The Las Vegas Raiders secondary has taken its share of criticism this season, but on Sunday the defensive backs led an effort that shut down quarterback Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and shut up their critics, at least for now.
After Mahomes and Derek Carr of the Raiders put on a show leading to a 24-24 tie at halftime, the Silver and Black limited the previously undefeated Chiefs (4-1) to 22 yards of total offense until the final minutes of a 40-32 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
And got their share of the credit from coaches and teammates in the locker room afterward.
“Honestly, that’s the only people we need to believe we can do it,” safety Jonathan Abram said. “We don’t care about what the fans think. We worry about the guys in the locker room.
“And as far as the defense, we worry about the 11 guys that are out there playing as one unit. We’ve done it in spurts, but we talked about doing it for four quarters.”
All they did was shut down Mahomes, the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player in 2018, and also the MVP of Super Bowl LIV in leading the Chiefs past the San Francisco 49ers in February.
Mahomes passed for 237 yards and a touchdown while also running for a score in the first half against the Raiders (3-2), but completed only 8-of-16 passes for 103 yards in the second half, most of them coming on a desperation 75-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes.
“Well, we had to cover them for about 11 seconds at times on every pass,” Coach Jon Gruden said of his secondary. “I mean that’s the thing, the word plaster is the word a lot of us use as coaches when the quarterback starts scrambling our D-line has to get him, but we have to plaster to our coverage for seven, eight, nine, 10 seconds sometimes.
“And some of those pass breakups were exceptional efforts to hold on to their coverages as long as they did, and it’s a credit to [defensive backs coach] Jim O’Neil and [defensive coordinator] Paul Guenther and certainly our players for buying into that and getting that done.”
Mahomes also threw his first pass interception of the season and it was one of the biggest plays of the game.
Backup safety Jeff Heath leaped high to pick off a pass intended for All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce near midfield and returned it 47 yards to the Kansas City two-yard-line. On the next play, Josh Jacobs leaped into the end zone for the clinching touchdown with 5:26 left in the game.
“I like Heath, I’d like to get him on the field more,” Gruden said of the strong safety who was with the Dallas Cowboys for the last seven seasons. “I think you’ll see more and more play on certain situations. He’s got great speed. He’s got very good range. He’s got ball skills, he’s a good tackler, he’s a great special teams player. We’re happy to have him.
“I mean, we have played a lot of different people in the secondary. As you know, [Lamarcus] Joyner went down on the first play. I thought Amik Robertson stepped in there as the nickel corner, played pretty good. So, it’s good to have some depth and proud of everybody’s contributions.”
Kelce caught eight passes in the game for 108 yards and the final touchdown, but the Raiders limited him to two catches for 18 yards in the second half.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill had three receptions for 78 yards in the first half but was shut out after halftime.
“You got to change it up on a guy like (Kelce) and we tried to change up some looks,” Gruden explained of the second-half defense. “If you line up in the same look every play, you’re in trouble. But they got us a couple of times with their scheme and Kelce got us a couple of times because he’s one of the best. And we got to do a better job against him.
“We say that every time we play him, but he’s like [Darren] Waller. You can line him up anywhere you want and whether you’re playing man or zone he can defeat any coverage.”
The secondary also played through adversity against the Chiefs, as cornerbacks Joyner and Trayvon Mullen both left the game because of injuries, but both returned and contributed to the second-half effort.
And the Raiders played for the second straight game without rookie starting cornerback Damon Arnette, who is out after undergoing surgery on his right thumb, but Gruden said he might be back next week after the bye against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Even though the Raiders played well without him, it wouldn’t hurt to have Arnette against Tom Brady.
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