Michael Lombardi
Monday September 15th, 2008

Every Monday, SI.com's Michael Lombardi will hand out five letter grades to deserving NFL parties...

Ed Hochuli and his crew at the Denver/San Diego game. I don't mean to be disrespectful to the league or to its officials, but when a great game is decided by a missed call in this day and age of technology, then something is drastically wrong.

I have been in the league 23 years and had a few of my own nightmares with officials (I still cannot watch the Tuck game). Whenever I would call in to complain about poor officiating, league officials would always tell me that calls even out. But when a great game, with huge divisional implications is decided by an inadvertent whistle, something needs to be fixed.

Earlier in the same game, Hochuli's crew blew a call on a non-fumble by Chris Chambers, which they called a fumble on the field. That call clearly would have been overturned had there not been a malfunction with the replay equipment. Instead, the failure to overturn allowed the Broncos an early 14-0 lead. A malfunction? How does that happen? People's jobs and careers are at stake here. If the Chargers don't make the playoffs and Hochuli and his crew are doing a playoff game this January (playoff games are a reward for NFL officials), that would be a travesty.

The entire game was sensational to watch as it featured over 900 yards of offense and the winner was clearly going to be the team that made a crucial mistake. But yet the winner of this game was the team that did make the mistake -- Denver, and all because of the HUGE mistake Hochuli and his crew made on the inadvertent whistle, which Hochuli admitted to Chargers head coach Norv Turner.

I strongly doubt Turner will get fined for his comments because everyone knows he is right. Like Mike Holmgren, head coach of the Seahawks and former member of the famed competition committee, once said regarding the call in the Tuck game, "When 20 guys are sitting in bar, and are all watching the game, and the play looks like a fumble, and they all think it is a fumble, then it is a fumble." And yesterday, that was a fumble.

The Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have now lost a franchise-record 11 straight games as their last win was against the Raiders in Week 7 last year. The Chiefs have been outscored 155-63 in the second half during that streak. And worse than losing, the Chiefs are extremely painful to watch on offense -- HD or no HD.

It's only Week 2 of the season and the Chiefs are already on their third quarterback -- Damon Huard, who was playing for the injured Brodie Croyle, left the game in the first half and was replaced by third stringer Tyler Thigpen. The Chiefs changed offensive coordinators from last season and have just scored 18 points in two games. Their two best players -- running back Larry Johnson and tight end Tony Gonzalez -- are not effective right now; Johnson is averaging 2.8 per carry and Gonzalez is averaging 8.5 per catch, 3.5 fewer than his career average.

The hardest challenge of working in the NFL is maintaining excellence, and when your team losses its only legitimate quarterback to injuries and age, as the Chiefs did with Trent Green, the rebuilding process will take a very long time. With no long-term solution at QB on the roster and an offensive line that cannot pass protect nor run block very well, the Chiefs are going to struggle this season. They might have secured a permanent spot in the D grade category and I am not sure doing any extra credit is going to help them improve their grade.

The Cincinnati Bengals offense. I feel bad for quarterback Carson Palmer. In his last 10 games played, his quarterback rating is 77. He's averaging only 6.57 yards per pass attempt. Last week against the Ravens, Palmer and the Bengals offense mustered only 99 yards passing; yesterday against the Titans, they added just 137. Palmer has below a 50 percent completion rate and has no touchdowns passes and three interceptions in two games. And people want to call this an explosive offense?

What has gone wrong? Well for one, opposing defenses no longer respect their run game. They are willing to play a seven-man front on the Bengals and live with running back Chris Perry trying to beat them. Perry, who has fumbled three times in two games (losing one), has averaged under 3 yards a carry and his longest run is only 13 yards.

For this spread type of offense to be successful, it has to have the ability to run teams out of cover 2 and force the defense to add the eighth man to the box for run support. As long as defenses can play pass coverage and jam the wide receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson at the line, this offense will keep producing pathetic numbers.

Kurt Warner and the Cardinals offense. So many great choices from yesterday's games -- the incredible turnaround of quarterback Jason Campbell and the Redskins offense; Aaron Rodgers and the Packers hanging 48 on the Lions; Trent Edwards and the Bills scoring 10 points in the fourth and coming back to beat the Jaguars at home. Yet none were more remarkable than what the 37-year-old Kurt Warner and the Cardinals offense accomplished yesterday.

I know, everyone will point out he did it against the Dolphins, which is true, but these are still the Cardinals and they are not supposed to just dominate teams. With Brett Favre getting all the love for older quarterbacks, Warner has quietly been sensational in his first two starts and looks at times like the Kurt Warner of the turn of the century. He has an over 70 percent completion percentage, missing only five throws yesterday, and has four touchdowns and no interceptions. He has an amazing 126.6 quarterback rating after two weeks and has made the NFL aware the Cards are going to be a force to be dealt with all season.

Peyton Manning. Wow, did I have a lot riding on this one. I wrote a column Friday in which I brazenly predicted Manning and his Colts would not lose two in and row and that the outcome of the game would be based on the success of the passing games. At halftime, I was ready to jump in the Atlantic Ocean.

Through two quarters, the Colts put no points on the board and the Vikings had a 9-0 lead. (As an aside, I would like to enter this game as evidence that establishing the run only establishes field goals. The Vikings ran for 137 yards in the first half and scored nine points). But the longer this game stayed close and the longer the Vikings demonstrated they don't have a passing game, the longer the door remained open for Mr. Manning to seize the moment. Once the Colts got the ball back with 1:07 to go, did anyone think Indy wasn't going to win the game?

This might not have been one of the prettiest performances in Manning's career, but it will be a win he remembers for a very long time. And wins are all that really matter -- just ask Philip Rivers of the Chargers, who might have played two of the best games of his career, and has no wins to show for it.

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