Cornerback Trayvon Mullen would have been a hero had the Las Vegas Raiders held on to beat the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday.
Mullen intercepted a pass by Patrick Mahomes at the Las Vegas 3-yard-line with 19 seconds left in the first half to preserve the Raiders’ 17-14 lead, but Mahomes threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce with 28 seconds left in the game to give the Chiefs a 35-31 victory.
The theft by Mullen was only the second thrown by Mahomes this season, the other made by Raiders safety Jeff Heath when the Silver and Black upset the reigning Super Bowl champions, 40-32, earlier this season at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
It was Mullen’s first interception of the season after he made one last season as a rookie, and this one came when he read what Mahomes had in mind and threw the ball outside while wide receiver Demarcus Robinson cut to the inside.
Mahomes yelled at Robinson that he should have gone outside after Mullen intercepted the pass despite falling down.
Despite his big play, Mullen isn’t looking back, but is preparing to face the All-Pro combination of quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, plus the rest of the Atlanta Falcons on the road on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
However, he says he’s not specifically thinking about Ryan and Jones.
“I just continue to be me,” said the 6-2, 200-pound Mullen, who was selected by the Raiders in the second round (No. 40 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Clemson, after helping the Tigers winning national championships in 2016 and 2018, when he has Defensive MVP of the National Championship Game.
“If I prepare well, I don’t care who I am playing against, I know I am going to play well. We just have to go out and execute. If you prepare well and take care of details everything will be OK and you can come away with the victory. ”
The Raiders were winning before the loss to Kansas City, when they had a three-game winning streak broken, and had claimed four victories in their previous five games.
For the second straight season, the Raiders have a 6-4 record, but last season they lost five of their last six games to wind up at 7-9 and out of the playoffs for the 16th time in the last 17 seasons.
Mullen doesn’t see that happening again.
“This year’s 6-4 feels a lot better than last year because we have a lot of guys who want to win and we have that next-man-up mentality,” said Mullen, who has made 42 total tackles this season after finishing with 49 in 2019.
“It’s really exciting, but we have to continue to build, move forward and win the rest of these games. We are ready as a group, we are going to prepare well and want to get out there. We just want to win.”
Despite injuries and players being sidelined by Covid-19 restrictions, the Raiders have had their moments on defense this season, especially in victories over the Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns—who all seem to be headed for the playoffs.
And Mullen has been a big part of that as he continues to learn and grow in his second season.
“He has some starts under his belt," Coach Jon Gruden said of Mullen, who has shown strong coverage skills and has 17 pass break-ups in his two seasons with the Raiders. “He’s acclimated to the speed of the game and I think working against our receivers and Derek Carr in training camp helped him too.”
Not to mention facing the likes of Mahomes, Drew Brees of the Saints, Baker Mayfield of the Browns, Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills, Cam Newton of the New England Patriots and Teddy Bridgewater of the Carolina Panthers when it has counted this season.
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