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The Chargers aren’t just the best team in the AFC West. They may be the best team in the AFC.

Period.

If nothing else, with Sunday’s 47-42 defeat of Cleveland, the Bolts joined the conference hierarchy -- along with Buffalo, Cleveland and Baltimore. They’re 4-1, which has them on top of their division. They haven’t lost a game within their conference. And they’ve already beaten the defending AFC-champion Chiefs.

In Kansas City, no less.

But there’s something more significant. They’re winning games they lost a year ago. In 2020, the Chargers became the first team in league history to lose four consecutive times by blowing leads of 16 or more points. Now, they’ve taken a sharp U-turn, with three of their four victories – including the defeat of the Browns – via fourth-quarter comebacks.

Most people credit quarterback Justin Herbert, and it’s easy to see why. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, he’s completing 69 percent of his passes and just shredded the Browns for a season-high 398 yards, four touchdowns passing and a fifth score on a 9-yard run. It was Herbert at his best vs. a defense that held its previous two opponents to single digits.

But there’s another ingredient that can’t be undersold, and that’s first-year head coach Brandon Staley. He’s creative. He’s aggressive. And he’s fearless. Three weeks ago the Bolts overcame Kansas City when he passed up a last-minute field goal in a tie game, opting instead to trust Herbert on a fourth-and-9 from the Chiefs’ 35.

It was a gamble. But it worked. Asked later why he took the chance, Staley had a simple answer.

“Justin Herbert was the best player on the field,” he said.

That can’t-lose attitude has invigorated a team that last year seemed more intent on trying not to lose rather than trying to win. Prior to Sunday, the Chargers were four-of-five on fourth-down conversions. Then Cleveland showed up, and they went for three more – converting all of them, including a gutsy fourth-and-2 at their 24 early in the third quarter with the Chargers down two TDs.

“You don’t win a game like that without Justin Herbert,” said running back Austin Ekeler.

The Chargers are talented, confident and white-hot. Throw in Herbert, Staley and a stable of offensive and defensive playmakers, and you have a team that is more than legit. You have a Super Bowl candidate.

THEN AGAIN ... THERE'S BUFFALO

If there was one play that symbolized what happened between Buffalo and Kansas City Sunday night it was Bills' quarterback Josh Allen leaping over defensive back L'Jarius Sneed to pick up a fourth-quarter first down.

The Bills went up, and the Chiefs went down.

So what? So there's no way to overstate the importance of Buffalo's 38-20 victory in a replay of last season's AFC championship game because it signaled a shift in the balance of power in the AFC from Kansas City to ... Buffalo? Maybe. L.A.? Maybe. All I know is that both the Bills and Chargers went into Kansas City the past month and left with victories.

Of the two, Buffalo's win was the more impressive. The Bills dominated Kansas City from beginning to end, dissecting one of the league's worst defenses and flummoxing a frustrated Patrick Mahomes.

Like the Chargers, Buffalo has a talented young quarterback in Josh Allen. Unlike the Chargers, they have one of the NFL's top defenses, too. Mahomes and the Chiefs were supposed to exploit it Sunday, but they didn't. Far from it. The Bills forced four turnovers and returned one Mahomes interception for a TD.

So now Buffalo is 4-1. The Bolts are, too. And the Chiefs? They're 2-3, with the Bills and L.A. holding head-to-head tiebreakers for the playoffs ... if, that is, they ever meet there.

I have no doubts about the Bills. They'll lap the AFC East and have a schedule that, after Tennessee next Monday, includes, in order, Miami, Jacksonville, the New York Jets and Indianapolis -- four cupcakes with a combined record of 3-16.

The Chargers' situation is a little more tenuous. They play in a division where three of the four teams have winning records and where they play Kansas City again. 

But the Chiefs? They've surrendered 29 or more points in five straight games, and if that doesn't sound good it's because it isn't. It ties a league record for the first five games of a season. If they don't fix that problem, I don't care how many TD passes Mahomes throws.

They don't go far.

SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Urban Meyer hasn’t gained trust or respect. Sorry, Shad. The guy’s now 0-5, with the Jaguars outscored 152-93. Maybe he should spend more time with his team.

2. Markus Golden was right. The Arizona linebacker is the guy who said 49ers’ rookie quarterback Trey Lance “ain’t Kyle Murray.” Of course, few are. Lance was little more ordinary in his first pro start and couldn’t produce more than 10 points. So what’s new? Rookie quarterbacks are 0-6 in debuts this season.

3. Jon Gruden has more problems than an NFL inquiry. It’s called a descending football team, losing its last two to the Chargers and Chicago after a 3-0 start. The Chargers I can see. But Chicago? The Raiders were as empty as Gruden’s apologies for his 2011 remarks about NFLPA DeMaurice Smith.

4. There's something terribly wrong with the Chiefs. Their defense has too many holes, with Josh Allen averaging 21 yards per completion Sunday night. Their quarterback makes atypical mistakes. They don't win at home. And they're last in their division. Super Bowl curse? Maybe. All I know is that the Chiefs just got hammered by a Bills' team that outclassed, outscored and outcoached them.  

5. Tom Brady isn’t getting older. He’s getting better. Look what the guy’s done this season: Thrown for 15 touchdowns, including a season-best five Sunday when he produced 411 yards and a season-best 144.4 rating. It marked the ninth time in Brady’s career he’s thrown five or more TDs. Four of them came after his 40th birthday. Oh, yeah, he also set a franchise record by throwing 203 passes without an interception.

