AFC West: Dan Marino

I caught part of a replay of Super Bowl XXII the other day on NFL Network, and it was the start of the third quarter between the Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos when announcer Al Michaels said something that caught my attention.

It actually made me pause the DVR, hit rewind and play again so I could hear Michaels one more time. And then another.

Sure, there had been rumors that Al Davis had been enamored with quarterback Doug Williams. But in the third quarter of that Super Bowl, after Williams had essentially won the game for Washington with an epic second quarter that featured five touchdowns, Michaels told the tale.

[+] EnlargeDoug Williams
AP Photo/Amy SancettaThe Raiders and Redskins reportedly discussed a swap for quarterback Doug Williams before the 1987 season.
He reported that Williams had been ticketed to the then-Los Angeles Raiders the Monday before the NFL’s 1987 regular season was to begin. Then-Washington coach Joe Gibbs had even told Williams he was on his way to the Raiders.

But then, according to Michaels, the Raiders balked at Washington’s price -- a first-round draft pick, or a very good player.

Now, we’ve already heard the tales of John Elway coming so close to being a Raider, and how the Raiders should have drafted Dan Marino in that same 1983 draft after the purported draft-day trade to land Elway fell through. And while the Williams-to-the-Raiders story might not have that same intrigue as either Elway or Marino wearing Silver and Black, it is interesting nonetheless.

Especially when you consider what Williams accomplished later that strike-torn season, and when you realize who the Raiders instead used that first-round pick on in the 1983 draft.

Williams, who had been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ starting quarterback from 1978 through 1982 and had helped author three playoff appearances for them, was also a pioneer as an African American quarterback, following in the footsteps of James Harris and Joe Gilliam.

And we know that Davis looked beyond skin tone when it came to players he believed could play --Davis selected QB Eldridge Dickey in the first round of the 1968 draft -- and Williams had the big arm Davis was always in search of.

But after a contract dispute ended his time in Tampa Bay, Williams played two seasons in the USFL before resurfacing in Washington in 1986 as Jay Schroeder's backup.

Williams had not started an NFL game since Jan. 9, 1983, a playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys, so yeah, you could imagine the Raiders not wanting to give up a first-rounder for him less than a week before the 1987 season.

Still, the Raiders were relatively unsettled under center entering that season as Jim Plunkett had retired and Marc Wilson and Rusty Hilger were the returners.

But even as the Raiders got off to a 3-0 start, the wheels quickly fell off, thanks in part to the strike, which cancelled one week of games and led to three weeks of replacement player games. The Raiders finished 5-10, their worst record since going 1-13 in 1962, the year before Davis arrived in Oakland. And two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Flores resigned following the season.

Would Williams have saved the season and steadied the Raiders' ship?

Meanwhile, in Washington, Williams still had to bide his time. Sure, he relieved Schroeder a few times in 1987 and even started two regular-season games, but he did not become Washington’s starter for good until there was 6:51 remaining in the third quarter of its regular-season finale against Minnesota.

Williams, a huge team favorite, led Washington on its playoff run, upsetting the Chicago Bears in the divisional round and then upending the Vikings in the NFC title game.

Then came Super Sunday, in which he threw all four of his touchdown passes in the historic second quarter and passed for a then-Super Bowl record 340 yards in Washington’s 42-10 victory over Elway’s Broncos as Williams became the first African-American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl, a feat not matched until Russell Wilson did it with the Seattle Seahawks this past February.

The trade that never happened between Oakland and Washington seemed to work out best for Washington, at least on the surface.

But if the Raiders had given up their first-rounder in 1988, they probably would have missed out on Tim Brown, though the Raiders did do some wheeling and dealing later to acquire three first-rounders, which they used on Brown, Terry McDaniel and Scott Davis.

So, with hindsight always being 20/20, do you essentially trade Doug Williams for Tim Brown if you’re the Raiders?

Whatever your answer, remember this: the Raiders and Washington would get together for a trade in 1988, a deal that would haunt the Raiders as they sent offensive tackle Jim Lachey to Washington for… wait for it … Schroeder.

Williams would only play 15 more games over the next two seasons before retiring, while Schroeder could not fully win over the hearts and minds of the Raiders' locker room in five seasons.

NFLN survey/Super Bowl QB: Broncos

January, 29, 2014
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NEW YORK -- Champ Bailey has seen plenty of quarterbacks work at crunch time, with the clock grinding, timeouts gone.

“And the guys with the same expression, the look in their eyes, that they know what to do, they’re comfortable doing it, they’ve been there before and won before,’’ Bailey said. “Those are the guys you want with the ball in their hands with your team and the guys, as a defense, you know are always a threat to beat you. Peyton [Manning] is one of those guys.’’

