By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
DENVER (AP) — That Mount Rushmore of Quarterbacks in the loaded AFC West is off to a rather rocky start.
Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr all lost their Week 3 games, and Russell Wilson endured a career-high nine three-and-outs Sunday night before he finally flashed the magic that earned him a $245 million extension this month, quieting the Broncos’ boobirds.
Aside from the 80-yard, 12-play masterpiece that ended with Melvin Gordon’s 1-yard touchdown run, Wilson directed a dozen drives that resulted in two long field goal attempts and 10 punts as the Broncos grinded out an 11-10 win over San Francisco.
Wilson hasn’t looked anything like the nine-time Pro Bowler he was with the Seahawks as he’s thrown for just two touchdowns and scrambled for 22 yards. But Denver is 2-1 thanks to his back-to-back fourth-quarter comebacks against the Texans and 49ers, against whom he is now 17-4.
Wilson looked like his vintage self when he rolled out left to buy time and hit Kendall Hinton for a 27-yard gain on the run, then scrambled up the middle for 12 yards on the game-winning drive.
“It was kind of a surreal feeling,” center Lloyd Cushenberry said. “You see him make those plays in Seattle for so many years and now you’re on the field with him and watching him make these plays, scrambling and getting out of the pocket. The great throw he had to Kendall, it was one of those moments that you’ve seen for 10-plus years and him making those plays.
“It was vintage Russell Wilson back in his form.”
The Broncos now sit atop the AFC West alongside longtime division bully Kansas City after the Chiefs (2-1) flubbed their way to a 20-17 loss at Indianapolis.
Wilson’s choppy changeover in Denver shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, and not entirely because of rookie coach Nathaniel Hackett’s “Camp Cupcake” that featured very little hitting over the summer and his decision to keep his starters, including Wilson, on the sideline in the preseason.
Peyton Manning lost three of his first five games in Denver a decade ago before leading the Broncos to a 13-3 record and their first of four consecutive playoff berths.
After two decades of dominance in New England, Tom Brady started out 7-5 with Tampa Bay two years ago before propelling the Buccaneers to the top for his seventh Super Bowl ring.
“When you look at it, Russell has been in one place for his whole career,” Hackett said. “Then he comes here, he’s got a new coaching staff, new city, new fans, new press, new system, new people that he’s going out there and playing with. So it’s not as easy as just going out there with anybody and playing ball.”
Hackett even had to hire a veteran assistant coach to help him manage the game operations better after a series of blunders the first two weeks of the season that included taking the ball out of Wilson’s hands for a 64-yard field goal try by Brandon McManus that missed, leaving the Seahawks 17-16 winners in Wilson’s homecoming on opening weekend.
“We’re all working through all kinds of things,” Hackett said. “I’m working through things with him. I’m making sure I’m calling the proper plays for him, that the players are running the right routes, and it’s just that whole thing, everybody working together.
“There’s been some good and there’s been some bad. We just have to make sure we have more good than bad as we continue to move forward.”
Speaking of questionable decisions, Mahomes got into a heated sideline spat with Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Sunday for not being aggressive at the end of the first half .
“I wanted to go for the score; that’s just who I am,” Mahomes explained afterward.
The Chiefs didn’t even try to score from their 36 with 30 seconds left, leading to Mahomes’ animated discussion with Bieniemy before head coach Andy Reid got between them.
And how about Chargers coach Brandon Staley, who kept Herbert in the game down four touchdowns Sunday despite battered ribs in a 38-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars?
A trendy pick to win the Super Bowl, the Chargers are 1-2 and look nothing like championship contenders as Herbert plays through fractured rib cartilage.
In even worse shape are the Raiders (0-3), whose 24-22 loss to Tennessee on Sunday when Carr failed to covert a 2-point pass with 1:14 remaining left Las Vegas as the NFL’s only winless team through three weeks.
The Raiders’ trio of losses are by a combined 13 points.
“I’m looking for us to try to improve and play a full 60-minute game, where we actually start well, play well in all three phases, see what that looks like. I’m not sure that we’ve done that yet,” coach Josh McDaniels said.
Not since 1959 has an 0-3 NFL team had no company in the league’s cellar, and the Raiders will seek to avoid their first 0-4 start since 2006 on Sunday when they host Wilson and the Broncos.
McDaniels is now 5-20 as a head coach since winning his first six games in 2009 with Denver, where he was fired less than a year later in the aftermath of a video scandal, a player’s suicide and a 5-17 run that followed his 6-0 start.
Although he enjoyed enormous success as Brady’s play designer and play caller in New England in the interim, McDaniels will head into Sunday’s showdown against Denver having not won a game as an NFL head coach in 4,341 days.