Khalil Mack has reached a level of excellence that causes one to dig out the thesaurus. And at some point, even that won’t do. This win today had his large fingerprints all over it.
Early in the game, the Panthers weren’t doing much. They scored their one touchdown in the first half off a 47-yard run by Jonathan Stewart. Other than that one big play they had a total of 48 yards of offense.
Getting the ball back late in the second quarter, they had one more shot to make something happen, and dig into the Raiders 17-7 lead. That backfired with Mack stepping in front of a Cam Newton screen pass, picking it off in close range and easily returning it six yards for the defensive touchdown.
“He’s got good hands,” said Jack Del Rio. “He can throw it, too. He can do just about anything he wants, really.”
Mack would later joke that he’s “like the 5th string quarterback”.
That 24-7 lead would come in handy in the second half with the Panthers capitalizing on two turnovers by Derek Carr – one a fumble on the play he injured his hand, the other on an interception to Thomas Davis – to take the lead 25-24 at the end of the third quarter.
By the end of the fourth quarter, the Raiders had fought back to tie it. Then it was Michael Crabtree’s turn to show his hands as well as his killer instinct.
The Raiders lined up at their own 14-yard-line in third and 9. Carr threw for his normally sure-handed receiver, who was coming off a game in Mexico City last week which he was anything but reliable. Crabtree stepped up.
Carr saw a mismatch with Crabtree guarded by linebacker AJ Klein and that’s where he was going with it. Klein manhandled Crabtree, even knocking his helmet off and Crabtree still went up and got the ball for a 49-yard catch.
“By any means,” Crabtree said. “I feel like I’ve had a couple bad games. I wasn’t going to let this game go by without making a few plays. I came out here with one thing on my mind.”
They added a field goal to take the lead at 35-32, giving the Panthers the ball back with 1:45 remaining.
Derek Carr had done his part. He came back in the game from his dislocated pinky and put the Raiders back in the lead. Now it was on the defense to keep it. That means it was time for the man Khalil Mack, who helped put them in this position with his pick six to end the first half, to go out and put the game away.
“He’s making these clutch plays,” Carr said of Mack. “Every time there’s a 2-minute drill I come up to him and I say ‘Now it’s your turn, go end it’. You know, we have fun with him, but I’m dead serious, I say ‘end the game’. And he [says] ‘ok’. That’s just him and we hope every time that it will work out for us, obviously.”
It came down to fourth and ten from the Oakland 44-yard-line. Mack drove his man back into the backfield, then rushed underneath him and straight at Cam Newton, swiping the ball out of Newton hand just as he tried to throw to get the strip sack and the fumble recovery to put the game away, just as he was charged.
It was Mack’s second time pressuring Newton on that series, with the first one resulting in an incompletion. His teammate, Bruce Irvin, had a hand in ending things as well, getting a pressure on a play to force Newton to throw the ball away. Irvin also had a sack in the game, but he is quick to defer to the man he calls Batman to his Robin.
“Pick-six, sack forced fumble, fumble recovery,” Irvin listed off Mack’s day. “I’m just blessed to be in his presence. The guy is one hell of a player. We feed off each other. On that last drive we told each other ‘it’s on us, it’s on us to put the team on our back and end it.’ That’s exactly what we did. I’m just blessed to be in such a great situation playing with a future Hall of Famer.”
Irvin’s sack puts him at 4.0 for the season, while Mack is at 9.0 sacks. But the most important stat on that Mack sack is 9. That’s the number of wins it secured for this Raiders team.