Chiefs beat Chargers, win AFC West after Raiders lose in Denver

Chiefs beat Chargers, win AFC West after Raiders lose in Denver


SAN DIEGO -- Alex Smith threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and the Kansas City Chiefs clinched the AFC West title and a first-round playoff bye with a 37-27 victory Sunday against the Chargers in perhaps the final NFL game in San Diego.

The Chiefs (12-4) clinched the division with the win and Oakland's loss at Denver.

Smith, who went to nearby Helix High in La Mesa, scored on a 5-yard scramble early in the second quarter to tie the game at 10 and then threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to wide-open Charcandrick West later in the quarter to put the Chiefs ahead for good at 17-10. That followed the first of two interceptions by Philip Rivers that led to 10 points for the Chiefs.

Smith was intercepted once, on a deflected pass that Jahleel Addae returned 90 yards for a touchdown to pull the Chargers (5-11) to 20-17 in the third quarter.

Smith came right back and threw a 2-yard scoring pass to West, who again was wide open.

Rookie Tyreek Hill showed some fancy footwork in returning a punt 95 yards for a touchdown in the final minute of the third quarter.

For the second straight year, the Chargers were playing perhaps their final game in San Diego.

Chargers chairman Dean Spanos has until Jan. 15 to decide whether to move the team to the Los Angeles area and join the Rams in a stadium scheduled to open in Inglewood in 2019. A Chargers-written ballot measure seeking $1 billion in hotel occupancy taxes to help fund a new downtown stadium was soundly defeated on Nov. 8.

Last year, Spanos was in the process of trying to move the team to Carson to share a stadium with the rival Raiders. That plan was defeated by fellow NFL owners in January, but Spanos was given the option to move to L.A. if he couldn't come up with a way to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium.

The Rolling Stones' "The Last Time" played on the PA during a break in the action after a Chiefs field goal made it 37-20 late in the game.

Also uncertain is Chargers coach Mike McCoy's future. The Chargers have finished last in the AFC West two straight seasons and have missed the playoffs for three straight years under McCoy. McCoy is 27-37 in four seasons, with the Chargers having lost 23 of their last 32 games. They've also lost 13 of their last 14 AFC West games dating to late in the 2014 season.

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates tied Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdown catches in NFL history by a tight end with 111.

Gates tied the mark on a 2-yard pass toss from Rivers early in the second quarter to give the Chargers a 10-3 lead. Gates caught the ball and extended it in his right hand to break the plane.

Gonzalez spent his first 12 seasons of his career with the Chiefs before finishing with the Atlanta Falcons.

The Chargers tried to get Gates sole possession of the record in the fourth quarter but Rivers overthrew him on second-and-goal from the 11 and then Gates couldn't hold onto a third-down pass in double coverage. The Chargers settled for a field goal from Josh Lambo to cut the Chiefs' lead to 34-20.

Late in the game, Rivers threw a 12-yard TD pass to San Diego's other tight end, wide-open rookie Hunter Henry.

Rivers was intercepted twice to set a career high with 21. He was picked off by Marcus Peters in the second quarter to set up Smith's TD pass to West, and was picked off in the end zone on the next possession by Marcus Peters to set up Cairo Santos' 25-yard field goal for a 20-10 halftime lead.

Rivers' previous high was 20 in 2011.

Chargers rookie defensive end Joey Bosa dropped Smith in the first quarter, giving him 10 ½ sacks in 12 games. Bosa missed all of training camp in a nasty contract dispute with the Spanos family and then injured a hamstring, costing him the first four games of the season. He missed the season-opening loss at Kansas City, when the Chargers blew a 27-10 fourth-quarter lead and lost 33-27 in overtime.

Chiefs S Eric Berry left with an ankle injury in the second half. For the Chargers, safety Darrell Stuckey left with a knee injury, linebacker Christopher Landrum suffered a concussion and guard Orlando Franklin had a shoulder injury.

How will free-agent moves impact Raiders' draft plans?


How will free-agent moves impact Raiders' draft plans?

The Raiders sat out free agency’s inital, hyper-expensive phase and then kicked into high gear. They signed players at a frenetic pace, adding 14 guys with a shot to make the regular-season roster and four of their own unrestricted free agents in 11 days.

It’s still possible the Raiders sign a receiver or a rotational defensive tackle in free agency, but signing volume will slow to a trickle as we head toward the NFL Draft.

We’ll know more about these signings this week. The NFL owners meetings start Sunday in Orlando, Fla., and access to head coach Jon Gruden should offer insight into Raiders offseason plans. This day’s downtime makes it a perfect time for a Raiders mailbag, to catch up on what has happened and look ahead to what’s next this offseason.

I asked for questions on my Facebook page (please “like” this link for Raiders insight, updates and behind-the-scenes photos) and got a bunch of good ones. Let’s get to them:

Q: Have any of the free agent signings shifted what you thought was Raiders' NFL Draft priority? And if so what changed? – Michael Varnam
A: Great question, Michael. Good way to start this mailbag. Actions always speak louder than words, and free-agent signings are often an indicator of what the Raiders like in the NFL draft. I don’t think it has shifted my thinking too much, because the Raiders still need help at every level of their defense.

The focus remains defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback. I could see the Raiders taking any of those positions at No. 10 overall, and we should add offensive tackle to the list if they trade down.

Attractive options at DT (Vita Vea, Michael Hurst), LB (Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds) and CB (Denzel Ward) that should be available at No. 10, in addition to some higher-ranked prospects at positions (Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpartick, for example) the Raiders couldn’t pass up.

I would say cornerback isn’t as pressing a need with Gareon Conley healthy and Rashaan Melvin now in the mix, but another long-term answer is required.

