DENVER BRONCOS (6-1)
Week 8: Won 35-21 vs. San Diego
How it happened: In a divisional matchup between the two teams leading the AFC West, the Broncos asserted their place atop the division. Emmanuel Sanders had a breakout game with three touchdowns and 120 receiving yards, and once again, the rushing defense put on an exceptional performance. With San Diego's defense unable to curtail the Broncos' offense from moving the chains, Denver managed to keep the Chargers at bay with their mix of an effective running and passing game.
It was over when: Juwan Thompson took a handoff early in the fourth quarter at the 1-yard line and scored a touchdown to extend the Broncos' lead to 21 points. The three-touchdown lead would be too much for the Chargers to fight back from.
Key performer: I don't know if I can give this out to a group of players, but the Broncos' run defense once again was a huge factor. If you exclude a 23-yard run on the final play of the game, they held the Chargers' offense to 38 yards on the ground. It's hard to keep the Broncos' dangerous offense off the field if you can't extend drives on the ground to chew up time. Playing from behind and relying solely on the passing offense didn't bode well against the Broncos.
Between the hash marks:
- Emmanuel Sanders' scoreless nights are far in the rearview mirror after this game. Sanders was targeted on nine passes, caught all nine, and he took three of those to the end zone.
- Ronnie Hillman has exploded onto the scene in the past few weeks, and he recorded his third-straight game with at least 100 total yards on offense. Between him and Juwan Thompson, the two combined for nine first downs on the ground, the most rushing first downs for the Broncos this season.
What's next: The Broncos head to Foxborough, Mass., to take on the Patriots on Sunday for the most recent iteration of the always-anticipated Manning-Brady matchup.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-3)
Week 8: Won 34-7 vs. St. Louis
How it happened: Kansas City scored 34 straight points after allowing the Rams to score on their opening drive. St. Louis struggled in many facets of the game, including pass protection, establishing the run game and they struggled to complete passes. The Chiefs sacked Austin Davis seven times, and got 14 quarterback hits on him. Though the Chiefs don't put up big numbers, their effective offense got what it needed. They converted half of their third downs, and Alex Smith only had four incompletions on 28 passing attempts. Add in a kickoff return for a touchdown and it was a big win for Kansas City.
It was over when: Knile Davis took a kickoff 99 yards, returning it to the house to begin the third quarter. The Chiefs were only up by three before that point, and the play marked a turning point in a scoring deluge as Kansas City scored 24 points in the second half.
Key performer: Justin Houstin had himself a game, notching three sacks on Davis and passing Von Miller as the league leader in sacks.
Between the hash marks:
- Kansas City scored on four of their six possessions in the second half, and got 14 first downs in the same span. They're also third in the NFL in third-down conversion rate.
- With their win and the Chargers' loss, the Chiefs are now just half a game out of second place in the AFC West.
What's next: The Chiefs host the struggling 1-7 Jets, who are trying to further incorporate Percy Harvin into their offense and get their first win since Week 1.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (0-7)
Week 8: Lost 23-13 at Cleveland
How it happened: They kept it close early in the first half, with five field goals between the two teams combined. But two lost fumbles from the Raiders turned into 14 fourth-quarter points for the Browns. Oakland's offense had a pretty decent game with Derek Carr totalling 328 yards in the air and Darren McFadden averaging about 5 yards per carry, and their defense did a fairly good job, especially in the run game. However, turnovers were too costly for them to overcome and they remained winless.
It was over when: Carr tried to maneuver out of the pocket but instead lost the ball when he ran into his own lineman at the Raiders' own 9-yard line. Ben Tate turned the fumble into a touchdown two plays later and the Browns took a 17-point lead with just over a couple minuted remaining.
Key performer: Outside of his fumble late in the game, Carr probably gets the game ball here. The rookie posted his most passing yards in a single game, and he didn't throw an interception. In a tough loss like that, Carr's performance was one of the better ones, especially facing some tough pressure in the pocket.
Between the hash marks:
- Paul Kruger was a terror for the Raiders' offensive line and for Carr, sacking him three times. To put that into perspective, the Raiders' offensive line had allowed five sacks in its previous six games.
- Matt Schaub threw his first pass of the season on Sunday, and it was a bit hard to watch. The Raiders plugged him in on a fake field goal, but Cleveland sniffed it out pretty quickly and Schaub threw up a prayer that was then intercepted.
What's next: The winless Raiders are back on the road on Sunday in a very hostile environment facing the Seahawks.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-2)
Week 8: Lost 35-21 at Denver
How it happened: The Chargers held the Broncos without points in the first quarter, but Denver picked up the pace, finding Emmanuel Sanders for two touchdowns in the second quarter. The second half was rougher for San Diego as Sanders again scored, and Juwan Thompson added two touchdowns. With a stagnant rushing offense and two interceptions, the Chargers couldn't keep up with the Broncos offense, nor could their defense contain them.
It was over when: Eric Weddle's interception of Peyton Manning with the Broncos at the end zone was called back by defensive holding. Denver was up by two touchdowns at that point, and on the following play, San Diego couldn't keep Juwan Thompson out of the end zone to push that to three touchdowns. Facing such a large deficit in the fourth quarter would be too big to overcome for the Chargers.
Key performer: Eric Weddle had a pretty good game with 11 total tackles, and nearly forced two turnovers. However, his amazing one-handed interception at the goal line was negated because of a holding call on Marcus Gilchrist, and a forced fumble on Emmanuel Sanders was picked up by Wes Welker.
Three Emmanuel Sanders touchdowns and two from Juwan Thompson pushed the Broncos over the Chargers on Thursday night. Check out the best shots from the game.
Between the hash marks:**
- The Chargers recorded zero sacks and only one quarterback hit against Manning and the Broncos.
- Philip Rivers was the Chargers' leading rusher until the last play of the game as Branden Oliver ran for just 23 yards.
What's next: Trying to end a two-game losing streak, San Diego travels to Miami to face the Dolphins on Sunday.