Manning has led the Broncos to the franchise’s seventh Super Bowl and when ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters asked over 320 players: “Two-minute warning and the Super Bowl is on the line. Whom do you want at quarterback?’’ Manning was one of the top choices.

But he wasn’t the top choice. League-wide the quarterback the Broncos beat to go to the Super Bowl -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- was the top pick. Forty percent of the players surveyed picked Brady, who has won three Super Bowls in his career and been to five.

Manning received 26.9 percent of the votes league-wide and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was third with 32 percent.

Among the 10 Broncos who were surveyed, Manning was the overwhelming choice. Since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, Manning leads all quarterbacks with 50 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter.

Hall of Famer Dan Marino is second, since the merger, with 47. In a season when the Broncos have piled on the points, the Broncos have needed just one such drive, for a game-winning field goal in Dallas in Week 5.

“I always say when you have a guy like Peyton at quarterback, you always have hope,’’ Bailey said. “You’re always going to be in the mix and that’s all you can ask for as a player.’’

“The guys who make the plays when it counts are the ones that understand everybody in that huddle is looking to them,’’ said Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway, also a pretty fair game-on-the-line quarterback on his way to the Hall of Fame. “A quarterback in that situation has to believe he can get it done, be prepared to get it done and done the work in those situations to be able to get it done. When you’ve got that kind of guy, you’re going to have a chance to win a world championship.’’
Kaepernick-WilsonGetty Images49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will square off for the third time this season.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- When the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks meet Sunday for the NFC title, it will mark the 18th time since the AFL/NFL merger of 1970 that teams from the same division play in a conference championship game.

But it’s only happened four times since 2002, when the Seahawks moved from the AFC West to the NFC West as part of the league’s realignment. This year marks No. 5.

Still, when the Raiders were a mainstay of the AFC title game – they played in eight such games between 1970 and 1983 – they faced a team from their division, the AFC West, a mere one step away from the Super Bowl three times.

It’s interesting to note that all three of those meetings would have happened in the divisional round today because, from 1970 through 1989, two teams from the same division could not meet in the playoffs until the conference title game.

A look, then, at those three meetings ...

Jan. 1, 1978, Mile High Stadium

Denver Broncos 20, Oakland Raiders 17

The defending champion Raiders were the AFC’s lone wild-card team at 11-3 – in those days, only the then-three division winners and the second-place team with the best record qualified for the playoffs – and were coming in off their breathtaking “Ghost to the Post” double-overtime divisional playoff win at the Baltimore Colts, 37-31.

The top-seeded Broncos, in the heyday of their “Orange Crush” defense, had gone 12-2 with one of their losses at home to the Raiders – the teams split the regular-season series, each winning on the road – and had just handled the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round, 34-21.

The Broncos, who allowed an AFC-low 148 points, never trailed the Raiders, who led the NFL in scoring with 351 points, and led by scores of 14-3 and 20-10. But the Raiders, appearing in their fifth straight AFC title game, remember it for a play that never happened. At least, from the officials’ perspective.

“(Rob) Lytle’s fumble?” the late Al Davis told NFL Films. “No one saw it, so they said.”

Leading 7-3 midway through the third quarter, the Broncos set up at the Raiders’ 2-yard line and had a first-and-goal when Lytle ran into the pile and was hit by Jack Tatum. The ball popped out, Mike McCoy scooped it up and was off to the races for the game-changing touchdown. Except ...

Lytle was ruled down, the officials explained, saying that his forward progress had been stopped before the ball came free. Replays showed otherwise and then Art McNally, the former head of NFL officials, came clean to NFL Films, albeit, a decade later.

“It was a fumble,” he said, “and we were wrong on the call.”

Too little, too late for the Raiders as Jon Keyworth punched it in for Denver one play later and the Broncos led, 14-3, en route to the victory and Super Bowl XII, where they were thumped by the Dallas Cowboys, 27-10.

It was John Madden’s final playoff game as he retired a year later and Oakland would not return to the postseason until 1980.

Jan. 11, 1981, Jack Murphy Stadium

Oakland Raiders 34, San Diego Chargers 27

Five AFC teams finished 11-5 in 1980, the Buffalo Bills, the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Oilers, the Chargers and the Raiders.

A second wild-card team had been added to the playoff mix two years earlier and the Raiders were the top-seeded wild card. First they beat a familiar face in Kenny Stabler and the Oilers, 27-7, in the conference’s wild-card game, then they traveled to Cleveland, where the wind chill was minus-36 degrees, and upset the Browns, 14-12, in the “Red Right 88” game when Mike Davis picked off Brian Sipe in the end zone with less than a minute to play.

The Chargers, meanwhile, were the AFC’s top seed due to a better conference record than Cleveland and Buffalo and won the West over the Raiders, with whom they split the regular-season games as each team won at home, based on better net points in division games. San Diego beat the Bills, 20-14, in its first playoff game.

