How AFC West was won — if you can call it that

Broncos, Tebow make playoffs despite losing to Chiefs as Raiders miss shot

January 01, 2012|By Sam Farmer, Tribune Newspapers


he beeping you hear is coming from the AFC West champion Denver Broncos, who are moving in reverse, having lost three in a row.

The bleeping you hear is coming from the Black Hole, which watched the Oakland Raiders blow a chance Sunday to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

How the West was won? This was more, does anybody want the West?

The Broncos, who will host Pittsburgh in a first-round game, came into their finale against Kansas City in control of their own destiny. Beat the Chiefs, and the division crown was theirs. Denver lost, 7-3.

During Denver's three-game losing streak, Tim Tebow has had one touchdown pass and seven turnovers.

Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey wasn't pointing at Tebow, but the entire team, when he said: "For us to go out there and play the way we did, expecting to do anything in the playoffs, it's not going to cut it. We've got to find a way to get better."

In losing, they left open the door for the Raiders, who could have claimed the West by winning their home game against San Diego. Oakland was torched, 38-26, losing to its former coach Norv Turner, now likely to be dismissed by the Chargers. It was Oakland's fourth loss in five games.

"This team needs an attitude adjustment," said Raiders coach Hue Jackson, a former Ravens quarterbacks coach. "What I mean by that is the killer instinct has got to exist here.

"This feeling that I've had has been here all year. You try to change it, change it, change it. You do a lot of different things, and I haven't been able to get it changed."

There's plenty of change in this season's postseason. The regulars are there — Green Bay, New England, the Ravens, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Atlanta — but there are relatively fresh faces too: San Francisco, Cincinnati, Detroit, Denver and the Houston Texans, who are in for the first time.

That's not to suggest all of those teams are on a roll. Of the four AFC teams playing on the opening weekend, only Pittsburgh won Sunday, while the Bengals, Texans and Broncos are all looking to regroup.

Despite a 24-16 loss to the Ravens — a victory that secured the Ravens the AFC North — Cincinnati claimed the sixth seed in the AFC with the New York Jets' loss at Miami. It's just the third time in 21 seasons the Bengals have made the playoffs.

In the NFC, Detroit will play at New Orleans, and the winner of Sunday night's Dallas-New York Giants game will host Atlanta.

Unbelievable understudy

With the NFC's top seed locked up, Green Bay rested quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the finale against Detroit.

That didn't prove to be much of a respite for the Lions, however, as backup Matt Flynn set Packers records with 480 yards passing and six touchdowns.

"Just think of all of the great quarterbacks that have come through here," Flynn said. "It's very humbling. I just thank everybody around me and everything. I couldn't have done it, obviously, by myself. There's weapons all around me, and the line did a great job."

It was an amazing game for Detroit's Matthew Stafford, too, who threw for 520 yards and five touchdowns. According to STATS LLC, it was the first time in NFL history opposing quarterbacks each threw for 400-plus yards and five-plus touchdowns in a game. What's more, the teams' combined 971 net yards passing broke the record of 906 set this season in a Week1 game between New England and Miami.

A stroke of Luck

In dropping their finale to Jacksonville, 19-17, the Colts are assured of the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, presumably Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Both Indianapolis and St. Louis finished 2-14, but the Colts have the edge with the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker.

Peyton Manning, recovering from multiple neck surgeries, insists he hasn't given the draft much thought, although that's hard to imagine for a quarterback who analyzes everything five times over.

"The Colts are going to do what they have to do," Manning said. "The draft is something the personnel department will address. They'll deal with that as they see fit. … I think I can coexist with any player I've ever played with."

Some have suggested that Luck is the best quarterback prospect since fellow Stanford product John Elway in 1983, who snubbed the Baltimore Colts when they made him the No. 1 pick.

Mo yards

Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew finished in style, running for a season-high 169 yards to easily claim the rushing title with 1,606. The two backs closest to him in the standings — Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy and Houston's Arian Foster — were inactive Sunday.

Jones-Drew also broke the franchise mark of 1,572 yards, set by Fred Taylor in 2003.

"As long as Mo stays healthy, he'll break every single record I ever set," Taylor said in a text message to the Associated Press. "He's a special talent with great work habits and deserves to be rewarded as such."

Last dance

That's a wrap for Miami's Jason Taylor, the NFL's active sacks leader, who ended his 15-year career with a strong performance in a 19-17 victory over the Jets.

"It was a good way to end this thing, to beat your No. 1 rivals in your home stadium in your last game," said Taylor, whose pressure helped force Mark Sanchez into a pivotal interception. "I'm very, very happy and blessed to be where I am."

Taylor, who finished with 139.5 career sacks, lined up at tailback for the final two plays as the Dolphins ran out the clock. His teammates then carried him off the field.

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