The AFC West was back to full strength this week, as in all four teams played. However, they played each other, providing plenty of opportunities for memorable and forgettable moments depending on your perspective.
It brings up the eternal question for every sports fan, coach, or player: Would you rather get blown out and never really have a chance, or have victory taken from you in the game’s concluding moments?
This week also gave us answers to some important questions, while coincidentally providing more questions. And so without further ado, here are the AFC West Week 13 superlatives.
Rookie of the Week
Often it is difficult to determine who should be Rookie of the Week. Last week was one occasion. This week, it is a battle, but it’s pretty clear to me.
The performance of cornerback Trayvon Mullen against one of the league’s most explosive and offenses was extremely notable.
It feels like a copout selecting Raiders for this award three weeks in a row. But considering the Raiders have more rookies playing regular snaps than the other three teams in the division combined, or so it seems, this selection should come with little controversy.
Quarterback of the Week
I’m making an executive decision here to not award the QB of the Week based on stats, name recognition, or with any other form of logic.
Some how, some way, Drew Lock started an NFL game, and looked competent. How that happened, or how those words managed to transfer from my mind to the screen is a mystery.
Maybe one day I will understand. Maybe Drew Lock is the quarterback of the future for the Denver Broncos. Or maybe his 18-28, 134-yard, two touchdown performance is the premiere moment of the career I expect him to have.
Just in case it’s the latter, at least I can give him one AFC West Quarterback of the Week award.
Running Back of the Week
It’s been a rocky year for Melvin Gordon. From holding out to returning four weeks into the season without any tangible benefit gained — and a lot of money lost — to struggling enormously his first few weeks of game action, he’s had a rough 2019.
His play did improve in the month of November though. And on the first day of December, Gordon took off. He was a single yard short of 100 while adding two catches for 11 yards.
Austin Ekeler is still taking carries from Gordon, but their roles have become more defined. Gordon is the every down back, whereas Ekeler has become the third down back.
For a struggling Chargers team, defined roles qualify as one of the few good things to come from this abysmal stretch of the season.
Tight End of the Week
Unlike many weeks, the most impressive individual pass-catching games in the division came from tight ends. In fact they were from the same game.
Kansas City received 90 yards on five catches from their All-Pro tight end, Travis Kelce. He was targeted seven times. Meanwhile, the Raiders received 100 yards on seven catches from Darren Waller—who is beginning to look like a future All-Pro tight end. Waller was targeted nine times.
A commentator on Sunday (I honestly cannot remember who it was, perhaps Tony Romo during the game) said the Raiders had pretty much no chance of getting a man open down field on Sunday, unless it was Waller. But his efficient day still only led to nine points being scored.
While Kelce did not have a touchdown, he was a major reason for the Chiefs’ offensive success. They were able to feature their running back trio because of how much attention Kelce and Hill commanded.
While team success is not a prerequisite for a superlative award, it can be used as a tie-breaker, and that’s what happens here. Don’t worry, Waller will have plenty more opportunities to earn this award in the future.
Defensive Player of the Week
It’s been an uncommon occurrence in recent years for Kansas City to have anyone even in the conversation for defensive player of the week. But on Sunday their pair of dynamic safeties really stole the show.
Tyrann Mathieu and rookie Juan Thornhill each had an interception. Thornhill returned his for 46 yards. You could make a strong case that Thornhill should be divisional rookie of the week over Mullen.
But here’s the thing, defensive player of the week is higher in the pecking order than rookie of the week, so in reality I’m doing Thornhill a favor. And yet, it’s hard not to praise the brilliance of the veteran Mathieu as well.
While also being new to the Chiefs’ defense in 2019, he has helped his rookie teammate from Virginia make a smooth transition to the NFL. What a swing it’s been for Mathieu, from being thought of as a thug while in college to now being thought of as the perfect veteran teammate and still a fabulous player.
Together, the two have saved Kansas City’s otherwise under-talented secondary with tremendous range and hybrid abilities. They are in many ways the same player. The thing is, that’s two VERY good football players.
Honorable Mention: For both this award and Rookie of the Week to Broncos defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, who returned an interception for seven yards on Sunday, while also accumulating several pressures.
Who won the week?
The obvious choice, for the third week in a row, would be the Kansas City Chiefs. But that’s too easy and already a bit boring. I’m going to go in another direction instead.
It’s Broncos head coach Vic Fangio. While it may not have been his decision alone to put the rookie Drew Lock in at quarterback, I’m almost certain he had final say.
So many coaches fail to see the forest through the trees. They want to win this game this week. And that’s admirable — I’d certainly rather my coach want to win than be apathetic or even okay with losing.
Fangio saw the bigger picture. He realized it was more important for his franchise to get a look at the offense when run by Lock. He could have stuck with Brandon Allen, and the result of this particular game may have been the same. But maybe not.
The process is ultimately more important than the results. Coaches, front offices, and even players can control the process, but not the results. How much that helps the Broncos going forward is unknown. But by investing in process over results, the Broncos look like they have a plan for the first time in a long time. And that’s a big step forward for them.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Usually I end with the previous award, but this week there is an award that supersedes it. The lifetime achievement award. On Sunday, Phillip Rivers’ career officially died.
It’s really not his fault. It’s never been his fault. The Chargers are a cursed organization, as proven every week when they come up with a brand new way to lose by less than a touchdown.
More than anything, Rivers’ career is proof that you can have a franchise quarterback, talent on defense, and great skill players, but if you fail to invest in your offensive line, none of it matters.
But out of the ashes of death, there is hope for life. I’ve inserted a brief letter to Mr. Rivers to close out this piece.
Dear Phil, we need you to retire. You can do more for football in your playing career’s death than in clinging to this miserable existence. Much like a former Cowboys quarterback who was a far better player than given credit for, but also known for not coming up clutch in the fourth quarter, you too are seen in the same light.
That reputation is not fair to either of you. But as shown by what happened in the death of his playing career, you too can have hope for new life. A life more satisfying, filled with more time to spend with your nine children and saintly wife. It is a life where you can work one day a week and bring joy to millions of people across the country.
It is a life where you can still be around the game you’ve loved since childhood and continue to talk trash, to call out coaches, players, and the dreaded referees.
And I’m sure you can work it into your contract with ESPN...err, whoever chooses to bring you on in a color commentary role, that you can wear all the bolo ties you want.