Woody Paige: Broncos have stiff competition among largely successful division

Woody Paige: Broncos have stiff competition among largely successful division
Posted at 3:45 PM, Sep 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-12 17:48:06-04

In the first week, the AFC West had more comebacks than Napoleon and Sinatra.

The Denver Broncos, the Kansas City Chiefs, and lo and behold, the Oakland Raiders, all three, rallied to win their games.

The woebegone San Diego Chargers, however, were among the victims.

Just think this: The Chargers could have been the only division team to be unbeaten and atop the AFC West. Instead, Philip Rivers and San Diego are right back where they finished West last season — last.

The Broncos trailed the Carolina Panthers in the opener at halftime and still at the end of the third quarter. But Denver would score two touchdowns in less than six minutes of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter (after a Chris Harris Jr. interception), and Trevor Siemian became the first rookie quarterback in the history of the NFL to win his first start after being down by 10 points in the fourth quarter. (Thanks for that factoid, Troy Renck.)

And thanks to a failed 50-yard field goal by the Panthers in the final seconds on a reverse mulligan.

Graham Gano, who will forever be known now as “Oh-no Ga-no,” was set up to kick the winning field, but Gary Kubiak spoke up. The Broncos’ coach called one of those icing-timeouts first made famous by his mentor, Mike Shanahan, when, in the opening game of the 2007 season in Buffalo, the former Broncos coach demanded a timeout just before the Bills kicked what would have been a winning field goal. The Broncos prevailed 15-14 when the reboot was off. There was discussion then that Shanahan’s decision was illegal, or, at least, immoral. The next weekend, Shanahan did it again against the Oakland Raiders, and the Broncos would win 23-20.

The NFL debated a rule change, but left the situation as it was. After the Kubiak call, Gano went ahead and “practiced” his kick and made it. But it didn’t count. Perhaps he overthought the situation during the delay. As Denver7 sports director Lionel Bienvenu (whose name in French means “welcome”; you’re welcome, Lionel) and I learned in the end zone at the conclusion of the game, the wind was whipping East to West at the goalpost where Gano was aiming. So he probably lined up a bit left, believing the ball would blow in the middle of the uprights.

Instead, he blew the kick. The football stayed left.

Going left is only good on a racetrack.

So the Broncos survived.

But that was just the start, as it were, for AFC teams.

In New Orleans, the Raiders had a 10-3 in the first quarter, but trailed at the half by seven and by 11 after three quarters.

Oakland came running, and passing back, to tie at 27, but trailed by a touchdown (and a conversion kick) when they got the ball for the last time. QB Derek Carr took the Raiders down the field to score, and Jack Del Rio, the former Broncos’ defensive coordinator, didn’t hesitate. He ordered the Raiders to go for two and the victory, or the loss. The C&C Connection — Carr and Michael Crabtree — hooked up on a pass in the deep corner of the end zone, and the Raiders won a wild one 35-34.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, nothing much was right for the Chiefs in the first three quarters, either. They were behind 21-3 at intermission and 24-10 at the last interlude, and the city of San Diego, which saw the Chargers win only four games last year, was probably parade-planning. K.C. saw a Rivers pass through it. But the Chiefs outscored the Chargers 17-3 in the fourth and tied the Chargers with 1:03 remaining. Overtime occurred.

And quarterback Alex Smith carried the ball in from two yards away for the Chiefs’ comeback and the Chargers’ fall back.

What did we learn from the first games for teams in a division with three head coaches who used to be coordinators for the Broncos?

Mike McCoy of San Diego sits on a very hot chair. Del Rio was unlike his former conservation boss in Denver, John Fox, and went all-in, and Kubiak looked like a genius for choosing Trevor Siemian over Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch. Siemian was efficient enough, despite two interceptions early, to guide the Broncos back with two touchdowns later.

This division will not be won easily by the Broncos, who have achieved the feat the past five seasons.

During that span, the Broncos have won 24 of 30 games with the Raiders, the Chiefs and the Chargers (and were 6-0 in two seasons).

The Broncos probably would accept 4-2, their mark in the AFC West in 2015.

The Broncos, the Chiefs and the Raiders were unlike the lead character in the old Western “Shane.”

They did come back.


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