The Kansas City Chiefs began the weekend with the best record in the National Football League, a side hotly tipped for Super Bowl glory. On Sunday, their limitations were brutally exposed by the Denver Broncos, who thrashed them 45-28, thereby keeping their own championship aspirations intact.
The Chiefs may boast the most potent offense in the game, but their defensive frailty leaves them vulnerable to sides with a strong running game. The Broncos took full advantage with their powerful running back, Clinton Portis, proving unstoppable as he ran for 218 yards on only 22 carries and a team-record five touchdowns.
The Chiefs actually led 21-17 at the half, but then Denver let their tormentor loose, Portis adding to two first-half touchdowns with scoring runs of 59, 28 and 53 yards.
"I kind of expect it, because every time he touches the ball, he's got a chance to go the distance," said the Denver head coach, Mike Shanahan. "He has made so many big plays and it seems like he gets stronger as the game goes on."
Ironically, the Chiefs still qualified for next month's play-offs because the Miami Dolphins lost 12-0 to the New England Patriots in arctic conditions in Massachusetts. The fair-weather Floridians were chilled by the sight of 28 inches of snow which fell over the weekend, and the weather proved the winner in a brutal contest.
The Patriots held a slender 3-0 lead with less than nine minutes remaining. Miami, unable to move the ball effectively, then made their big mistake, the quarterback, Jay Fiedler, throwing an interception which Tedy Bruschi returned five yards for the game's only touchdown.
Like the Chiefs, the Patriots have also qualified for post-season play, and they have been joined by the Philadelphia Eagles, who registered their eighth consecutive victory by defeating the Dallas Cowboys 36-10.
The game was tied at 10-10 at half-time, but then the Cowboys fell away as the Philadelphia quarterback, Donovan McNabb, threw touchdown passes to Duce Staley and LJ Smith, while Correll Buckhalter added an emphatic 64-yard scoring run.
The Indianapolis Colts seem set to join the post-season party after holding on for an important 29-27 triumph in Nashville against their divisional rivals, the Tennessee Titans.
The Colts seemed to be cruising as they led 29-10 in the fourth quarter, but there is a streak of resilience about the Titans. Under the guidance of their quarterback, Steve McNair, the home side battled back, McNair throwing touchdown passes to Robert Holcomb and Derrick Mason to reduce the deficit to two points. The Titans even had a chance to complete a fine comeback, but with less than a minute left, Justin McCareins fumbled a punt return, the Colts recovered, and Tennessee's chance had gone.
The Baltimore Ravens maintained their status as dangerous dark horses, their 31-13 verdict over the Cincinnati Bengals taking them closer to the play-offs. Few will want to face the Ravens in their present mood: always blessed with a punishing defence, Baltimore have now also discovered how to score. Since the quarterback, Anthony Wright, replaced the injured Kyle Boller, the Ravens have won three in a row, scoring 119 points in the process.
Minnesota improved their prospects with a 34-7 rout of the Seattle Seahawks, but the Carolina Panthers failed to claim a post-season berth after they lost 20-14 in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons, for whom the thrilling quarterback, Michael Vick, made a first start of the season following his broken leg.
The Washington Redskins have had little to celebrate this season, but defensive end Bruce Smith had a weekend to remember, setting a new record with his 199th career quarterback sack in his side's 20-7 win over the New York Giants.