Oakland began the season just 2-3 and recently acquired quarterback Dan Pastorini was lost in Game 5 with a broken leg. Enter Jim Plunkett and his Lazarus act. Under Plunkett, the Raiders had won 11 of 13 games, including the playoffs, and started hot again against the high-scoring Air Coryell Chargers as Oakland opened up a 28-7 first-half lead.

San Diego woke up with 17 unanswered points , creeping to within 28-24 in the third quarter.

“Ted Hendricks grabs me by the jersey and he starts shaking me and says, ‘Keep scoring. We can’t stop them,’” Plunkett told NFL Network.

A pair of Chris Bahr field goals gave the Raiders some breathing room before Rolf Benirschke’s field goal made it a one-score game with less than seven minutes to play.

The Raiders' offense did not heed Hendricks’ advice this time; it simply ran out the clock on a 15-play drive that included 14 runs and four first downs.

“That game in the end, when all was said and done, came down to our offensive line and Mark van Eeghen,” Matt Millen, then a rookie linebacker, told NFL Network.

The iconic image of the game, then, is of left guard Gene Upshaw’s heavily padded right arm holding the game ball aloft as he exited the field. The Raiders went on to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10, in Super Bowl XV as Plunkett was named the game’s MVP and Tom Flores became the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl.

Jan. 8, 1984, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Los Angeles Raiders 30, Seattle Seahawks 14

The 1983 Raiders are considered one of the best teams of all time and yet, they lost four games that season – one at Washington, in which an injured Marcus Allen did not play, a head-scratcher at home in the penultimate week of the season to the St. Louis Cardinals and two to, yes, the Seahawks.

Indeed, all you NFL newbies, the Raiders were in L.A. from 1982 through 1994 and the Seahawks used to live in the AFC West (from 1977-2001) and they were even a little chippy and, yes, lippy back then.

“Seattle knew us so well,” Allen told NFL Network. “It’s no secret, I mean they even knew our plays. I looked across the line of scrimmage at Kenny Easley, I shook my head, I said, ‘I’m coming right there.’ I think he shook his head back and said, ‘OK.’”

The Seahawks had swept the Raiders that year by scores of 38-36 in Seattle and 34-21 in L.A. over a three-week period. The sweep got the Seahawks into the playoffs as the top wild-card team at 9-7 and they beat rookie John Elway and the Broncos, 31-7, in the wild-card game at Seattle before upsetting another ballyhooed first-year QB in the Miami Dolphins’ Dan Marino, 27-20, at the Orange Bowl.

The top-seeded Raiders had just thumped the Pittsburgh Steelers, 38-10, before a crowd of 92,434 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and awaited the Seahawks.

“We had lost to Seattle twice,” Howie Long told NFL Network. “We took that as we had gotten our ass kicked and it was time for redemption.”

It was an alley fight of a game and the Raiders, who led the AFC with 442 points scored, dominated Seattle, the conference’s second-highest scoring team with 403 points. L.A. jumped out to a 27-0 lead as Allen, playing with a mouse under his right eye, finished with 216 yards from scrimmage, with 154 yards rushing on 25 carries and 62 yards receiving and a TD on seven catches.

“All I remember was coming out with a black eye and seeing stars,” Allen said. “But I wasn’t going [to stay] out of the game.”

L.A.’s defense picked off five passes from Seahawks quarterbacks Dave Krieg and Jim Zorn, with two interceptions from Mike Davis, and the Raiders also had five sacks, two by rookie Greg Townsend.

The Raiders then went to Tampa Bay for Super Bowl XVIII and beat defending champion Washington, 38-9, with Allen winning MVP honors on the strength of a then-record 191 rushing yards on 20 carries, including his reverse-field 74-yard touchdown run.

It is still the Raiders’ most recent Super Bowl title.
HOUSTON -- With a 30-13 lead against the Houston Texans, 5 minutes,16 seconds left in the game, the ball on the Denver Broncos' 44 yard line and 50 passing touchdowns for the season, head coach John Fox said three words into the headset.

"Coach Fox said 'go play ball,' that's what he told [offensive coordinator] Adam [Gase] and that's what Adam told me," said quarterback Peyton Manning.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
John Leyba/The Denver PostPeyton Manning celebrates his record 51st touchdown against the Texans.
And with that Manning and the Broncos offense went about the business of chasing down history. Running back Knowshon Moreno, who finished with 76 yards rushing in the game for his first 1,000-yard season, gained four yards on the first play of the drive.

Manning threw two incompletions, one that included a pass interference penalty on Houston Texans' safety Eddie Pleasant that moved the ball to the Houston 25-yard line. And, on first-and-10, with tight end Julius Thomas lined up wide right as the only receiver, Manning had the 1-on-1 matchup he wanted with the Texans cornerbacks matching up wide left with the Broncos wide receivers.

