Late in the third quarter on Sunday in what had been a dominating performance by the Chargers, the Raiders had a chance to pull within 20-10 with first and goal from the one-yard line. Everyone in the stadium including the Chargers defense knew the ball was going to Marshawn Lynch, except it wasn’t. Instead, Jon Gruden elected for a play action pass, and quarterback Derek Carr threw it right into the arms of Melvin Ingram to all but end the Raiders chances of a comeback.
“We haven’t thrown the ball in a goal-to-go situation all year,” Gruden said. “It was first-and-goal, the decision there was to throw it. If it isn’t open, you throw it away. It didn’t work out. We expected that we’d have a wide open receiver on the play and obviously that will be second-guessed, rightfully so . . . I’ll live to hand the ball off on the next play, possibly.”
“I done seen it happen to me on the game’s biggest stage,” Lynch told ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez after the loss to the Chargers Sunday. “Now it’s happened in a regular-season game. It’s alright, though.”
Lynch was told the stat that since the start of Super Bowl XLIX, teams with Lynch have now thrown four times from the one-yard line and are 0-4 including two interceptions.
“That’s cute,” he replied.
Heading into Sunday’s game, the running back nicknamed ‘Beastmode’ had forced 20 missed tackles, five more than the next closest rusher, earning an NFL-best 105.4 elusive rating from Pro Football Focus. An incredible 254 of his 300 rushing yards came after contact.
His ‘unreal performance’ against the Browns in week three carried the Silver & Black to their first victory of the 2018 season.
So for Gruden to refuse giving the ball to him in a short-yardage situation is inexcusable, yet it continues to happen.
In week two, the Raiders were up 19-10 in Denver early in the fourth quarter with fourth and inches at the Broncos 33. But rather than lean on Lynch in one of the biggest plays of the game, Gruden elected to run a play action bootleg to fullback Keith Smith who dropped the pass.
The following week against the Dolphins, Oakland was in a fourth and goal situation from the one-yard line. Gruden gave the ball to Smith who was stuffed and failed to convert.
Later in the game on third and goal from the one-yard line, Gruden called Lynch’s number who skied over the Dolphins defense for a touchdown.
“With [RB] Marshawn Lynch, we love to give him the ball but we had shown some things and they showed on film that this should be good and obviously they covered it and it didn’t work out,” explained Carr after the game. “But it’s been five games now where we’ve just — pow, pow, pow — so you have to throw a play action or else they’re all going to commit on him and it’s going to get stuck.”
That’s all fine and good, except the “pow, pow, pow” plays that weren’t successful were ran with Smith rather than Lynch.
After Carr’s goal line interception, Lynch was visibly upset taking off his helmet and looking like he wanted to throw it. While Gruden understands his frustration, it won’t stop him from passing on the goal line again.
“I don’t want to see anybody get upset, I want everybody to be happy,” Gruden told the media on Monday. “It won’t be the last pass I call on first and goal either. I think that’s the best time to throw down there. I regret that it was intercepted. It turns out to be a horrible call. But we were down 20-3, Melvin Ingram’s your middle linebacker in a jam front and I wanted to throw a play action pass on the one foot line. My opinion is it shouldn’t have been intercepted, we shouldn’t do that right down there, but we did, and Lynch is frustrated, I think I threw my visor and my headset, so I think he and I have a lot in common.”
One thing they don’t have in common is Lynch’s role with the team in short yardage situations.
Lynch’s agent CJ LaBoy perfectly summed up Gruden’s flawed logic when he tweeted, “You have the greatest and most ferocious/feared short yardage back of all time...and you don’t give him the ball at the goal line?”