Darren Waller faked a block and disappeared into the right flat to catch a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal in the third quarter to give the Raiders their first lead.
It was a rare moment of anonymity for the man who was the most visible player on the field to anyone who was watching on “Monday Night Football.”
Waller caught 12 passes in a 34-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints, two short of the franchise record shared by Tim Brown and Brandon Myers.
The star tight end racked up 103 yards and scored the touchdown that gave the Raiders the lead for good as they opened Allegiant Stadium with a victory.
Waller joined Brown as the only players in Raiders history with 12 or more catches in multiple games. Waller had 13 catches in a loss to Minnesota on Sept. 22, 2019.
“Darren is a great player,” coach Jon Gruden said. “Our job is to try to get him the ball. I’d take him over any other tight ends. This is his second year playing the position. It’s astonishing what this man can do.”
It’s the second-most catches by a tight end on “Monday Night Football,” behind current teammate Jason Witten, who had 13 for the Dallas Cowboys against the Chicago Bears in 2012.
“I think you know how much I love him,” quarterback Derek Carr said of Waller. “He did an exceptional job. I said in the production meeting with ESPN that hopefully whoever watches this game will see everything about Darren Waller that we know him to be.”
Carr targeted Waller 16 times on his 38 attempts. While Waller made some of the most important plays of the game, it was his consistency that helped the Raiders control the ball for 36:18.
On the drive after the go-ahead score in the third quarter, Waller caught a 6-yard pass on a third-and-3 from the Raiders’ 20 to avoid a punt that could have given the Saints the ball in good field position.
Waller had another catch for 9 yards on third-and-1 from the New Orleans’ 42 on the Raiders’ first scoring drive after the Saints had taken a 10-0 lead.
On several occasions after Waller picked up first downs, songs he has made were played on the loud speaker.
“That doesn’t even feel real,” he said.
Waller was making music on the field with Carr for much of the night. He said his connection with his quarterback dates to when he joined the Raiders after serving a one-year suspension for violating the substance abuse policy.
They participated in Bible study groups together and learned to trust each other off the field first.
“It started right when I first came to the team with me being open about what I’ve gone through and him not judging me,” Waller said. “I never want to let him down because he’s been there for me. It’s easy to translate that over to the field.”
Darren Waller’s 12 catches Monday night put him among the team’s single-game reception leaders — again:
Tim Brown, vs. Jacksonville, Dec. 21, 1997
Brandon Myers, vs. Cleveland, Dec. 2, 2012
Tim Brown, at Kansas City, Oct. 27, 2002
Darren McFadden, vs. San Diego, Sept. 10, 2012
Darren Waller, at Minnesota, Sept. 22, 2019
Dave Casper, at New England, Oct. 3, 1976
Tim Brown, vs. Dallas, Nov. 19, 1995
Amari Cooper, at Tampa Bay, Oct. 30, 2016
Darren Waller, vs. New Orleans, Sept. 21, 2020