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.”