Thomas simply ran by linebacker Darryl Sharpton and Manning lofted the 51st touchdown pass of the season into Thomas' hands. Thomas, with the exuberance of youth perhaps, dropped the football to celebrate, letting a remember-when item simply roll into the grass.

"It wouldn't have surprised me if Julius wouldn't have went handed it to some babe in the stands trying to get her phone number in exchange for the ball," Manning said with a smile. "That would be right up Julius' alley, that is pretty in line with his thinking sometimes. Great catch, great route by him."

Manning tied the previous record, set by Tom Brady in 2007, with a 20-yard scoring pass to Eric Decker just 2:39 before the record-setter. Manning called Decker's catch on the left sideline of the endzone "awesome, one of the best ones of the year in my opinion."

Manning also said Gase has "been awesome all year" as the team's play-caller. He also paid homage to Hall of Famer Dan Marino as well as Brady following the game and said he believed his record may be short-lived in today's NFL.

On Marino, Manning said; "I still think Dan Marino's record in '84 is extremely special. Certainly the game has changed since then and for him to throw 48 touchdowns in '84 is still one of the most remarkable ones. It lasted so long and he was one of my favorite quarterbacks growing up so to break his record was really special. And Tom in 2007 was nothing short of phenomenal."

On the record Manning said; "It may be only temporary. I personally think all season records are going down, especially if they go to 18 games and there won't be an asterisk. Brady will probably break it again next year if not the year after, so we'll enjoy it … Hopefully the Hall of Fame will send the ball back when somebody throws for more."

And on setting the record on a day when the Broncos also clinched the AFC West title as well as a first-round bye, Manning said; "Losing record and you break an individual record and you're just throwing a lot and getting some yards and you don't have a chance to make the postseason, that doesn't mean a whole lot."
It has been a special season in Denver. Could it also be historic?

The Broncos, which clinched the AFC West on Dec. 2, are 11-3, have won nine consecutive games and are on pace for a first-round bye in the playoffs. They are widely considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Denver has been dominant on both sides of the ball. Although its season has been a team effort, the work of two players stands out: quarterback Peyton Manning and linebacker Von Miller.

Manning and Miller have arguably been the best offensive and best defensive players in the NFL this season. Both are leading candidates for major hardware; Manning is in the mix for the NFL MVP award, and Miller is a top candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award.

If both players win, it will, according to ESPN Stats & Information, be just the second time in league history that teammates have won the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. San Francisco’s Steve Young won the NFL MVP and cornerback Deion Sanders won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1994. The 49ers went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl.

Let’s look at Manning’s and Miller’s candidacies:

Manning: This is shaping up as a close, intriguing race. There is no runaway MVP choice. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and New England quarterback Tom Brady are competing hard with Manning. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers could make a case.

Still, there is reason to think Manning -- in his first season with the Broncos -- has a chance to win his fifth MVP award.

Brady is having a strong season, but the Broncos are 11-3 and the Patriots are 10-4. If the Broncos finish with a better record, Manning could have the edge. Coming back at age 36 from a neck injury that kept him out last season, he has had an immense impact on his new team.

Like Manning, Peterson is coming off a major injury, so the two will fight it out for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award as well. Peterson needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady, Peyton Manning
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady, left, and Peyton Manning are in another tight competition for MVP honors.
Dickerson was not the MVP that year. Miami quarterback Dan Marino won the award. Marino had a monster year, breaking six NFL season pass records, including most touchdowns and most passing yards.

Manning is not having quite that type of season, but his team is having a much better season than Peterson's and Manning’s stats are strong.

Consider these numbers supplied by ESPN Stats & Information: This is Manning's 12th season with 4,000 yards; he leads NFL in Total QBR, which measures the all-around impact of quarterback play; and his 11 wins are the most by a player after missing an entire season. Denver hasn’t won this many games since 2005. If the season ended today, Manning would be the fifth player ever with at least 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns and a 67 percent completion rate while throwing 10 or fewer interceptions. Three of the four previous players won the MVP award.

The vote will be close, but there is no doubt Manning will be in the MVP conversation. If history is any indication, it could come down to Manning and Brady. The last time a nonquarterback won the award was in 2006, when San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson won. A quarterback has been shut out just four times in the past 20 years.

Miller: Denver took Miller with the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011. Last season, he was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He could easily win the Defensive Player of the Year award in his second season.

Miller was considered a top-flight pass-rusher as a rookie, but he has worked to improve his overall game. He is now strong in coverage and against the run in addition to being a complete terror as a pass-rusher.

