Monday night the Raiders rode a three-game losing streak into Allegiant to face the visiting Packers. And despite scoring just 17 points, they still managed to come away with a 17-13 win.
As you might expect, it was the defense that led the way in this low-scoring affair. In particular, it was their three interceptions.
Two of those interceptions came by way of Robert Spillane. The sixth year linebacker who had all of one interception in his career coming in.
Spillane’s first interception came late in the second quarter. The Raiders offense had just put together a 14-play touchdown drive to go up 7-3. And on the first play for the Packers, Jordan Love dropped back and threw one right to Spillane as if he were invisible.
I saw a middle linebacker dropping back and reading the quarterback’s eyes and making a play on the ball. I asked Spillane what he saw on the play.
“They had two tight ends that were off the ball. It’s one of their play action looks,” said Spillane. “I wasn’t really over anticipating run, so when they went to play action, I just held my location and the receiver ended up running behind me and the quarterback threw me the ball.”
Spillane returned the ball to the seven-yard-line where the offense went three-and-out and kicked the field goal to go up 10-3. So, not the best use of the field position the turnover gave the offense.
Meanwhile, the Packers would take advantage of an interception by mounting a touchdown drive of their own to tie it up 10-10 midway through the third quarter.
As it happens, the score that put the Packers ahead was actually the best defensive stand of the game for the Raiders.
Christian Watson broke wide open for a 70-yard completion, at the end of which, Marcus Peters was flagged for a horsecollar tackle as he kept Watson from reaching the end zone. All told, it put the Packers in first and goal from the three-yard-line.
That’s when the Raiders defense stepped up big time.
The first play was crucial, as Maxx Crosby came flying in to tackle AJ Dillon for a two-yard loss on the play. And the Packers got no closer.
“Marcus [Peters] made a great play, even though he got a penalty,” said Maxx Crosby. “If he doesn’t get him down right there it’s a touchdown and that changes the outcome. Marcus made a vet move, he found a way to get him to the ground and we got a stop. We got a [tackle for loss] first play, another run stop, and then an incompletion. That’s what it’s all about. Playing complimentary football, not freaking out when they make a big play.”
The Raiders interior duo of Bilal Nichols and John Jenkins made the stuff on second down and what initially looked like a sure seven points for the Packers ended up just three points.
The offense seemed to get a lift out of the big stop, because they took the ball and had their best drive of the game, going 75 yards to take a 17-13 lead.
Thanks to two more takeaways, that would be the final score.
The first was a Jordan Love pass for Watson that Marcus Peters played perfectly. He stayed in Watson’s pocket and swiped down on the ball, tipping it in the air where the suddenly opportunistic Spillane was there to cradle it for his second interception of the day.
Josh Jacobs said he and the offense took notice of Spillane’s focus in this game.
“Oh yeah, we was talking about him on the sideline, that boy looks like he’s cerebral,” said Jacobs. “That boy was locked in, he was everywhere. He was making plays when they needed to be made and he was saving us from a lot of things too, shout out to him.”
For the rest of the game, neither team was able break through. Daniel Carlson missed a 52-yard field goal off the right upright on a play where they very likely should have gone for it on 4th and two for the win instead of playing scared of a Packers touchdown.
The Packers got the ball back with 1:56 left to play and good field position off the miss. And from the 35-yard-line with 51 seconds left, they shot their shot. Jordan Love dropped back and launched one for the end zone for Watson who was being covered by usual reserve cornerback Amik Robertson who was starting due to Nate Hobbs’s injury absence.
Amik stayed with Watson, turning to find the ball at the perfect time and putting the game away with a masterful interception.
“One of the best interceptions that I’ve ever seen in my life,” Spillane said of Robertson’s game ending grab. “50 yards down the field. To be able to contort his body, high point the football and end the game like that? What an outstanding play by a player who’s just been gnawing at the bit to get on the field. So I’m excited for him.”
The key to making the play, as Robertson put it, was watching Watson’s eyes.
“I was taught to not really panic,” said Robertson. “I trust my ball skills. I knew what kind of ball skills I have. When I saw his eyes get big, I didn’t panic, I just turned my head and the ball was there. So I snagged it.”
Robertson said he knew being that he was the smallest guy on the field, that the Packers were going to test him and that he “was going to be the reason” they won or lost. He added that when that time came he didn’t just want the pass breakup, “I wanted the ball.”
That’s pretty close to calling your own shot.
One guy who knows a thing or two about interceptions in this league is Marcus Peters. He had this to say about Robertson.
“He a gamer, man. That’s all I gotta say,” said Peters. “He a gamer. Y’all know me. You can go watch these highlights, Amik be gaming. I’ve been a fan of him. I’ve been watching him since I wasn’t here. Amik is a gamer, man. We got playmakers on this defense and we just got to put it together.”
That third interception ended this game, and the Raiders defense thinks this will beget more to come.
“It’s contagious,” said Robertson. “Spillane had two picks. Congrats to him. At the end of the day, stuff like that’s contagious. We feel like if one guy gets one, the next guy’s gonna get one.”
“We’re just opening the floodgates and now we got to keep continuing to build on assaulting that pocket and finding ways to get the ball out,” said Spillane.
“In this game it’s about getting at bats or shots at goal or whatever way you want to put it,” Crosby said of the turnovers. “Eventually they come and they come in bunches. Today we got three of them. Super excited about it. You got to give a big shout out to Spillane, he got two picks. Then Amik closing the door at the end, so the guys are working their ass off and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Crosby said the words “It wasn’t pretty” following the game, but I would have to disagree with him a bit there. Even if the Raiders offense remains inconsistent at best, those three interceptions along with that defensive stop deserve more credit for prettying things up on this night.