For the first time in what seems like forever, the AFC West had a great week. Week 16 of the NFL slate provided (almost) only positive moments for the teams in the division.
And since it’s Christmas, there’s no reason to bring any negativity to the table anyway.
Here are the AFC West superlatives:
Derek Carr wasn’t only the best quarterback in the division, he may have been the best in the entire league this week.
At the very least, he was surgical, playing with a certain rhythm and precision that defines the league’s best quarterbacks. He clearly was aided by the return of rookie slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, who acts as a “safety valve” when Carr is under pressure, the way tight ends and running backs have traditionally been described.
Carr also threaded beautiful touch passes to Renfrow and Tyrell Williams in the first quarter, of which each would tack on significant yards after the catch on.
When Carr was under pressure against the Los Angeles Chargers, he did not panic, but stayed calm and composed in the pocket. Not only did he put together an efficient passing day, but added a huge touchdown as a runner on a zone read play in the second quarter. That score, though not the game-winner, provided the winning margin.
Perhaps in spite of what Jon Gruden described as “swirling rumors” about Carr in his Monday press conference, the veteran quarterback showed the doubters how and why he can still be a “win-with” quarterback in the league.
Whether he was trying to keep his job with the Raiders, or trying out for another team’s vacancy—there will be many, and the reality is there’s only one quarterback in this draft who will be ready to start the first game of next season—Carr all but guaranteed he will be starting in Week 1, 2020.
Deandre Washington was more than admirable in his work against the Chargers on Sunday. You could possibly even argue that without it, even with Carr’s effort, the Raiders may not have won the game.
But Phillip Lindsay was even better. As the Denver Broncos’ passing game struggled in the first half against the Detroit Lions’ putrid pass defense, it was Lindsay and the ground game who kept the team within striking distance.
After the passing game got going in the second half, Lindsay, then, was the one who provided the knockout shot—a 27-yard touchdown run that sealed the win for the Broncos.
(Enjoy the Spanish in the tweet, and as always, the legendary Kevin Harlan!)
On the day, Lindsay finished with 109 yards on 19 carries, the touchdown, and two receptions for nine yards.
Fullback/H-Back of the week
Okay, Andrew Beck isn’t Taysom Hill...yet.
The rookie from Texas—an afterthought in the draft process, in part because he was viewed as a fullback, despite playing H-Back in Tom Herman’s offense—has been insanely valuable in Denver’s offense this season.
But because he is technically a fullback, he will likely never get the credit he deserves. So here’s one person’s attempt to give him that.
Not only did he record a first down on a third-and-one rush, he had the key block on both Broncos touchdown runs, plus a special teams tackle. That’s a pretty good day right?
He also did this:
Andrew Beck had a 91.7 passer rating tonight pic.twitter.com/fvwQUqL6ur— Denver Broncos 365 (@DailyBroncos) December 23, 2019
This went down as a forward pass, giving Beck a six-yard completion. At times this season, he has also shown an ability to make a nice catch and gain yards in traffic. Maybe he is the next Taysom Hill.
He just needs to work on that arm a little bit.
Wide Receiver/Rookie of the week
As previously mentioned, Hunter Renfrow was in many ways the straw that stirred the drink for the Raiders’ offense in the 24-17 win on Sunday.
Gruden said on Monday it was Renfrow’s first 100-plus-yard receiving day since high school. Imagine that. As good as Renfrow was at Clemson, he was clearly overshadowed by more physically talented athletes on the outside. Whether it was Deshaun Watson, Kelly Bryant, or Trevor Lawrence throwing him the ball, the guys who made the explosive plays were the better athletes. Renfrow was just the one who made all the important plays.
In reality, that’s a poor angle by the Chargers’ safety to try to make a tackle, but I said there’d be no negativity here today. Renfrow made a play. He showed elusiveness and a bit of breakaway speed, nobody thought the 38-year...err, 24-year-old, had (the 38-year-old part is a joke dating back to his college days, in case you don’t follow college football).
It wasn’t just the 56-yard touchdown that gets him this award. He caught six more passes for 51 yards. They were, of course, all key receptions.
Gruden talked on Monday about his work in the punt return game as being key to the victory as well.
Defensive Player of the week
Will Compton was outstanding for the Raiders on Sunday. Gruden elicited much praise for his middle linebacker on Monday. “I think he had 12 or 13 tackles. He’s got the green dot. So he’s the one communicating with [Paul Guenther]. He’s checking us out of blitzes into coverage, or vice-versa.”
Apparently, it was also Compton who chided Gruden for not smiling when the head coach came onto the field to check on one of the many injured Raiders players.
#Raiders coach Jon Gruden said LB @_willcompton gave him some grief on the field during yesterday's game. "He got on my case for not smiling, not having a good time. (laughs) He's a weird dude, man. He loves football. And that's why he fits in here."— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) December 23, 2019
Officially, Compton had 10 solo tackles and was credited with two assists. That’s a lot of tackles for a linebacker playing against an offense which mostly threw the football.
He played every snap, helping an otherwise inexperienced defense with a bevy of moving parts, solidify itself against the savvy veteran Philip Rivers.
His addition has been a big reason the Raiders’ defense has shown improvement over the course of the season. Hence, why the team is mathematically still in playoff contention headed into Week 17.
Who won the week?
In a way, three of the four teams in the division, along with their fans. And not just because those three won their games. Fans of NFL teams want their club to win every week, obviously. But there seems to be an added bonus when your favorite team wins the week of Christmas.
It adds a little spark to the holiday for those of us who care so fanatically about this crazy sport. Even for Denver, who possibly sacrificed a draft slot, the win is worth it.
For the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, it kept their respective bids alive, for a playoff spot and possible first round bye.
Neither of those should be taken for granted. Both should be celebrated. As this holiday should as well.
Have a joyous holiday!