“To me, Miller is the best defensive player in football,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Still, the chase for top defensive honors this season is as close as the MVP race. Miller is competing with a pair of fellow 2011 first-round picks -- Aldon Smith of San Francisco and J.J. Watt of Houston -- and Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

When asked about his chances of winning the award, Miller said he wants it, but his plan is this: “I’m just going to keep on playing with a fanatical effort and a relentless pursuit to the ball.”

It’s working.

Miller has 16 sacks, 3.5 off the pace set by Smith and Watt.

Watt leads the league with a combined 37 sacks and tackles for losses. Miller is second with 29; Smith is third at 21.5.

Watt has made several big plays and is the best player on a strong defense for a winning team, so he is probably the leading candidate for the award. But Miller has his supporters.

I think Manning’s chances of winning may be higher than Miller’s, but both have had major impacts on Denver’s success in 2012.

DENVER -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos 30-23 win over the San Diego Chargers.

What it means: The AFC West race is very close to being over. The Broncos (7-3) have won five straight games while the second-place Chargers (4-6) have lost five of the past six. Denver essentially has a four-game lead with six games to go because of a season sweep and the tiebreaker over the Chargers. Wacky things would have to happen for Denver not to win its second straight AFC West title.

Manning milestones: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning reached two career milestones Sunday. With his 148th career win he tied his boss, John Elway, for the second most wins by a quarterback in NFL history. Manning also threw three touchdown passes Sunday and now has 423 for his career. He entered the day tied with Dan Marino in second place for the most career touchdown passes in NFL history.

Miller magic: Denver second-year linebacker Von Miller had three sacks and forced two fumbles. He is a serious NFL Defensive Player of the Year threat. He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year last year. Miller has 13 sacks this season and 24.5 sacks in his career.

San Diego’s offense struggled: The Chargers had two first downs in the first half and went 3-for-16 on third down for the game. They failed on their first 11 attempts on third down. Spanning three games, Denver’s defense forced opponents to go 0-for-26 on third downs.

Rivers’ turnovers continue: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. He has committed 43 turnovers since the start of the 2011 season. It leads the NFL.

Key injuries: Several players were banged up on both sides. Denver running back Willis McGahee (knee), San Diego cornerback Quentin Jammer (calf) and San Diego linebacker Larry English (knee) all came out of the game. There is no initial word on how serious the injuries are.

San Diego’s defense is not the problem: The Chargers’ first nine points were scored by their defense, and the unit has played well for much of the season.

What’s next: Denver visits the Kansas City Chiefs (1-9) and the Chargers host the Baltimore Ravens.

Final Word: AFC West

November, 16, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

Manning-Thomas combination is taking off: Nine games into Peyton Manning's time with the Denver Broncos, it appears third-year receiver Demaryius Thomas is becoming his favorite target. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since Week 5 at New England, Thomas has been Manning’s go-to receiver, catching 33 of the 40 passes Manning has thrown his way. Thomas has been targeted at an average depth of 13 yards, and he has eight catches of 30 yards or more. In the first four weeks, Thomas caught 21 of 35 targets, with an average target depth of 7.6 yards and two pass plays of 30-plus yards.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas, Peyton Manning
AP Photo/Jack DempseyPeyton Manning has found Demaryius Thomas, left, more often, and for big gains, in recent weeks.
Yardagepalooza possible in Oakland: All kinds of offensive records could fall in Oakland on Sunday when the New Orleans Saints visit. Rain is in the forecast -- and perhaps only a slick surface could help these defenses. New Orleans has allowed 4,224 yards in nine games; Oakland has allowed 97 points in its past two. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees leads the NFL in passing yardage; Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer leads the AFC in passing yardage. The putrid defensive possibilities are endless.

Can the Chiefs protect Arrowhead Stadium? One of the more embarrassing facts in a season rich in embarrassing facts for the Chiefs is their performance at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs used to be extremely difficult to beat at home. That’s not the case in this 1-8 season. The Chiefs are 0-4 at home and have been outscored by 46 points there. The faithful are hoping that all changes Sunday against Cincinnati.

Chargers need to buck Broncos’ trend: The Chargers owned the Broncos in recent years, but the Broncos have beaten the Chargers twice in a row. A win Sunday would give Denver its first season sweep in the series since 2005, the year before Philip Rivers took over as San Diego's starting quarterback. Before this short Denver win streak, the Chargers won nine of 11 games in the series. The most recent meeting between the two teams was one of the most memorable in the rivalry’s history. Denver turned a 24-0 halftime deficit into a 35-24 road victory on “Monday Night Football” in Week 6. The Broncos haven’t lost since, while the Chargers have won just once.

More milestones for Manning: Every week, it seems like Manning sets a new record. Week 11 doesn’t appear different. Manning needs one win to tie John Elway -- the man who brought him to Denver -- for the second-most career victories by a starting quarterback at 148. Manning needs a touchdown toss to overtake Dan Marino for the second-most career touchdown passes. They are tied at 420.

