4 plays that changed the tide of AFC West

Dec 3, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) forces a fumble against New York Giants quarterback Geno Smith (3) during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Rewind the clock four weeks ago. The Kansas City Chiefs were sitting on top of the AFC West at 5-2 with the Denver Broncos at 3-3 and the L.A. Chargers and Oakland Raiders at 3-5. The Chiefs’ armor of invincibility was starting to get pierced with a couple of loses after a strong 5-0 start to the season.

The Raiders had just lost any “mojo” they had from beating the Chiefs with a terrible rain-soaked loss against the Bills. The Raiders’ playoff hopes were bleak and seemed to be getting cloudier. Things got worse when they were dismantled by the Patriots in Mexico City.

However, trouble began brewing in Kansas City. Like Cinderella’s night at the ball, Alex Smith’s MVP caliber play suddenly stopped. The Chiefs’ offense struggled and K.C. dropped four games in a row, while the Raiders preyed on Paxton Lynch and Geno Smith to win a couple of games.

Quietly, the Chargers have put together a three-game win streak and, after beating the Browns, are tied with the Raiders and Chiefs for first place in the AFC West. The division crown is still up for grabs in Week 14.

The Broncos handed the reins to quarterback  Paxton Lynch a couple of weeks ago to get a look at their former first-rounder, but have gone back to Trevor Siemian after Lynch was injured, so they won’t even able to get a proper evaluation of Lynch this season.

Before the Miami game, there was a small chance they could have still made the playoffs, but their destiny seems fixed after Siemian threw an interception on the first drive of the game.

This play set the tone for the rest of the game and the Broncos were handed an embarrassing 35-9 loss by the Miami Dolphins. Things are so bad in Denver that its first-year head coach could be on the hot seat.

Meanwhile in Week 13, the Chiefs’ offense found rhythm, scoring 31 points against the Jets. However, their defense couldn’t stop Josh McCown.

On 3rd and 8 in the fourth quarter, down by one point, McCown hit Jermaine Kearse on a simple double slant concept. Kearse broke a couple of tackles and got the Jets all the way down to the Chiefs’ 5-yard line. This play set up the go-ahead touchdown that gave the Jets a lead they did not relinquish.

In a division known for great pass rushers, it made sense that a couple of sacks would change the tide of the AFC West. The Chargers’ Joey Bosa put an end to the Browns’ comeback bid with a strip sack of quarterback Deshone Kizer late in the fourth quarter.

The Browns were in two-down territory, so even though they were facing a 3rd and 15, Kizer could have taken off and run to at least set up a more manageable fourth down– there was clearly space. Instead, Kizer got greedy and foolishly backpedaled while Bosa used the Browns’ right tackle as a screen to free himself of the left tackle to get to Kizer.

Khalil Mack took advantage of an equally unaware quarterback when he made a game- changing play by taking the ball away from Geno Smith. The Raiders were only up 10-7 when they had a punt blocked that put the Giants in the red zone right before the half. Mack saved the team from disaster.

Mack got a one-on-one matchup with Giant left tackle Erek Flowers and ripped through him. Smith waited for something to develop to the right and didn’t see Mack as he snatched the ball from him like a bully in the lunch yard.

The Raiders took control of the game in the second half and won 24-17.

Unbelievably, the Raiders are now in control of their own destiny. If they beat the Chiefs next week and the Chargers in the final week of the season, they could afford to lose to the Eagles or Cowboys and still win the division crown. It just goes to show the unpredictable nature of football– a team could look like world-beaters in one week and like doormats in the next. This axiom seems to be more true in the AFC West than in other divisions.

The wild west won’t likely resolve itself until the final week of the season — there will be blood.

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