After 68 minutes, 10 seconds of game time and more than four hours of earth time, the Raiders lined up for the play that would either deliver their first win of the season after three failures or, most likely, result in an unsavory tie against a team that has recently been the laughingstock of the NFL.
The play in question was a 29-yard field goal. For this crucial task, the Raiders put their fate in the hands of a long snapper whom they had signed 18 days earlier to fill an emergency gap, and a rookie punter who was serving as holder. And in the foot of Matt McCrane.
McCrane was even newer to the scene than Trent Sieg, the snapper. He joined the Raiders on Wednesday, the day they placed kicker Mike Nugent (himself a stopgap replacement for another damaged kicker) on injured reserve with a hip injury.
McCrane had been jeered earlier in the game Sunday, having pushed two field-goal attempts wide left. This time he was true, though, and the Raiders were sudden-death winners. They are 1-3. No more zeroes in any of the important columns.
“For him to go make that kick and for us to be able to celebrate, he’s the real man,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “Our kicker, he’s the hero. He battled, he fought through getting booed, battled through people looking at him funny on the sidelines. All that stuff.”
Carr may or may not have known McCrane’s name.
After the game, the hero sat in front of his locker, looking trim and preppy. He was doing a phone interview with one of the sports shows on Sirius XM Radio. McCrane, facing the locker, didn’t realize that a small gaggle of reporters was assembling behind him. Hey, he’s new at this.
How new? Before he booted the final field goal, he turned to Sieg and asked, “Is this to win it?” The long snapper nodded in affirmation. Alrighty then, might as well go ahead and win it.
How strange that the “real man” of Sunday’s win hadn’t even been on the roster a week earlier. McCrane was at Kansas State last year, cementing his place as the program’s all-time leader in field goals (57) and field-goal percentage (86.4). He signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent and made all four of his field-goal tries this summer, including a couple of 50-plus-yarders. But the Cardinals cut him and went with 43-year-old wonder Phil Dawson.
McCrane went back to Kansas State to stay sharp, and was basically waiting by the phone until the Raiders called him out for a tryout last Monday. He joined the team Wednesday and got his first chance to kick off of the infamous Oakland Coliseum infield on Friday.
“West Texas dirt is about all I’ve kicked off of,” McCrane said. “A baseball field is completely different.”
When the fourth quarter started, McCrane was 0 for 1 as an NFL kicker. His first pro attempt, a 47-yarder early in the second quarter, was a low knuckler that drifted off to the left. The fourth quarter was busy, though. McCrane connected from 29 yards to get the Raiders within 28-24 with 14:14 to play, and from 44 yards to build a 34-28 lead with 10:46 remaining.