AFC West stats to know

November, 8, 2012
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Let’s look at key Week 10 statistics for each AFC West team courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:

Denver

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning has won 146 games as a starting quarterback. Dan Marino is third on the all-time list at 147. Manning’s boss, John Elway, is second at 148. Brett Favre is way down the line at 186. Manning plays against Carolina and quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday. Manning was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1998. Newton was the top pick in 2011. Via the Elias Sports Bureau, Manning is 27-9 against fellow top pick quarterbacks. It’s the best record in the NFL.

Kansas City

Running back Jamaal Charles is struggling in recent weeks. He has just 83 yards on 29 carries in the past three games for a 2.9 yard average. In the first five games, Charles -- who missed most of last season with a torn ACL in his knee -- had 551 yards on 104 rushes. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry.

Oakland

The Raiders have allowed 12 rushing touchdowns of at least 40 yards since the start of the 2010 season. They allowed three last week to Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin. The next worst three teams on the list in that category since the start of the 2010 season have surrendered 12 combined. Up next for Oakland: Baltimore tailback Ray Rice.

San Diego

Philip Rivers misses Vincent Jackson. He will see him in Tampa Bay on Sunday, but it won’t do Rivers any good. Jackson became a Buccaneer this season. Check out the difference in Rivers’ downfield throws with and without Jackson:

DENVER -- It wasn’t a game-winner in overtime in the playoffs.

But it changed momentum of Peyton Manning’s first game in Denver.

Manning hit receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 71-yard touchdown play to give the Broncos 14-13 lead over the Steelers with 5:29 to go in the third quarter Sunday night.

Thomas beat Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor. It’s the same player Thomas beat on his 80-yard pass from former Denver quarterback Tim Tebow on the first offensive play in overtime of a wild-card game last January.

In addition to giving Denver’s the lead, it was a milestone for Manning. It was his 40th career touchdown pass in the regular season. He is the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 touchdowns and was the quickest to accomplish the feat. It is Manning’s 209th NFL game. Dan Marino hit No. 400 in his 227th game and Brett Favre threw his 400th touchdown pass in his 228th game.

Until that touchdown, the Steelers were utilizing the best way to beat Manning. They were keeping him off the field.

From the 5:16 mark of the second quarter to the 6:05 mark of the third quarter, Manning and the Denver Broncos’ offense has one snap and that was a kneel-down at the end of the half. Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers on an eight minute, 55-secod drive to open the second half that culminated in a field.

Roethlisberger has been terrific, especially on third down. The Steelers have converted 8-of-13 third-down plays.

However, 36 seconds into Manning’s first drive of the second half, the game changed.

Manning can make history Sunday

September, 5, 2012
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As if there isn’t enough to attract interest in Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos debut Sunday night, he can set a major NFL record in the game against Pittsburgh.

Manning is tied with Dan Marino with 63 300-yard passing games, which is the most in NFL history. His next 300-yard game will put him alone atop the NFL record books. I don’t think Denver is necessarily looking for Manning to toss for an enormous amount of yards against Pittsburgh. A win and a 240-yard outing would suffice.

The Broncos’ brass just wants to see continued improvement from the preseason in which Manning was efficient and was in a good rhythm for the most part after he sat out the 2011 season with a neck injury.

Still, a solid preseason will not compare to what Manning will face Sunday against Pittsburgh. The Steelers rushed five or more defenders at the fifth highest rate in the NFL in 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information. So, Manning will have the shake the regular season rust right away. Here is an ESPN video exploring whether Manning is ready for the season.

Former opponent and new Denver safety Jim Leonhard told reporters in Denver on Wednesday he has no doubts Manning will ready to go Sunday.

“He looks absolutely fine to me,” Leonhard said. “He’s a guy who never just used his arm strength all the time anyway. He’s a true vet. He knows when he has to put some zip on it and when he kind of throws a guy open and puts it into a spot. There’s nothing to me that indicates that he’s having any issues with his arm.”

But will his renewed health result in an NFL record in his first game as a Bronco.

NFL Any Era: Tim Tebow

January, 23, 2012
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Willie Lanier and Tim Tebow ESPN.com IllustrationWhat kind of collision would there be between Hall of Famer Willie Lanier and Tim Tebow?
ESPN is unveiling a cool project this week. The “Any Era” team. ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com combined on a project in which 20 Pro Football Hall of Famers and ESPN’s John Clayton, a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, put together a list of 20 current NFL players who they think could play in any era of the NFL.

The committee picked Denver quarterback Tim Tebow. He is No. 19 on the list.