Tahir Whitehead doesn’t solve every linebacker issue but he’ll help lead that position group. NaVorro Bowman’s return would lessen that need. Defensive tackle, however, clearly needs an impact player.

A top-10 defensive tackle that can rush the passer could make the greatest immediate impact, especially after the Raiders stayed pat at the position in free agency.

Q: With the signing of Doug Martin, is it possible either Washington or Richard get traded? They are essentially the same player… -- Bubba Slim
A: They may not get traded, but it seems likely one of the two you mentioned won’t make the 53-man roster. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have similar styles, and both guys can return punts or kicks. Martin comes in as Lynch’s primary backup – he’ll have to earn that title -- and someone capable of shouldering a full load should Lynch be unavailable. Remember what happened in Buffalo when Lynch got suspended? Richard and Washington struggled as feature backs. The Raiders don’t want that situation to happen again.

Martin must prove better than the 2.9 yards per carry of his last two seasons. If he does that, Washington or (less likely) Richard could get cut or traded late in the preseason. It’s something to keep an eye on this summer.

Question: What’s the status on Bowman? – Jose Torres
A: I got several Bowman questions. Let’s address the situation by saying there isn’t much of an update. The Raiders hoped to have him signed before free agency began March 14, but numbers obviously didn’t match. Bowman’s camp has a certain value in mind that hasn’t been reached on the open market, and (this is just me talking here) he could slow play things and gain value to a team should an inside linebacker get hurt this offseason.

Last I heard, Bowman was training in Maryland – he’s from District Heights, Md. – and always stays in great shape. The Raiders still need help at linebacker, even after Whitehead signed up. They hope to have Bowman back. Room for a reunion still exists.

Question: Who is your sleeper free agent signing, Scott? One to watch IMHO could be Marcus Gilchrist.
Answer: Gilchrist is a good option, considering his versatility. He can play both safety spots, slot cornerback and is comfortable playing in the box.

That said, I’m going with fullback Keith Smith. He doesn’t have many stats, but Smith said Gruden has “big plans” for him. The Raiders head coach loves using the fullback in interesting ways, especially as a receiver. The athletic fullback and former San Jose State linebacker can handle those responsibilities, even with blocking as his primary mission. He could thrive in Gruden’s system.

Q: Are the Raiders going with the best player available approach in the draft? Could the first-round pick be an offensive player? – Thomas Davis
A: It’s possible the Raiders could go offense in the first round, with offensive tackle as a real prospect if they trade down. I still think defense is the play here, if they stick at No. 10. They have several quality options, especially if there’s a quarterback run in the top eight as expected. If four QBs go quick, the Raiders could be sitting at No. 10 getting the sixth-best non-quarterback on the board. There are lots of defenders that would work in that spot. That would satisfy need without needing to reach.

Q: What is your lock pick for us at No. 10, or are we trading down? – Manny Zaragoza
A: There isn’t a lock pick for anyone at No. 10 at this stage. Even the Raiders don’t know that. There should be a solid cluster available there the Raiders can choose from. I mention several options in the first answer. Reggie always likes trading down to get more picks. That could happen here, especially if a valued QB remains on the board a passer-starved team wants to come get him.

Q: As much as I’d love to bring it back to ’98 (as Gruden said at the combine), can that style of football still win? – Alec Rael
A: I think that’s a fun line said by a coach who’s a great quote. While some free-agent moves should help the Raiders protect well and run with power, Gruden is an innovator. He has studied and learned modern styles while broadcast Monday Night Football games. I believe the Raiders will be dynamic offensively, with an ability to run with power or operate with pace. Gruden has some tricks up his sleeve. It will be interesting to see them come out.

Q: Hey Scott, how high could WR be taken in the draft? – Richard Ramsawh
A: That’s a real wild card, and might depend what else, if anything, happens in free agency. It’s clear that Gruden wanted to remake the receiver corps, and did so in part by adding Jordy Nelson and subtracting Michael Crabtree. They’ve been involved in the free-agency receiver market – Ryan Grant and Eric Decker visited Alameda – and still have an eye on it.

They could sign another veteran this offseason. If they don’t, the Raiders could look for help relatively high in the draft or at some point before their picks are done.

Report: Raiders bring Reggie Nelson back


Report: Raiders bring Reggie Nelson back

Reggie Nelson has been on a reunion tour since signing with the Raiders. He first worked under Jack Del Rio, his head coach in Jacksonville and someone who choose to make him 2007’s No. 21 overall draft pick.

That link held for two years. Then Del Rio got run out in favor of Jon Gruden and Nelson hit the free-agent market. The 34-year old – he’ll be 35 in September – wasn’t expected back after a down year in 2017.

Another blast from the past created a road back to Oakland, where he reportedly signed a one-year deal with the Raiders. NFL Network reported news of Nelson’s pact.

Nelson thrived, with 23 interceptions and 62 passes defensed during six seasons in Cincinnati. New Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was linebackers coach and then Bengals DC (for two years) during Nelson’s time in the Queen City.

Nelson had five picks in 2016, his first year with Oakland, but seemed to slow down some last season. He had 60 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception in 2017.

Nelson will help teach a system familiar to him but foreign to most Raiders, but will certainly angle for steady snaps despite increased competition at his spot. 

He’ll compete for snaps at safety despite last week’s signing of Marcus Gilchrist, expected to take his spot, though it might be an uphilll climb. Gilchrist and Joseph should still be expected to start next season. The Raiders also have Obi Melifonwu at that position, though the second-year pro must earn a role in this defense. The other three have starter’s experience and will compete for that opportunity. Gilchrist also has experience covering the slot, which could help the secondary if a career cornerback isn't found to fill that role.