FOURTH AND 20

1. Tampa Bay may not be the best team in the NFC now, but it should be by December. Two reasons: Tom Brady and the schedule. Brady you know about. Now take a look at the upcoming games. There are only two opponents with winning records until a Dec. 12 date with Buffalo: Chicago and New Orleans, each 3-2.

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2. Good news, Philadelphia: We have a Darius Slay sighting. The recipient of a big contract last year, Slay produced a two-interception game – the first by an Eagles’ cornerback in nine years – as defense finally showed up to produce a victory.

3. So the Patriots had to rally to overcome Houston. They won. More important, Mac Jones led the second-half comeback from a 22-9 deficit. In just five games, Jones looks like the most ready-to-play rookie quarterback out there.

4. The Bengals are cursed. No other way to explain what’s happened with Joe Burrow.

5. Maybe it’s me, but Trey Lance plays like Colin Kaepernick, circa 2021.

6. Green Bay didn’t win. The Packers survived … Mason Crosby.

7. Somebody get the Jets off Pacific Time. They’ve been outscored 75-13 in the first half this season.

8. London Calling? Not for rookie quarterbacks it’s not. With the Jets’ loss, they’re 0-5 there.

9. Sam Darnold has returned to earth. And so have the Panthers. Darnold has five interceptions the past two games, both losses. He had one the first three, all victories.

10. Maybe, just maybe, Houston found something in quarterback Davis Mills. I know, he and the Texans’ offense stunk last week. But then Sunday happened, and, OK, so Houston lost. It happens. But Mills threw three TD passes, one of only two rookies – ever – to do that vs. Bill Belichick. The other was Russell Wilson.

11. For the record, that makes rookie quarterbacks 6 -22 vs. Belichick.

12. Numbers, numbers, numbers. Matt Ryan is now eighth in career passing yards, and some will tell you it makes him a Hall of Famer. I’m not one of them.

13. It's not just a leaky defense that should have Andy Reid's attention. It's this: Over the last 13 quarters, the Chiefs committed 10 turnovers.

14. Apparently, you can go home again. With three scores, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry -- who played high-school football just north of Jacksonville (Yulee, Fla.) – has more career TDs vs. the Jags (14) than anyone out there.

15. Detroit needs more than defense. It needs Gregory Soto. He’s the Tigers’ closer, and maybe he could protect the last-second leads the winless Lions can’t. Two of their last three losses were on last-gasp field goals of 54 or more yards – including Justin Tucker’s record-breaking 67-yarder two weeks ago.

16. Now you know why Atlanta made tight end Kyle Pitts the fourth pick of this year’s draft. With 110 receiving yards Sunday, he’s on schedule to finish with 1,047 for the season and become the first tight end since Mike Ditka (1961) to clear 1,000 in his first year.

17. Now playing at a theater near you: "No Time to Die," starring Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

18. Maybe Giants’ GM Dave Gettleman got it right with the draft of Kadarius Toney. The first-round pick exploded for 10 catches and 189 receiving yards, and no need to remind Fantasy-Football geeks. They’ve already put in their claims.

19. What's happened to Washington’s defense? It was the league’s second-ranked unit a year ago. Now it can’t force turnovers and all but waved the white flag vs. New Orleans Sunday on a last-second Hail Mary to end the first half. “Where is the safety man who’s back there on the goal line jumping up to knock this down?” asked Hall-of-Fame coach and NBC analyst Tony Dungy. “What kind of defense was that Washington?” A bad one, one reason the WFT is 2-3.

20. The Cowboys haven’t run fewer than 31 times in their last four games and once had 41 attempts. They won all four. Connect the dots. Dallas is one of the most complete teams out there – a balanced offense and a legit defense – and, barring another injury to Dak Prescott, could (should?) go deep in the playoffs.

STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME

Mason Crosby missed two field goals the past two seasons. He missed three in four minutes Sunday. But he wasn’t alone. According to ESPN Stats & Info, there were 12 missed field goals and 12 missed extra points this week – the first time since extra points were moved back in 2015 that the league had double-digit misses on extra points AND field goals in the same week.

ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

Jacksonville is the first team since 1962 not to kick a field goal in its first five games of the season. The Jags are also the second team in NFL history to lose 20 straight (Tampa, 26 in 1976-77).

AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US

Per Greg Auman of The Athletic … The Bucs scored 44 or more points six times in 25 games (including the playoffs) with Tom Brady. Before he arrived, they scored 44 six times in 45 seasons.

GOLD JACKET QUOTES

“There’s a reason why he’s got that 99 rating in Madden.” – Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur on Davante Adams’ career-high 206 receiving yards.

“We can’t keep trying to come from behind.” – N. Y. Jets’ quarterback Zach Wilson.

“I’m glad I’m past that. I think this was the final shovel of burying this thing.” – Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott on the one-year anniversary of last year’s season-ending injury.

"In my career I've never been someone who throws a lot of interceptions. I have to look at it now, re-evaluate what I'm doing and I have to cut it out." -- Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes on his three turnovers.

GOLD JACKET RECIPIENT

DALLAS CB TREVON DIGGS. Five weeks in and a league-high six interceptions – including at least one in each of his first five starts this season. That’s more than good. It’s a Dallas Cowboys’ record. Diggs is one game short of tying the NFL record of six season-opening interception games – a mark set by Brian Russell (2003), Barry Wilburn (1987) and Tom Landry (1951) … yes, that Tom Landry. Diggs is one of the reasons Dallas is just behind league-leader Buffalo at plus-7 in the all-important turnover table.