The AFC Central and West races tightened Sunday as division leaders Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Raiders stumbled offensively, scoring only a touchdown apiece.
The Kansas City Chiefs (5-3) pulled within a game of the Raiders (6-2) Sunday behind three field goals by Nick Lowery and an aggressive defense that used bad weather to its advantage."The weather conditions were such that we droppped some passes that we normally would have caught," Raider Coach Art Shell said. "Nobody could open up the offense."
Lowery's third kick, a 41-yarder, came 3:02 into the fourth quarter, exactly three minutes after Steve Smith had gone in from the 2 for the only touchdown of the game, giving the Raiders a 7-6 lead.
Craig Heyward and Rueben Mayes each rushed for 100 yards as the New Orleans Saints spoiled Cincinnati's long-awaited homecoming with a 21-7 victory.
The Saints (3-5) simply overpowered the Bengals' defense - statistically the second-worst in the NFL - while running them out of their first home game in six weeks. The loss dropped the Bengals into a tie for first in the AFC Central.
"I don't think I've ever felt this low as a professional athlete," said quarterback Boomer Esiason, who completed only 15 of 32 passes for 132 yards. "Today it's right on my shoulders. I feel that if I play 10 percent better than I did, we probably win the game. I have no excuses."
The New York Giants play at Indianapolis tonight.
The Chiefs beat the Raiders despite generating almost no offense. Kansas City totaled minus-1 yard in the first quarter, when Lowery kicked 36- and 48-yard field goals following a blocked punt and a fumble recovery, and the Chiefs had just 67 yards in the first three periods.
The Raiders, meanwhile, never advanced beyond the Kansas City 44 until late in the third quarter as both teams seemed bothered by the 20-degree wind chill and occasional rain and sleet and cornerbacks Albert Lewis and Kevin Ross consistently thwarted Jay Schroeder's deep passes.
"There were some balls that I threw that I had no idea where they were going," Schroeder said. "They just slipped out of my hand. Early in the game, the ball was extremely wet and, with it so cold, it was hard to handle."
At Cincinnati, Heyward carried 19 times for a career-high 121 yards and a 1-yard touchdown that put the Saints ahead 21-7 in the fourth quarter. Mayes complemented him with 115 yards on 30 carries. It was only the third time in Saints' history that they've had two 100-yard rushing efforts in a game.