ALAMEDA — The situation couldn’t have been much more similar in Oakland’s return to Tennessee. For the second consecutive year, the Raiders took possession with less than five minutes left and a seven-point lead looking to add another score or run out the clock.
The difference this year is they had Beast Mode.
Instead of punting the ball back to the Titans and needing to narrowly survive at the end, the Raiders powered the ball down the field behind Marshawn Lynch and added a field goal that made it a two-possession game and sealed a season-opening 26-16 victory Sunday.
“He brings a certain mentality, he brings a certain toughness,” coach Jack Del Rio said Monday. “We saw glimpses of that. We’re not looking for Marshawn to carry us or carry our team. We’re looking for us to be a team and he’s a piece of it. … It’s nice to see he brings that hammer at the end of the ballgame, the ability to close out.”
The situation the Raiders faced on Sunday was one of the main reasons they lured Lynch out of retirement with a trade from Seattle this offseason.
With Latavius Murray as the main back a year ago, Oakland sometimes struggled to put games away in the fourth quarter and had to rely far too often on some late-game heroics from quarterback Derek Carr and Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack or some well-timed luck to seal games.
That’s what happened last year in Tennessee when the Raiders needed two key penalties and an incomplete pass in the end zone to finish off a 17-10 win against the Titans after they were forced to punt the ball away at the two-minute warning.
This year they handed the ball to Lynch five times out of seven plays and gained two key first downs to set up Giorgio Tavecchio’s fourth field goal of the game to make it 26-13 with 1:09 to play and deny Marcus Mariota a comeback attempt.
“He came in and put on a show,” Raiders cornerback David Amerson said. “I think at the end of the game in the fourth quarter when you need to get down the field, give it to Beast Mode. That’s what he did — got us down the field. He did exactly what we thought he would do today, put points on the board and now our defense can go into prevent defense.”
The Raiders weren’t quite sure what they would get out of Lynch in his first NFL game after a 602-day absence. He retired in Seattle following an injury-plagued 2015 season but wanted to make a comeback to give something back to his hometown of Oakland before the Raiders move to Las Vegas in 2020.
Lynch carried only four times in the preseason so no one knew whether he would be close to the level he was in 2011-14 when he was the game’s premier power running back for the Seahawks. Lynch led the NFL in rushes, yards rushing and total touchdowns over those four years but took a step back in 2015 because of poor health.
Now 31, Lynch showed the time off may have done him some good. He carried 18 times for 76 yards against the Titans and added a 16-yard reception . That was more yards on the ground for Lynch than he had in all but one game in 2015 and his average of 4.2 yards per carry was a significant increase from the 3.8 he had in his final year with the Seahawks.