The Show Me State . . . just did.
It was misery in Missouri on Sunday for the teams in last season’s Super Bowl. Seattle lost at Kansas City, and Denver fell at St. Louis.
The Chiefs moved into a two-way tie for first in the AFC West by virtue of their 24-20 victory over the Seahawks and Denver’s loss — a 22-7 stunner that marked the fewest points by the Broncos since Peyton Manning arrived in 2012.
That Kansas City emerged victorious wasn’t shocking. The Chiefs have won five in a row and were favored by two over the Seahawks, who have shown some vulnerabilities this season.
The Chiefs, the only NFL team that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season, turned back the Seahawks on fourth down three times in the final quarter to secure the victory.
Meanwhile, Jamaal Charles trampled the once-airtight Seattle defense, rushing for 159 yards in 20 carries, his most productive game since late in the 2012 season.
Denver’s collapse against the Rams was a surprise. The Broncos were favored by 9 1/2, coming off a 24-point victory at Oakland and facing a Rams defense that suited up only three healthy cornerbacks. What’s more, St. Louis was making a quarterback change, switching back to Shaun Hill because the out-of-nowhere Austin Davis (who originally replaced an injured Hill) had been decreasingly effective in recent weeks.
Then again, St. Louis exemplifies the shifting sands of the NFL, where no Goliath is safe. Even though the Rams lost four of five from late September through October, and were largely written off as typical also-rans, they have rallied recently with victories over Seattle, San Francisco and now Denver. That means St. Louis has beaten three of the four teams that played in last season’s conference championship games — and the fourth, New England, isn’t on the schedule.
“I think it tells us that we’re on the right track,” Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said. “We’re building this team, and we’re on the right track and we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve had some disappointing losses, some close losses, and some things have happened, but to be able to line up and play against these teams like we did, I think we’ve earned a little respect.”
Quietly making a career comeback is Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was banned from the league in the immediate aftermath of the New Orleans Saints bountygate scandal. His players applied the Denver boot to the Broncos, limiting the visitors to 28 yards rushing, twice sacking Manning, and breaking up 12 of his passes.
In the ‘Zona
Even without quarterback Carson Palmer, who last Sunday suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Arizona Cardinals just keep rolling.
Drew Stanton has replaced the injured Palmer as the full-time starter, and on Sunday he directed the Cardinals to a 14-6 victory over Detroit. Arizona is an NFL-best 9-1, with a two-game lead over anyone in the NFC — including victories over Philadelphia and Dallas — and a three-game lead in the NFC West.
The Super Bowl will be held at University of Phoenix Stadium, so it’s only natural that there’s already some chatter that the Cardinals could be the first team to play a true home game on the league’s biggest stage. That might be putting the bandwagon before the horse at this point, but this too is noteworthy: only five teams have made the playoffs the same year their stadium has played host to the Super Bowl, and never as a No. 1 or 2 seed. That certainly is within reach.
Arizona plays at Seattle in a huge division showdown Sunday, with the Cardinals returning to the raucous stadium where they won last December.
The records keep piling up for the Green Bay Packers, who delivered a 53-20 drubbing of Philadelphia.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown 322 consecutive passes at home without an interception, 29 of those for touchdowns, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Both of those are NFL records.
Also, in scoring 30 points in the first half against the Eagles, the Packers became the first team in league history to score at least 28 points in the first halves of four consecutive home games.
It’s all relative
What does it take to win the NFC South? Not much, evidently.
Atlanta and New Orleans are tied atop the division at 4-6, after the Falcons beat Carolina on Sunday and the Saints lost at home to Cincinnati.
It’s reminiscent of the NFC West in 2010, when the 7-9 Seahawks made history by becoming the first team to make the playoffs (and host a game) with a losing record.
“It’s been a different year, for sure,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “You play to be relevant in November and December. As quirky as this season’s been, we’re relevant.”
In losing to San Francisco, 16-10, the New York Giants dropped to 3-7, their worst start through 10 games in Tom Coughlin’s 11 seasons as coach.
New York has lost five in a row, and that comes on the heels of an 0-6 start in 2013. This is the first time the Giants have had losing streaks of at least five games in consecutive seasons since 2003-04, when they dropped eight straight in both years.
On the defensive
San Francisco’s Chris Borland has some big cleats to fill, those of seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, who’s done for the season with a toe injury.
Borland more than pulled his weight against the Giants with 12 tackles and two interceptions. He’s the first 49ers rookie linebacker to pick off two passes in a game.
Do the math
No surprise here, but the winless Oakland Raiders have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. With Sunday’s loss to San Diego, Oakland became the earliest team to be crossed off since Miami was knocked out in Week 11 of the 2004 season.
In Friday’s Times, there was a story about the resurgent Detroit Lions, who were atop the NFC North and 7-2 for the first time since 1993. On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns were the focus, seeing as they were in sole possession of first place in their division for the first time in 19 years.
Both Detroit and Cleveland lost Sunday, and we won’t be expecting an invitation to return any time soon.
Be like Mike
The buzz around the NFL scouting combine last February was that Johnny Manziel might have had a lot more interceptions at Texas A&M were it not for 6-foot-5 receiver Mike Evans, who reeled in every pass in his ZIP code.
The rookie receiver looked awfully good Sunday in Tampa Bay’s 27-7 victory at Washington. He caught seven passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, seven yards shy of Vincent Jackson’s franchise record of 216. According to STATS, Evans is the first rookie with 200 yards receiving and two touchdowns since Anquan Boldin in 2003.
Said Evans: “When I have a game like that — I had a couple of those in college — it feels like getting hot in basketball.”
A friendly reminder: goal-post dunks are no longer allowed.