolling out to his right, which is where and how he made a lot of his plays Sunday night, when most of the rest of the country was sleeping. Pryor's play has been surprising, especially to general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen. The raw talent was there, but how quickly it's come together has been impressive to watch.

Same thing in Kansas City, I suppose. After all, the last-place Chiefs did have six Pro Bowlers a year ago. How has Andy Reid been able to get the Chiefs to buy into his system and philosophy so quickly?

Teicher: That's been one of the more underrated things he's done. He walked in with instant credibility as the most accomplished head coach almost all of the current players have been under, at least while they were with the Chiefs. That helps. But unlike with several of their other recent head coaches, there's been no whining or complaining about how bare the cupboard was or what a lousy situation he inherited. He just rolled up his sleeves and got to work like a pro does, and I think a lot of players saw that as a refreshing change. Players recognized they had a lot of talent here that was just waiting for some competent direction. They were receptive when they received it.

Looking at Oakland defensively, I can't figure out how the Raiders don't allow more points. I know they do a very good job against the run, but the Raiders haven't forced a high number of turnovers and opposing quarterbacks are completing a high percentage of throws with a high passer rating. How do you explain the way Oakland is playing defensively, and who are some of the defenders playing well?

Gutierrez: It's the epitome of the bend-but-don't-break philosophy ... and being patient. True, entering Week 5, the Raiders had yet to have an interception. But then they picked off Philip Rivers three times. Four of his completions of at least 16 yards came in the fourth quarter, when the Raiders led by 10 and were in a prevent defense. Just don't call it that to the Raiders. Dennis Allen prefers "situational" defense. Hence, a lot of Rivers' completions and yardage came in what the layman would call "garbage time." Individually, Charles Woodson has been more than the Raiders could have hoped for when they signed him -- he's been their best overall player. Against the Chargers, he had an interception and a fumble scoop and 25-yard run for a TD. Lamarr Houston has made the transition nicely from left defensive end to the right side. He leads Oakland with three of its 13 sacks. Nick Roach has been solid at middle linebacker, a far cry from the bust that was Rolando McClain. Even rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden flashed Sunday night, picking off Rivers in the end zone after a rough go of it against Keenan Allen. Observers were wondering when Hayden -- the No. 12 overall draft pick the Raiders loved so much they would have taken him third had they not been able to trade down -- was going to make an impact play.

Small sample size, obviously, but does the Chiefs' top pick, the No. 1 overall, Eric Fisher have the look of an impact, i.e., cornerstone offensive tackle, even as he missed last week's game with that concussion and is playing on the right side rather than the left? I know the Raiders were enthralled with him after coaching him at the Senior Bowl.

Teicher: He's off to a rough start. Fisher has been so bad at times that the Chiefs should have at least considered replacing him. He was playing his best game of the season two weeks ago against the Giants when he left the lineup because of a concussion. The Chiefs are still confident Fisher will become the player they envisioned when they drafted him. It's just taking some time. Opponents have been able to get Fisher off balance and use leverage against him, so his technique needs to be refined. He also needs more strength than a full offseason in the Chiefs' weight room would provide.

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The number is now one. Yes, after all of the games that have passed since, all of the players who have come and gone in the Denver Broncos' locker room since Halloween 2004, cornerback Champ Bailey now stands alone.

A party of one. He is the only player remaining who was in a Broncos uniform for a remember-when game against Michael Vick. At the time, Vick’s jersey sales were off the chart and he was the next level of athleticism with a power arm. Vick represented what the future of the position just might be.

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Jack Dempsey/AP PhotoOn Oct. 31, 2004, Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams tries to slow down the elusive Michael Vick.
When he was the guy, even those among the NFL’s elite would simply stop to watch when he had the ball in his hands and a small window of open space in front of him.

“At that time, no question, there wasn’t anybody really like him," Bailey said. “That’s how we looked at it that week. We put on the tape and you watched him and he just did things other guys weren’t doing, with speed nobody else had, really. That game, I still look at that even now like that’s still probably one of his best games of his career. We had no answer for what he brought that day."

On that day, Vick was 18-of-24 passing for 252 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-28 Falcons win that saw any memory of Jake Plummer's franchise-record 499 yards passing disappear in Vick's jetwash. Vick did not throw an interception and the Broncos sacked him just once. Vick also ran for 115 yards on 12 carries, including a 44-yard, double-take worthy effort on a third-and-3 play during the Falcons’ first possession of the day.

