Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers, and Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles are considered the best tight ends in the NFL, but the Las Vegas Raiders probably wouldn’t trade Darren Waller for any of them.
The 6-6, 255-pound Waller had a career game on Sunday, catching 13 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns as the Raiders (7-5) pulled out a 31-28 victory over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J.
“He’s special,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “A lot of guys can’t even dream of doing what Darren Waller can do. … He caught (passes) everywhere, and he drove all kinds of routes.
“Many people may not even dream of doing what Darren Waller can do, and I think he is clearly frozen today as one of the top Pro Bowl tight ends in this business.”
Said Jets Coach Adam Gase: “He’s just a really good player. It’s hard for us to match up with him. We were trying to find ways to get multiple guys on him through some of the zones. But they were finding him. That’s (Derek) Carr’s guy to begin with. It’s really tough to take him completely away.”
The 28-year-old Waller joined Kittle, Shannon Sharpe, Jackie Smith, Rich Caster, and Pete Retzlaff as the only tight ends in NFL history to have 200 or more yards receiving in a game.
Included were touchdown passes of nine and 38 yards from Carr.
“Obviously, he had a huge day, 200 yards as a tight end on 13 catches, that’s just ridiculous,” Carr said of his favorite receiver. “That’s video game-type stuff. He’s a special talent and I’m thankful I get to be his quarterback. It’ll be something I get to tell my kids about.
“When someone’s heating up like that, (Gruden) keeps calling his number. (Gruden’s) like, ‘Do you like this?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, if Waller’s No. 1 in the progression, I love it.’ He just kept dialing him up.”
Waller’s day included receptions of 18, 12, 28, 38, 19, 29, and 15 yards. He caught the nine-yard touchdown pass from Carr in the first quarter, and then grabbed Carr’s short pass on the right sideline, broke away from cornerback Bryce Hall and blew past safety Marcus Maye at the 15-yard line on the way to the 38-yard touchdown late in the first half.
DereThrough 12 games this season, Waller has 77 receptions for 742 yards and seven touchdowns, after making 90 catches for 1,145 yards and three scores in his first year as a starter in 2019.
“There was a lot of man-to-man coverage out there,” Waller said of his big day. “Any time it’s man-to-man, we like man-to-man. … I would say it’s easily the best game I’ve had, statistically. As far as consistency, I feel like I just try to live one day at a time and make one play at a time, and then stuff like that adds up.
“It’s just about showing up and being consistent as possible on each and every play, and the results can take care of themselves. But as long as I’m locked in and focused, and doing what I need to do to be of service to my teammates, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Waller was more excited about Carr’s 46-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III with five seconds in the game to pull out the victory, as Ruggs made up for not catching a pass that bounced off his hands and turned into an interception and fumbling the ball away earlier in the game.
One of the first players to reach Ruggs in the end zone to celebrate was Waller.
“Incredible by (Ruggs),” said Waller, who caught a 15-yard pass from Carr to put the Raiders in position for the desperation throw at the finish. “Just to stay in the game mentally. When you’re a young player, I remember when I was, and you make mistakes, it’s easy to shut down and want the day to be over. But for him to step up and make that play in the end … incredible.
“That touchdown, it didn’t even feel real to me. I didn’t know what was going on, but I was sprinting full speed to Henry. It was an incredible play by Henry and a great call by Coach to take that chance, and a great throw by Derek. Then reality hit.
“It was pandemonium on our sideline.”
It wouldn’t have been possible without Waller’s brilliant performance.
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