Eleven weeks of NFL Sundays are in the books, and this much is undeniable:
The Denver Broncos knocked the NFL's last remaining undefeated team off its perch Sunday night, beating the visiting Kansas City Chiefs, 27-17, to claim a share of first place in the AFC West.
Both teams are 9-1.
Peyton Manning was sharp, but it was Denver's defense that set the tone, upstaging a stifling Chiefs defense that rumbled into Sports Authority Field having allowed a league-best average of 12.3 points in its first nine games. The Broncos are the first Kansas City opponent to score more than 17.
Manning completed 24 of 40 passes for 323 yards and a touchdown, and wasn't knocked down by a defense that came into the game with a league-leading 36 sacks. Besides the bulky bandages around his ankles, he showed little evidence of a high ankle sprain that he suffered a week earlier.
"The protection was outstanding, we ran the ball consistently, tried to keep them off-balance," Manning said in NBC's postgame interview on the field. "We didn't want it to be just a 45-pass-attempt game. We wanted a mix of run game and pass game."
The chippy game was ammunition for those who argued the Chiefs — who went from 2-14 last season to 9-0 — were the beneficiaries of a soft schedule and a host of opposing backup quarterbacks, among them Buffalo's Jeff Tuel, Cleveland's Jason Campbell and Houston's Case Keenum in the three games that preceded the Denver matchup.
Although they have the inside track on a division title at the moment, the Broncos don't have the luxury of exhaling. They play at New England on Sunday night, then at Kansas City the following week.
The Broncos have won 20 of their last 21 regular-season games, with the only loss coming at Indianapolis.
Two bad hits by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday resulted in one big kick to the gut — a 23-20 loss to the Saints at New Orleans.
The 49ers, looking to stay within striking range of Seattle in the NFC West, were flagged for two critical personal fouls down the stretch that paved the way for a pair of Garrett Hartley field goals that decided the outcome. It was sweet redemption for Hartley, who'd missed four of six attempts in the previous three games.
The first miscue came with 3 minutes 22 seconds to play, when Drew Brees dropped back to pass on third down from the San Francisco 35 with the Saints trailing by three.
San Francisco's Ahmad Brooks tore around the right side of the line and flattened Brees, who fumbled as he fell to the turf. Fellow 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis recovered the ball. However, officials ruled that Brooks had hit Brees too high, at neck level, and flagged him for roughing the passer.
"All I remember is just getting clotheslined in the chin and as I'm on the ground, I'm saying, 'That's got to be a flag,'" Brees said. "One of my teammates kind of picked me up and said, 'Are you all right?' And he said, 'Don't worry, there's a flag.'
"I said, 'All right, good.' Just took a moment, and you've got to get ready to go."
Looking dazed with a line of blood running down his chin, Brees couldn't move the offense much. But the Saints were close enough for Hartley to tie it with a 42-yard field goal.
"It was very frustrating. The game could have gone a totally different direction than what it went," Brooks said. "I was just mad because that was a big play in the game. We lost, and that's probably the reason why."
The next devastating mistake for San Francisco came after the 49ers stalled deep in their territory. They punted, and Darren Sproles called for a fair catch. Not realizing that Sproles had signaled, San Francisco's Kassim Osgood, a Pro Bowl special teamer, hit him after he caught the ball — another 15-yard penalty. That gave New Orleans a first down at San Francisco's 40, and six plays later, Hartley kicked the winning 31-yard field goal as time expired.
Back to health
Receiver Percy Harvin made his debut with Seattle — against his former Minnesota Vikings teammates — and contributed a 58-yard kickoff return and a 17-yard reception on third down that kept a touchdown drive alive.
After the 41-20 victory by the Seahawks, Harvin revealed that he had more than hip surgery during the off-season. He also had an appendectomy during which doctors discovered and removed a benign tumor on his appendix.
"I've been through a lot besides the hip surgery," Harvin said. "So it was an enjoyable feeling to get back out there. I wanted to see where I was at. Today was the test everyone wanted to see. I don't see any more setbacks. I'm looking to take off from here."
Home feels like home again for the Philadelphia Eagles, who not only claimed a half-game lead over idle Dallas atop the NFC East but snapped a 10-game losing streak at Lincoln Financial Field.
"Everybody in our locker room believed we can win, and if you feel that way, it's something special," Eagles quarterback Nick Foles said after Sunday's 24-16 victory over Washington. "We have to keep the momentum going."
Foles ran for a touchdown but didn't throw for one after racking up 10 touchdown passes in the previous two games. He doesn't have an interception this season, extending his pass total to 199 without a pick.
The Eagles have a week off before they play host to Arizona on Dec. 1.
"I don't look at it globally," Philadelphia Coach Chip Kelly said. "We have five games in December, and we put ourselves in a position where those games are meaningful. We'll see where we're at Dec. 29."
Hitting the pause button
The Baltimore Ravens are getting accustomed to unexpected delays. They have had three of them in the last nine months, most recently at Chicago on Sunday when the game was delayed for nearly two hours because of a storm.
The Ravens sat through shorter delays in the Super Bowl, when the lights went out in the stadium, and in the Kickoff Opener at Denver, when the start was pushed back because of lightning.
There were several interesting quarterback matchups Sunday, not all of them involving star players. For instance, when Buffalo played host to the New York Jets, it was the Bills' EJ Manuel on one side, the Jets' Geno Smith on the other. Manuel was the first quarterback drafted in April, Smith the second.
Manuel had the better day by far, completing 20 of 28 for 245 yards and two touchdowns in the 37-14 victory by Buffalo.
Smith completed eight of 23 for 103 yards with no touchdowns, had three passes intercepted and lost a fumble. On the Jets' first possession, Smith was briefly knocked out of the game by a hit to the midsection by tackle Marcell Dareus.
"First play of the game, I knew that we had him," Dareus said. "We got a big lick on him, and he kind of rolled around. We knew right then we were in his head. From then on, he looked crazy, looked scattered."
Oakland at Houston pitted the Raiders' Matt McGloin and the Texans' Keenum. That marked the first time undrafted quarterbacks started opposite each other since Tyler Palko, then of Kansas City, played Caleb Hanie and the Chicago Bears in Week 13 of the 2011 season.
McGloin threw three touchdown passes without an interception in the 28-23 victory by the Raiders. No other undrafted rookie quarterback has done as well in his debut — at least three touchdowns, no interceptions — in the NFL's modern era.
The ineffective Keenum was benched in favor of Matt Schaub.
The stress and frustration seems to be reaching a boiling point for the Texans, who suffered their eighth consecutive defeat with their home loss to the Raiders.
TV cameras caught quarterback Schaub in an angry sideline yelling match with All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson, who had left the game early to cool off in the locker room before coming back to the field.
Afterward, both players downplayed the argument.
"You can see the frustration on his face, frustration on my face," Johnson said. "I'm not worried about that. I think you all are making a big deal about it. . . . We talked about it — it's over with. I mean, me and Matt are fine."
Said Schaub: "It's just emotions, emotions of the game, a culmination of a lot of things, but stuff we will keep between us. He is a great guy and a great competitor, as am I. Just the heat of the moment, but that is behind us."
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