That was all before Vick’s arrest, his incarceration, his life’s rebound and his career resurrection in Philadelphia. Vick returns to Denver Sunday, his first trip back as a starting quarterback since the ’04 affair and he returns as a slightly different player, almost a decade older and once again on the cutting edge of whatever becomes of Chip Kelly’s offense in the NFL. Asked this week if he could recall the ’04 trip to Denver, Vick said; “I think Jake Plummer was the quarterback, Mike Shanahan was the coach ... and it’s not an easy place to play."

Reminded he had rushed for more than 100 yards in the game, Vick said with a laugh; “Well, I was a lot younger back then."

“He was a bigger threat running the ball back then, I believe," Bailey said. “But he’s still a threat, a great threat running the ball. But he was just on point that day. He didn’t show all that on tape in previous games. That was one of his best games of his career. I know it because he probably ran for 100 and threw for two-something ... I look back and I think that was a big moment for him, because I don't think I had seen him put a whole game together like that, running, throwing, in the pocket, on the move, until that day."

And there have certainly been times in Vick’s career when his NFL peers perhaps appreciated his athletic gifts more than the public at large. In Vick’s time in Atlanta, players often responded to any question that included “most dynamic" or “most athletic" or “toughest to defend" in it with Vick’s name.

“I think that’s true," said Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, an eighth-year veteran. “Guys I knew would always be talking about how (Vick) played, what he did. And then I would talk to friends who weren't in the league or something like that and they would say they didn't see it, or whatever, but I think guys in this league have known what (Vick) can do."

And also in Kelly’s read-option attack Vick, who is suddenly the oldest player on the Eagles’ roster. Another sort of remake for the only quarterback in league history to have thrown for at least 20,000 yards and rushed for at least 5,000 yards in a career. He has a 400-yard passing game already this season -- 428 yards in the loss to the Chargers earlier this month -- and he’s also been sacked six times, by the Chiefs last week, as the Eagles try to settle in to a new way of doing things in a 1-2 start.

“But I just look at it now, he’s still doing those things, he’s still breaking off those big runs, escaping, all those things," Vickerson said. “It all looks the same to me."

Vick has been battered at times in his three previous seasons as the Eagles' starter. He missed three games each in the 2010 and 2011 seasons with rib injuries and missed six games last season after suffering a concussion against the Cowboys last Nov. 11. And questions have swirled about whether Vick is the long-term answer at quarterback as for Kelly's offense, or as a long-term an answer as a 33-year-old quarterback who is his team’s second-leading rusher can be. But as far as the Broncos are concerned those are decisions for another day by other people.

They see only Vick now, for the most part, as he was back in 2004.

“Michael Vick has been a talented football player as long as he’s been in the league," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “He’s been a guy that can beat you with his feet and beat you with his arm … I kind of feel like that’s always been the case and in particular when he’s healthy and part of a good team."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the fast-paced Philadelphia Eagles on deck, the Denver Broncos got a little healthier in the secondary as the week wore on and are still hoping to add Champ Bailey to that mix before Sunday's kickoff.
Bailey
Safety Duke Ihenacho (right ankle) practiced for the first time this week on Friday. He was limited in the workout and is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, but is expected to be ready to play if he has no additional issues in the coming days.

Cornerback Tony Carter (right ankle) practiced fully Friday and was listed as probable. As for Bailey (left foot), he practiced on a limited basis for the second consecutive week. And as the Broncos did last week, they formally listed Bailey as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Eagles.

Asked if he could make a decision on Bailey’s status after Friday’s practice or would have to see Bailey work on the field in the hours before Sunday’s game, Broncos coach John Fox said: “We’ll make it official an hour and half before kickoff on gameday." Bailey characterized his status as "close, very close.''

Linebacker Paris Lenon (thigh) was the only player held out of practice Friday and was formally listed as doubtful. Lenon is not expected to play against the Eagles. Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), who like Bailey has yet to play in a game this season, was limited Friday and listed as questionable.

Safety David Bruton (neck), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (left ankle), long snapper Aaron Brewer (rib), running back C.J. Anderson (knee), cornerback Omar Bolden (left shoulder), wide receiver Wes Welker (left ankle), wide receiver Eric Decker (right shoulder), tackle Orlando Franklin (shoulder), guard Chris Kuper (ankle) all practiced fully and were all listed as probable.

