Memo to AFC West: Know thyself

About the only thing the three teams backing their way into first place in the AFC West can take away from a wretched Sunday is that none of them lost because they didn't come ready to play.

If anything, the Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs seemed to be trying too hard.

Trying too hard, that is, to be something they are not.

The Raiders got off to a 4-2 start this season because they admitted to themselves and the NFL that they were a running team and quarterback Jason Campbell's most important job was not to lose games that Darren McFadden can win by himself.

They had an identity. They were building a culture.

But now that McFadden and Campbell are hurt, the Raiders have lost all that and are trying to reinvent themselves on the fly as a passing team behind Carson Palmer.

Palmer looked a thousand times better this week than he did in his hastily assembled debut two weeks ago, but there's still no reason he should be throwing the ball 35 times a game, not when the Raiders still have a back-up running back as talented as Michael Bush.

While Bush did get 19 carries in Sunday's 38-24 loss to the Broncos, it was clear the Raiders were more focused on their passing game than on establishing the run, chewing time off the clock and controlling the line of scrimmage, as they had done so effectively while Campbell was under center.

Of the Raiders twenty-one first downs on Sunday, fourteen came via the pass. Only four came on running plays. The other three came on penalties.

In other words, they were asking Palmer to make big plays to win the game, not manage the game and keep them from losing it.

That might sound like a subtle difference, but it means everything to a young team that was just starting to tap into its winning formula.

The Chargers can relate.

Somewhere along the line they've gotten away from the balanced, disciplined team that's always been a tough out in the playoffs and turned into wild, gun-slinging team that's overly dependent on the increasingly erratic Phillip Rivers.

Rivers threw three more interceptions in the Chargers 45-38 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, giving him an NFL-worst 14 on the season. He also threw the ball a ridiculous 46 times. Yes, it was a high scoring game and the Chargers were behind for most of it.

But this wasn't the first time San Diego has gotten this unbalanced. Last week in a 23-20 loss to the Chiefs, Rivers threw 41 times. In all, he's attempted 40 or more passes four times this season. The Chargers have lost three of those games.

Gone, for now, are the Charger teams that could always turn to a LaDanian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles or Mike Tolbert to pick up first downs and make big plays when it needed them.

Here, for now, is a Charger team asking way too much of its quarterback.

The Chiefs are an entirely different story. Win or lose, every game they play is ugly. They tend to win when they embrace the ugly, as the San Francisco 49ers have done so well this season. They lose and lose uglier than any other team outside Indianapolis, when they try to be what they are not.

The Chiefs can only win with defense now that Jamaal Charles is out for the season with a torn ACL. In Sunday's 31-3 loss to the previously winless Dolphins, Kansas City didn't play much defense at all. Matt Moore torched them for three touchdowns (the first time in three years a Dolphins quarterback has passed for three touchdowns) and Reggie Bush rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown, looking like a lead back for the first time in years.

About the only team in the division playing the way it has to play to win games is the Denver Broncos (3-5), who are suddenly just one game out of first place.

Tim Tebow completed just 47.6 percent of his passes against Raiders, the worst completion percentage of twenty-four starting quarterbacks around the league. He also rushed for 117 yards, didn't throw any interceptions or lose any fumbles, and managed the game well enough for a resurrected Willis McGahee to win it for Denver with 163 yards and two touchdowns.

In time, you figure the Broncos will adjust their approach around Tebow's unique skill set and away from his obvious shortcomings. They will embrace what he already is and minimize the damage from what he is not.

There's a lesson in there.

Winning the AFC West isn't going to be all that hard this year. You just have to be yourself.