It’s funny. It was debated hotly for the past few months whether or not the option-running Tebow could actually fit in this era. Yet, according to the Hall of Famers, Tebow could play in any era in NFL history partly because of his toughness and aggressive playing style.

Former Denver running back Floyd Little explained why he pushed for Tebow: “He might not be the greatest quarterback, but he could play at any position you want him to play at. He’s a guy I’d like to play with if I was still playing. He’s a winner, he’s mobile, strong, and gets the job done regardless, whether he’s blocking, throwing, running or just fooling you. He finds a way to win and people need to recognize that. A “W” is a “W” and it doesn’t matter how you get it, if you win ugly it’s still a “W.” Mechanics don’t play the game, people do.”

Added former Miami running back Larry Csonka: “I’m picking Tim Tebow, who’s a controversial choice. But that kid, a lot of people say he’s not a pure passing QB. But neither was Fran Tarkenton. You can take Tebow and compare him to a lot of quarterbacks over the years, great QBs who could roll out and be a threat. When it comes down to it, I think he can throw the long ball, maybe not consistently, but consistently enough to win. And in the final analysis, isn’t that what matters? He’s not going to statistically pass Dan Marino, but he may end up in a Super Bowl and Marino didn’t. He has a combination of things that come down to winning.”

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with the men the yellow jackets? Fill up the comments section below with your thoughts on Tebow’s selection to the Any Era team.
Philip RiversDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesWithout a Super Bowl ring, will Hall of Fame voters look past Philip Rivers?
There are six active starting NFL quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl.

Philip Rivers is not one of them.

That fact hangs over Rivers’ head and will be the biggest question mark about him until he wins one. There’s little doubt that the San Diego Chargers’ prolific, big-armed, big-hearted leader is the best active quarterback alive without a Super Bowl ring.

If Rivers, 29, ends his career without hardware, will it prevent him from being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? After his first five seasons as an NFL starting quarterback, Rivers (the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft) has compiled statistics that suggest he is on his way to making the Canton, Ohio, museum.

And, thus far, he compares with non-Super Bowl-winning modern era quarterbacks such as Jim Kelly, Warren Moon, Dan Marino and fellow Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts.

“I think he’s on his way,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said of Rivers' chances of becoming bronzed. “He’s got the look of a Hall of Fame player. He belongs with those names that have made it recently … It would really help his cause if he won a championship, but he’s on pace in my mind.”

Quarterbacks are judged on championships, and Rivers has pressure because several quarterbacks he is judged directly against have won Super Bowls recently.

New Orleans' Drew Brees won the title after the 2009 season. Brees left San Diego after the Chargers decided to start Rivers in 2006. The Giants' Eli Manning won the title in 2008. Manning and Rivers were the centerpieces of a 2004 draft-day trade. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls. He was picked seven slots after Rivers in 2004. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers won the Super Bowl earlier this year. He was drafted the year after Rivers.

The two other active quarterbacks to have won the Super Bowl are New England's Tom Brady (three rings) and the Colts' Peyton Manning (one).

If Rivers doesn't win a Super Bowl in his career, it could be held against him in the Hall of Fame voting room, especially if a few more quarterbacks win titles before he retires. The numbers could be stacked against him.

Brady and Peyton Manning are slam dunk Hall of Famers. I'd think Roethlisberger, Brees and Rodgers are in good shape to make it unless they all totally fall apart. Recent retiree Brett Favre will make it, and fellow recent retiree Kurt Warner has a great chance to be enshrined. The late Steve McNair could also get some consideration. Thus, a lot of quarterbacks who played during Rivers' career could be heading into the Hall of Fame in the next five to 15 years.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireDuring his career Philip Rivers has passed for 19,661 yards, 136 touchdowns and has a passer rating of 97.2.
Seven quarterbacks have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame in the past 15 years. But this is a golden age of quarterbacking, so a large number will get in if they are deemed worthy by the voting committee. Winning that elusive ring is always recommended. A title could be the difference for Rivers between getting elected quickly and having a long wait.

Still, Rivers’ numbers show he is on pace to be considered seriously for Hall of Fame enshrinement.

In his career, Rivers (who threw a total of 30 passes in his first two NFL seasons) has thrown for 19,661 career yards. He has thrown 136 touchdowns and 56 interceptions. His career passer rating is 97.2. In 15 career seasons, Fouts threw for 43,040 yards, 254 touchdowns and 242 interceptions, and his passer rating was 80.2. Rivers is on pace for a much better career than Fouts, who never went to a Super Bowl but is enshrined in Canton.

Kelly, who lost four Super Bowls, played 11 seasons in the NFL. He threw for 35,467 yards and 237 touchdowns, and his passer rating was 84.4. Moon played 17 seasons in the NFL. He threw for 49,325 yards and 291 touchdowns, and his passer rating was 80.9. Dan Marino played 17 seasons. He threw for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns, and his passer rating was 86.4

If Rivers continues to play at a high level, he could be in the neighborhood of some of these Hall of Fame quarterbacks who did not win a Super Bowl.

