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Into the West

It was a day for teams in the NFL’s western divisions to stand up and be counted. The Rams were on a bye week, and the Cardinals stumbled to a predictable loss to the previously winless Vikings, but apart from that, it was day to savour for the teams out West. Even the Broncos – who actually got beaten – probably felt like they won.

The Oakland Raiders produced the most emotional victory of the day, if not the season. Playing just one day after the announcement of the death of Al Davis, Hue Jackson and his Raiders ground one out for their legendary owner. No-one represented what the Raiders stood for than Al Davis, and on Sunday his team paid him back. Facing a late onslaught from the Texans in Houston, Oakland looked like giving up their five-point lead on the final play of the game. Matt Schaub and the Texans were first and goal. Schaub had space but elected to throw towards the endzone. Michael Huff read it all the way to pluck the ball for an interception and seal victory for the Raiders. Hue Jackson said in a tearful post-match speech that Al himself had his hands all over that ball. Whether that was the case or not we’ll never know, but what is for certain is that this Oakland side is going places. A blip on the radar last week against the Patriots, they had to fight to get the win in Houston. Fight they did, and they’ll fight all season. Oakland are well in the mix for the AFC West top spot, and Mr Davis would love nothing more than to watch his Raiders stir things up in the post-season.

Speaking of the AFC West, it was a thrilling finish to the divisional match-up at Mile High, where the Chargers held on literally by their fingertips against the Broncos to also secure a five-point victory. But there is only one story coming out of Denver as week 5 enters the books: Tim Tebow. The man has been headline news since he entered the NFL in 2010, whether he’s been playing or not. And mostly he’s been in the news when he’s not playing. And mostly… he hasn’t played. But with Denver facing a seemingly insurmountable 23-10 half-time deficit against San Diego on Sunday, and Kyle Orton posting a QB rating of no less than 21.0, John Fox did just about all he could have done to try and salvage the game, and the season. He brought on Tebow. The general consensus following the game was that Tebow’s numbers weren’t great. But forget about the stats, the difference the former Heisman winner brought to proceedings was palpable. He electrified the crowd, running for a touchdown and throwing for another as the Broncos look liked clinching a thrilling victory. They fell short in the end as a last second ‘Hail Mary’ fell inches short in the Chargers’ endzone. But what a difference. Denver are on a bye next week. That’s two whole weeks without sleep for coach John Fox, as he works out a way to tell Tebow, Orton and the hiving media that he was wrong all along.

The Kansas City Chiefs rounded off a decent day for the AFC West. They came from behind to defeat the still winless Indianapolis Colts 28-24. A gutsy win for the Chiefs who capitalised on Curtis Painter’s inexperience and inability to close the game out after a good first half showing. Like the rest of the AFC West, the Chiefs did not win easily. And certainly none of them won pretty. But these latest wins will feel good… even for the Broncos.

In the NFC West, Seattle defied the odds and made the most of three Eli Manning turnovers to beat the Giants in New York, 36-25. Pete Carroll’s outfit have struggled to score all season, so the fact they put 36 points on the board was nearly as big a surprise as the win itself. 20 points in the 4th quarter, really? The Seahawks only amassed a total of 30 points combined in their first three games. The Giants meanwhile are a .500 team waiting to happen. They struggle to put any sort of consistency together as evidenced in their last three games. It’s been a total mixed bag, the good, the bad and the ugly. Yesterday became very ugly indeed and the Seahawks capitalised to move to 2-3. Carroll will be content with that.

49ers blow out Bucs
It’s Jim Harbaugh however who will be harbouring the biggest smile of all the Western divisions’ coaches following week 5. His San Francisco 49ers are now sitting at 4-1 following a 48-3 blowout over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before Sunday they had moved to 3-1 by scraping by; limiting mistakes, keeping themselves in games and getting on the right side of results. In other words, unspectacular. It was a different story against the Bucs. Alex Smith threw for three touchdowns and Frank Gore ran for 125 yards as San Francisco totalled 418 yards on offense. Tampa looked tired after their short week on the road, but the 49ers defense was solid also with Bucs’ QB Josh Freeman struggling to move the ball effectively and running back LeGarrette Blount reduced to just 34 yards. This is a balanced 49ers team, and they will only grow in confidence. Whether or not Alex Smith is a sustainable option at quarterback remains to be seen, but in the meantime it looks like San Francisco will have the NFC West wrapped up in a matter of weeks.

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