AFC West: 2013 Week 12 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

November, 25, 2013

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 34-31 overtime loss to the New England Patriots.

What it means: The Broncos' 2012 season turned with a Week 6 comeback in San Diego, when the Broncos trailed 24-0 at halftime and roared back to beat the Chargers 35-24. This season, they must now work from the other end of the spectrum after having let a 24-0 lead of their own slip away on a night when Peyton Manning again struggled in the cold and the offense went into the deep freeze until a game-tying drive. In the end, the Broncos couldn't overcome a special-teams mistake by Tony Carter.

Stock watch: At least for one half, the Broncos saw the Von Miller they have been waiting for since his suspension ended in Week 7. Miller dominated the opening half with a 60-yard fumble return for a touchdown to go with two sacks, including a strip of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady that forced a fumble. However, Miller didn’t have near the same impact after halftime, particularly in the pass rush, as Brady threw for well more than 200 yards in the second half and overtime combined.

The sequel: Patriots coach Bill Belichick is noted for picking away at what you don’t want to do, and in recent meetings with the Broncos, he has often chosen to throw the ball against the Broncos defense when it’s in the bigger base look and run on the Broncos when they are in a smaller nickel package (five defensive backs). Of the Patriots' 251 rushing yards in last season’s meeting, 140 came against the nickel, and through three quarters Sunday night, the Patriots had ground out 65 of their 87 rushing yards in the nickel.

Go with what you know: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was targeted just twice by Brady in the first half and had just one catch as the Broncos used a combination of linebackers and safeties to track the Pro Bowler. The Patriots obviously wanted to make sure he got far more involved after halftime. Gronkowski had three catches in the third quarter alone, including a touchdown.

What’s next: When the Kansas City Chiefs came to Denver in Week 11, they were 9-0 and at the top of the division. Next Sunday, the Broncos will go to Arrowhead Stadium to face a 9-2 Chiefs team with two of Kansas City's best defenders -- Tamba Hali and Justin Houston -- dealing with injuries. And the Broncos are a battered group after Sunday night's old-school scrap.

Rapid Reaction: San Diego Chargers

November, 24, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 41-38 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

What it means: The Chargers end a three-game losing streak and remain in the AFC wild-card conversation by defeating Kansas City. At 5-6, the Chargers also earned their first AFC West win this season.

Ajirotutu comes up big: A special-teams standout rarely used on offense, receiver Seyi Ajirotutu made the game-changing play for San Diego, reeling in a Philip Rivers 26-yard pass for a touchdown with 24 seconds left for the winning score.

Stock watch: Rivers finished 27-for-39 for 392 yards and three touchdowns, including an 11-yard touchdown to Danny Woodhead, a 60-yard score to Ladarius Green and the winning TD to Aijirotutu. With the three touchdown passes, Rivers became the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw 20 touchdown passes in eight straight seasons, joining Peyton Manning (13 years), Brett Favre (12), Drew Brees (10), Dan Marino (10) and Eli Manning (8).

Stock watch, Part 2: San Diego's young receivers continue to blossom. Green, in his third year, finished with three receptions for a career-high 80 yards, including his first touchdown. And Keenan Allen continues to show why he's one of the best rookie receivers in the league, totaling nine catches for 124 yards.

Gates reaches milestone: With three receptions for 21 yards, Antonio Gates reached 700 career receptions. Gates also topped 9,000 career receiving yards, reaching that mark in fewer games (158) than any tight end in NFL history.

What's next: The Chargers return home to face AFC North leader Cincinnati on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs

November, 24, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs' 41-38 loss to the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: The Chiefs lost their second straight game to fall to 9-2. They could still end the day tied for first place in the AFC West if the Denver Broncos lose to the Patriots Sunday night in New England.

Stock watch: Quarterback Alex Smith for much of the day was having his best game of the season. But he sailed a pass in the middle of the third quarter well over the head of wide receiver Donnie Avery, and the interception by safety Marcus Gilchrist gave the Chargers the ball at the Kansas City 16. From there, the Chargers scored the touchdown that put them ahead. Smith later rallied the Chiefs, but the Chargers eventually had too much for the Kansas City defense, which allowed almost 500 yards. Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper had his second straight subpar game. He had particular trouble covering wide receivers Keenan Allen and Eddie Royal on shallow crossing routes.

Rushless: The Chiefs played much of the game without their two top pass-rushers, outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Each left the game in the first half with an injury, Hali to his ankle and Houston to his elbow. The Chiefs, ahead 7-3 when Hali left the lineup and 14-3 when Houston left the game, clearly weren’t the same team after their departures. The Chargers went on two long touchdown drives immediately after the Chiefs began playing without either one. Their replacements were veteran Frank Zombo, signed as a free agent from the Green Bay Packers during the offseason, and Dezman Moses, who was claimed off waivers from the Packers to start the regular season.

What’s next: Control of the AFC West race could rest with the outcome of next Sunday’s game against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. The Broncos won 27-17 in their first meeting last week in Denver.