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OAKLAND — After his Raiders had dispatched the New York Giants 24-17, a middling win that just happened to vault the team into a tie for first place in the AFC West, coach Jack Del Rio offered a short treatise on “grown-man ball.”

“Just guys that are really playing outstanding — making an outstanding play for our cause, for us to win,” Del Rio elaborated.

No one came to the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday expecting a Pee-Wee football game or a grandmothers’ book club meeting, but I know what Del Rio was saying. There are somewhere around 125 plays in an average NFL game, and the vast majority of them have little bearing on the outcome. Most games are decided by a catch here, a penalty there, a missed tackle at the 30-yard line. These are the grown-man plays.

Del Rio identified three grown men in his team’s most recent win: defensive end Khalil Mack, who forced and recovered a fumble just before halftime; running back Marshawn Lynch, who broke two tackles and bulled his way for 21 yards to convert a key third-and-7 with about 11½ minutes to play; and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who got loose for a 59-yard gain with around 5 minutes left, allowing the Raiders to take a deep breath after the Giants had trimmed the Raiders’ lead to 17-14.

It’s hard to quibble with Del Rio’s finalists, but I’m going to focus on just one of them. Because Khalil Mack just might be the grownest man in the NFL.

The Giants entered this contest with a head coach, Bob McAdoo, who was rumored to have so little job security that he was googling Greyhound bus tickets back to the East Coast, and a quarterback, Geno Smith, who hadn’t completed a meaningful pass since October of 2016. And that’s exactly how the visitors looked as they fell behind 7-0 in the first few minutes and went three-and-out on their first three possessions.

The rout was on. Except these are the Raiders, who haven’t blown out anyone since drubbing the other New York team here in Week 2. By late in the second quarter Sunday, Oakland had a dicey 10-7 lead. And things were getting worse. With 49 seconds remaining in the half, the Raiders set up in punt formation, and Marquette King never got his foot to the ball. The Giants’ Shane Smith was on the punter in a flash, tackling him at the Raiders’ 9.

Was it a missed block, I asked Del Rio after the game?

“It was,” he said. “We see. Our little tablets tell us quite a bit.”

Thanks, Coach Moses.

After an offside penalty (on Mack) and an incompletion, the Giants had second-and-goal at the Oakland 4, down just three points. Even that doesn’t begin to explain the precariousness of the situation, though. When Sunday dawned, the Raiders were one game behind Kansas City for the AFC West lead. When the floundering Chiefs lost to the Jets before the Raiders had kicked off, the magnitude of this game shot higher than one of King’s punts.

And now a special-teams gaffe was putting the whole season in jeopardy.

“They’re knocking on the door right there,” as Del Rio put it. “They’re certain to get points, or have a high likelihood of getting some kind of points.”

Who you gonna call?

Mack, of course. The 250-pound knot of muscle ran a wide circle around Giants right tackle Chad Wheeler, the unfortunate rookie who was starting in place of the injured Justin Pugh, and was on Smith in a flash.

“That’s just the motor,” Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “I mean, anytime you have that type of motor — if you go back to the beginning of the play, if you see that get-off, that’s really what got him there so fast. And Geno didn’t expect him to get there that fast.”

A fact that Smith confirmed when someone asked him whether he was surprised at the speed of Mack’s attack: “Yeah, a little bit. You know, I was actually caught getting ready to throw a pass to the end zone. I felt like we had a pretty good look there and, unfortunately, he got there and got the ball out.”

And that was the crazy part. We’re used to seeing Khalil Mack tackle quarterbacks. He had 32½ sacks in his previous 43 games before facing New York. But he didn’t just get Smith on the ground. He stole the ball from him.

Mack did what only the great athletes can do. He bent time, taking the football from the quarterback with such lightning speed that it was hard to figure out what had occurred until you watched a slow-motion replay.

A lot of football happened after that takeaway, including three touchdowns, several Raiders fumbles and, as Del Rio suggested, a couple other grown-man plays. But it was Mack’s timely disruption that allowed the Raiders to maintain the upper hand.

This is nothing new. There are a handful of professional football players who routinely make game-changing plays, making the world-class athletes around them look ordinary. The Rams’ Aaron Donald, Denver’s Von Miller, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, Atlanta’s Julio Jones — the list doesn’t run a whole lot longer than that. And Mack is definitely on it.

In 2015, he single-handedly destroyed the Broncos with a five-sack performance. Last year, as he mounted his case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Mack had a stretch of nearly two months where he seemed to do something spectacular every week. Could this game signal another rampage?

In the postgame locker room, Mack crossed the carpet with one towel wrapped around his waist for modesty, and another tied tightly around his lower right leg. “Man, they got your shin, too?” linebacker Bruce Irvin asked.

Mack usually talks after games, but this time he didn’t. He was one of the Raiders who found a note taped on their lockers stating that they had been randomly selected to offer a urine sample for drug testing. He used it to avoid the throng, walking back and forth between his locker and the shower area without stopping to answer questions.

Others were happy to speak for him, though. Like Del Rio, who was asked how many NFL players could have executed that second-quarter strip-sack.

“I know one that can,” Del Rio said with a little smile. “He’s pretty special.”

He is, which is one reason the Raiders still believe they’re a playoff team.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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