DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 12: Keenan Allen #13 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates after scoring a second quarter touchdown against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 12, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
So much good stuff came out of the Chargers' 27-20 win in Denver on Thursday night.
The Bolts defense held Peyton Manning's offense to its lowest point total of the year. Running back Ryan Mathews topped the 1,000 yard mark for the second time in his four year career. The Chargers put themselves squarely back in the playoff hunt (although they do need some help).
But, perhaps my favorite development is wide receiver Keenan Allen basically won himself the NFL's Offensive Rookie Of The Year Award.
Don't just take my word for it. After his two-touchdown night, even the likes of Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, Bleacher Report, ESPN and the Sporting News (among others) stopped just short of anointing Allen as the best offensive rookie in this year's class.
Keenan has 63 catches for 931 yards and seven touchdowns with two games to play. Not bad for a guy who did not even see the field for the first game of the year and only had three catches for 30 yards after the first three games of the season.
Injuries to Danario Alexander in training camp, then Malcom Floyd in Week 2 in Philadelphia forced Allen in to the starting lineup.
Now the Chargers are probably scared to ever take him out of the starting lineup.
While he has, at times, played like a rookie (see Thursday night's opening drive, when he ran the wrong way on a route and got a chiding from quarterback Philip Rivers), Allen has looked like a guy who was born to run the Chargers' offensive system. Part of that is God-given ability. Another part is not wasting that ability.
"He's worked extremely hard to get where he's at," said head coach Mike McCoy after the win in Denver. "He's never satisfied. He just wants to keep getting better. He competes. He's responded to hard coaching."
Allen has already gotten to the point where he's drawing extra attention from opposing defenses. Rivers still has not problem throwing it in the rookie's direction. Allen's second touchdown came with a defensive back right in front of him. Keenan just reached right around the defender and made the grab like he was playing against his little brother in the back yard.
"He has the swagger and the confidence you want in a wide receiver," said Rivers, "but, yet, the eagerness and the humbleness to know 'I'm a rookie and I've gotta learn a lot and I want to learn a lot.' He just makes plays, and he believes he's going to make plays."
The biggest play the rookie made was also the signature moment that really sealed his Rookie of the Year status. It came in the second quarter on Thursday night. Allen caught a ball on a drag route and ran 17 yards for a touchdown, leaping over one defender, landing on another and pushing his way in to the end zone. The score tied the game. More importantly, it put all the momentum on the San Diego sideline, and the Bolts never gave it back.
"There's a lot of guys that catch that shallow route and get tackled on the 2-yard line," said Rivers. "He was like, 'I'm scoring.' That's a mind-set that we need all of our young players to have. I think we have a handful that have that and the more we can get of that the more games we're gonna win."
Another young player who has that mind-set is fellow rookie offensive lineman D.J. Fluker. If Allen has not having such a tremendous season, you could make the argument for Fluker to be the Offensive Rookie Of The Year. He has started at both tackle spots and helped to bring the Chargers porous offensive line not to just respectability, but to being an above-average group.
Getting both of those guys in his first draft (along with Manti Te'o, who has improved rapidly over the last three games at middle linebacker and certainly has the mind-set Rivers is referring to), along with signing running back Danny Woodhead, might get another member of the Chargers some buzz for a post-season award. General Manager Tom Telesco won't win it, but he is laying the ground work for a future NFL Executive Of The Year honor.