Of the active Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, only Rodgers has a better career passer rating than Rivers. Peyton Manning, Brady and Brees have more touchdown passes, and Peyton Manning and Brees have more passing yardage than Rivers since 2006.

“He stacks up with a lot the current guys and the recent Hall of Famers,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “I think he is very much in the same class as Kelly or Moon for sure -- and maybe even Marino. Longevity will be key, but his lifetime numbers should be off the charts.”

If Rivers (who had a famously speedy recovery from a torn ACL in the 2007 playoffs) can stay healthy, he should make a serious Canton push, ring or no ring.

“The guy has everything,” Horton said. “He’s a son of a coach. He’s a gym rat. He has great skills. He showed last year he can succeed with street free agents because all of his guys were hurt … Philip Rivers is a Hall of Fame type guy, there’s no doubt about it.”
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and Denver quarterback Kyle Orton remain off pace for the 5,000-yard passing plateau.

Rivers, who threw for 280 yards in a loss to Oakland on Sunday, has thrown for 3,642 yards. He is on pace to throw for 4,856 yards. He trails the Colts’ Peyton Manning for the NFL lead in passing yardage.

Orton entered the week leading the NFL in passing yards, but he threw for just 117 yards in a loss to the Chiefs on Sunday. He is fourth in the NFL with 3,487 passing yards. He is on pace to throw for 4,649 yards this season.

Only Miami’s Dan Marino (5,089 yards in 1984) and New Orleans’ Drew Brees (5,069 in 2008) have thrown for more than 5,000 yards. Rivers and Orton’s chances of joining them has gotten smaller with four games remaining.

Drive for 5,000 yards off pace

November, 29, 2010
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The drive for 5,000 by two AFC West quarterbacks has fallen off the pace.

There have been just two 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history. Miami’s Dan Marino threw for 5,084 yards in 1984 and New Orleans’ Drew Brees threw for 5,069 yards in 2008. Denver’s Kyle Orton and San Diego’s Philip Rivers can still reach the plateau, but they need some big games in the final five weeks of the season.

Orton took over the NFL passing yardage lead with 347 yards in a 36-33 loss to St. Louis. Rivers had just 185 yards passing in a 36-14 win over Indianapolis. Yes, it’s not all about yards.

Orton has thrown for 3,370 yards in 11 games. He is on pace for throw for 4,902 yards this season. Rivers, a leading MVP candidate, has thrown for 3,362 yards. He is on pace to toss for 4,889 yards.

Again, 5,000 passing yards is not out of the question for either Orton or Rivers. But they have some work to do.
Will Peyton Manning be the best player on the field Sunday night when the San Diego Chargers visit Indianapolis?

Usually, it wouldn’t even be a question. Of course, he would. He’s Peyton Manning, one of the best players ever to step on an NFL field. But, for one night, in this season, Manning may have competition. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is playing as well as anybody in the NFL in 2010, including Manning.

Rivers, who is No. 2 on ESPN.com’s MVP Watch this week (Manning is No. 5), is playing out of his mind. He has thrown for 3,177 yards. He has thrown for 23 touchdowns and he has been intercepted nine times. Manning has thrown for 3,059 yards. He’s thrown for 20 touchdowns and he’s been picked off seven times. Rivers is less than a yard shy off the pace of Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage record of 5,084 yards in 1984.

Like Manning, Rivers is playing with a less-than-stacked deck. He’s been playing without his top four receivers and star tight end Antonio Gates the past two games. It is not going unnoticed.

“Philip Rivers reminds me of what Peyton Manning has been doing,” ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer told me last week. “Manning does it with not a great supporting cast, but so has Rivers. These guys are really playing at another level.”

Added Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: “Nobody is playing better than Rivers this season. Nobody.”

Again, this is not to say that Rivers has replaced Manning atop the NFL quarterback mountain. Manning is an all-time player. But Rivers is joining the conversation. Monday night, after Rivers tore up Denver in a 35-14 win, Hall of Fame quarterback and current ESPN analyst Steve Young said that Rivers is a potential Hall of Fame player. Wednesday on “SportsCenter,” Young ranked Manning as the No. 2 quarterback in the league and Rivers is No. 4.

Rivers is certainly putting up the numbers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers lead the NFL this season with 19 completion of 30 yards or longer. That should increase when his favorite deep threat, Vincent Jackson, joins the team Sunday after ending his holdout and spending time on the roster-exemption list. Rivers has the longest current streak by throwing a touchdown pass in each of the past 22 games.

There’s no doubt Manning is special. But he will not be the only special quarterback on the field Sunday night.

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