Friday, November 9, 2012
AFC West second-quarter checkpoint
By Bill Williamson
The second quarter of the AFC West season is complete. Let’s look at some key developments for the second quarter as we did for the season's first quarter:
Story of the quarter: The Kansas City Chiefs’ implosion. The Chiefs are 1-7 and widely considered the worst team in the NFL. They have been No. 32 in ESPN.com’s NFL Power Rankings for nearly a month. They went 0-4 in the second quarter of the season and have lost five consecutive games. It is getting ugly, too. Fans are calling for the firing of general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel -- and ownership might have a difficult time ignoring those calls if the Chiefs’ season gets even worse. Early last month, right tackle Eric Winston called out some fans for what he saw as them cheering when quarterback Matt Cassel suffered a concussion. It became a national story. Cassel was replaced by Brady Quinn. Crennel fired himself as defensive coordinator and replaced himself with linebackers coach Gary Gibbs. The team released starting cornerback Stanford Routt after eight games -- after signing him to a big-money free-agent deal before the season. This is a franchise that is falling apart.
MVP of the quarter: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. There is no doubt. Indeed, Manning is very much in the race to be the NFL MVP. Manning has been stunningly good for much of the season, and particularly so in the past four games. The Broncos went 3-1 in the quarter and lead the AFC West with a 5-3 record, due in large part to Manning’s success. His lowest yardage outing in the past quarter was 291 yards. He has thrown a total of 12 touchdown passes (three in each game) and three interceptions in the past four games.
A strong second quarter of the season looks to have cemented Wesley Woodyard's starting LB spot.
Defensive player of the quarter: Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard. I was tempted to go with fellow Denver linebacker Von Miller, who has six sacks in the past four games. But Woodyard has been tremendous in the past quarter. He has 49 tackles in the past four games, with 11 being his lowest output -- remarkable for a player who was considered a liability going into the season. Now, with D.J. Williams set to return next week from a nine-game NFL suspension, there appears to be no doubt Woodyard will remain the starting weakside linebacker ahead of Williams.
Rookie of the quarter: Oakland linebacker Miles Burris. The fourth-round pick has been a solid, steady starter and looks like he has a good future ahead of him. He seems to play with a mean streak and is around the ball a lot. He is a nice building block for this season.
Coach of the quarter: Denver coach John Fox. His team went 3-1 in the second quarter and is alone in first place. His team has improved around Manning on both sides of the ball and is poised for a strong second half of the season.
Disappointment of the quarter (team):San Diego Chargers. The Chargers went 1-3 in the quarter to see a 3-1 record become 4-4. And those three losses were terrible: San Diego lost a double-digit lead in the second half in New Orleans, then saw a 24-0 halftime lead over Denver turn into a shocking 35-24 home loss. The following week, San Diego lost 7-6 at downtrodden Cleveland. If the Chargers don’t make the playoffs, that three-game disaster will be long remembered.
Disappointment of the quarter (player): San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers struggled during those blowout losses to New Orleans and Denver and couldn’t do much against Cleveland. Rivers committed nine turnovers in the past quarter. He was very good in Week 9 against Kansas City, so perhaps he is ready to put his trouble behind him.
Biggest unanswered question of the quarter: Can San Diego (4-4) or Oakland (3-5) make up ground against Denver in the next four games? The Broncos look like the best team in the division and have the NFL’s easiest remaining schedule. Denver could pull away in the next four games. The Chargers and the Raiders will be challenged to stay in the race.
Fearless prediction for the second quarter: Kansas City will stay in the race for the No. 1 overall draft pick. The Chiefs are currently tied with Jacksonville at 1-7. I don’t see the Chiefs -- who badly need a good young quarterback -- suddenly putting it together in the next four games and taking themselves out of the race. Of course, the bad news for Kansas City is that there doesn’t appear to be a prize like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in the 2013 draft. The top pick will be very valuable, but there might not be a sure thing at quarterback.