There are some moments when the universe is a benevolent one; a force that delivers humans digestible justice in the didactic, storybook form that hugs us like a warm blanket on a cold night.
Then there are moments when the universe reveals itself as the type of sick, macabre force that deals specifically in planting seeds of hope and allowing them to grow before ripping them all out by the roots, one by one.
The Khalil Mack-loving masses thought they were getting schadenfreude on Sunday during a wild Bears-Raiders matchup in London. There was an unignorable moment when the football gods seemed to spotlight the most idiotic trade in NFL history and say yes, this is us, from above, telling you Jon was wrong.
But instead, a far less settling truth emerged: This was Jon Gruden’s dream win. This game, minus a few hiccups, went exactly the way the coach had planned. Mack finished with just three tackles (none for loss), one quarterback hit and no sacks. Josh Jacobs, the rookie running back drafted with the first-round pick Gruden acquired from the Bears in the Mack trade, ran wild, logging 123 yards on 26 carries. He scored two touchdowns.
After the win, Gruden trotted to the middle of the field like a victorious show dog, collapsible spectacles dangling wildly against his chest, as the strobe lights at Tottenham’s stadium flashed. How did we get here? How did this happen?
From the moment the Raiders took the field on offense, there was a clear subtext to everything the team was doing schematically: Do not let Mack get to Derek Carr. This is an obvious directive for any offensive coordinator prepping a game plan, but on Oakland’s first play of the game, we witnessed the extent of the overkill. Mack was being mobbed by a running back, a left tackle and an eager-to-help Richie Incognito, who barreled over to add a third body on the EDGE rusher. This, despite the fact that it was a designed rollout to the complete opposite side of the field.
What ensued for the rest of the game was nothing short of a schematic ballet. Trap runs designed to use Mack’s speed against him, kick him out at the last minute and run up the crease. Cut blocks. Sprint rollout passes away from Mack’s side, screens that manipulated Mack by freezing him as a defender and one brilliant crack back design on their second drive that pinballed Mack around without a chance to get his bearings. Of Oakland’s 72 offensive plays, I counted 15 obvious double (or triple) team scenarios. Depending on how you view the intention behind some of the run calls, I also quick-counted about a dozen running plays that were either stretch runs to the complete opposite side of the field as Mack, or trap runs designed to isolate Mack as the biggest threat.
I counted fewer than 10 instances where Mack was singled up on Sunday. Two of those instances nearly resulted in sacks, with Derek Carr seeming to have an almost supersonic awareness of his presence. Once, Mack nearly got a sack on a rollout opposite his side.
All of that maniacal planning seemed to fly out the window, though, with 13:33 to go in the third quarter. The Raiders, up 17-0 at their own 31-yard line, called a wide toss to Jacobs but Carr rifled the pitch past his rookie running back and the ball skidded all the way down to the 10-yard line. It was Mack who jogged up alongside the scrum and landed on the football.
In this moment it all made sense. The twisted symbolism resulted in a situation where Mack falls on a game-changing football meant for the guy Gruden picked with the draft pick for which he traded Mack. The Bears scored two plays later. Then, they forced a punt and scored again. Then another punt, and another score. To start the fourth quarter, the Raiders were on Chicago’s three-yard line and Carr threw a quick pass to Trevor Davis. Bears defensive back Sherrick McManis landed a beautiful punch, dislodged the football and swung possession.
On the sideline, Gruden was melting down. His ill-fitted headset wobbled on his head like a Halloween accessory as the camera kept panning for golden moments of isolated frustration (one, in particular where the coach appeared to scream “Dammit!” into his headset apropos of nothing).
It was a four-course meal, tea included, for those who had long raged against the Mack trade. While the player was largely swallowed up by Oakland’s game plan, this was supposed to cement the two divergent paths taken by the franchises on either side of the deal.
Then, the macabre. A 97-yard touchdown drive for Oakland, with Josh Jacobs no less taking the ball over the goal line. A gruesome clutch-time interception by Bears backup quarterback Chase Daniel. Raiders escape 24–21. At his post-game press conference, Gruden talked about how underrated his offensive line was and happily announced that Trent Brown and Kolton Miller would get game balls.
“I think I’ll make that decision right here, in front of you guys,” he said.
Gruden was asked about Oakland’s pass rush, which logged six quarterback hits and four sacks, and smiled the way a businessperson might after being assured they got away with insider trading.
“All we hear about is their pass rush every day,” Gruden said. “It’s great to talk about ours.”
Welcome back to the real world, friends, and the beginning of the Raider Dynasty. It's going to be a long 10 years for some of us.
Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.