What to watch for: Broncos-Eagles

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
1:45
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Speed first, mistakes second.That's the order of things for the NFL offenses that want to go faster, run more plays, and push the pace against the defenses facing them.

“That’s what those offenses want to do," said Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard. “They want you to mess up. They want you not to get lined up, not to get your calls, not to be where you’re supposed to be, then they hit you with a big play."

So, as the Broncos and Eagles -- two of the fastest offenses in the league -- gather Sunday in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, here are some things to consider:

  • Get moving: The Broncos can’t waste time on defense. That whole "stroll to the line of the scrimmage" thing isn’t going to work. Neither will being slow with the calls or sluggish in their alignments. When the play finishes the Broncos defenders simply have to get over the ball and be ready to go. The Chiefs were able to limit the Eagles last week, at least in part, by consistently getting themselves over the ball and ready to go, even as the umpire is placing the ball. Because if you snooze, you lose. And lose big.
  • [+] EnlargeMichael Vick
    AP Photo/Paul SpinelliMichael Vick has been exposed to a lot of punishment already this season, including six sacks against the Chiefs.
    Mind the gap: Like most of the pick-up-the-pace attacks, Eagles coach Chip Kelly is looking to spread out the defense’s resources and then run though the gaps. The Eagles currently lead the league in rushing, at 209 yards per game. With their offensive alingments, Kelly often creates situations where the defense only has six players in the box and then quarterback Michael Vick or running back LeSean McCoy only have to make one defender miss before they are at the second level with big plays on their minds. One of the more effective formations the Eagles have run is a “double stack" look where Kelly takes four receivers and lines two out wide on each side of the formation with one receiver right behind the other on each side. That pulls four defensive backs outside the numbers and six defenders in the tackle box. It makes tackling a premium and a single missed tackle can turn into a 50-yard run. Vick had a 61-yard run out of the formation against the Chiefs. Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio knows the deal: “It’s all about leveraging and tackling ... always has been, always will be."
  • Air mail: The Eagles, in Kelly’s first season, have taken a page out of the Seahawks’ playbook. They opened the checkbook in free agency to get bigger at cornerback, signing the 6-foot, 200-pound Bradley Fletcher (Rams) and the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Cary Williams (Ravens) in the offseason. Essentially the Eagles were hoping Fletcher, who started more than four games in just one of his four seasons in St. Louis, could make the transition to front-line starter. But they’ve been spotty at times -- their three opponents have found enough room to attempt 49, 47 and 35 passes over the first three weeks of the season -- and all three opposing quarterbacks have completed at least 61 percent of their passes. Philip Rivers connected on 77 percent in a Week 2 Chargers win. Defensive coaches in the league say they believe Peyton Manning is as dialed in as he’s ever been. And Manning will get a secondary that is starting a backup safety. Earl Wolff is expected to start for the injured Patrick Chung and the other safety, Nate Allen, has struggled mightily at times this season. In the three-wide look, the Eagles will have a difficult choice over who they will put in the slot on Wes Welker. The Eagles have struggled to tackle well much of the time, so the catch-and-run opportunities have been there for opposing receivers.
  • Could be a special day: In the Eagles’ loss to the Chiefs, the game was just a few minutes old and the Eagles had already surrendered a 57-yard kickoff return and fumbled a punt. Philadelphia, like any roster in the transition that comes with a new coaching staff, has shown some bobbles in special teams. The Broncos’ Trindon Holliday will have some opportunities to make a play in this one. Also, from the Eagles’ perspective, Kelly will try some things on special teams to shake things up. He attempted a fake extra point out of a swinging gate look with the kicker and holder lined up. The attempt failed, but the Broncos will need to be aware.
  • Get heat on: Vick has been sacked 11 times this season -- he was tied for second-most in the league after three games -- including six by the Chiefs last week. It means, given the Eagles’ read-option look on offense, the 33-year-old has taken his share of punishment already. The Broncos will have to be disciplined in their rush lanes as they move up the field. And they’ll have to live by the basic rule of rushing a mobile passer -- don’t get deeper into the backfield than the quarterback so you don’t leave an escape route. The Eagles may move to more two-tight-end looks at times to give a little help up front. But the Broncos should be able to get some pressure and keep Vick hemmed in.

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