September 10, 2017 - 5:00 pm
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jalen Richard looked up and saw it for the first time in training camp, the powerful and beastly aggression that over time created one of the NFL’s more dominant reputations.
He thought it more versatile than advertised.
“I said, ‘Man, he even makes guys miss,’ ” Richard said. “I thought all he did was run over people.”
Marshawn Lynch still does that, too.
The Raiders might own one of the league’s most explosive offenses, but they’re just as much built to finish games on the ground as they are to light up a scoreboard through the air, proven with a 26-16 season-opening victory against the Titans on Sunday before 69,089 at Nissan Stadium.
It would take some doing, not to mention a bizarre twist of medical advancement, for Lynch to be anywhere near the team’s backfield when it relocates to Las Vegas in 2020.
He’s 31 and playing a 10th NFL season, having signed a two-year deal with the Raiders.
Father Time can be brutal on running backs north of 30.
He really chews those guys up.
But the return of Lynch this year after missing the 2016 season could absolutely mean the difference between the Raiders merely winning and winning really, really big.
Lynch came out of retirement to play for his hometown team, to see if he could help lead it to a championship before all the pens and pencils and shoulder pads and jerseys and such are sent to Southern Nevada, and his debut couldn’t have followed a more ideal script.
More than 18 carries for a team-best 76 yards, Lynch’s importance showed at the most critical time.
You don’t hear about it often. It’s not the sexiest aspect of any NFL game. Headlines don’t often sing when the topic is all downhill runs and smash-mouth blocks.
But there are few more significant periods than a four-minute offense, when a game needs to be finished and a clock needs to be drained and the big boys up front need to act like it.
The Raiders on Sunday offered a clinic on just that, assuming possession with 4:41 remaining and leading by seven. They then ran eight straight times behind one of the league’s best offensive lines, six of those handoffs going to Lynch while driving 34 yards.
On his second-to-last-carry, Lynch squared up with Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey.
Lynch gives up about 2 inches and a good 90 pounds.
Ran right through Casey.
When it was over, Giorgio Tavecchio had capped his historic day as a 27-year-old rookie placekicker with a fourth field goal, the lead was 10 and 1:09 remained.
When it was over, well, it was over.
Beast of an opener
“That’s what we do, take that four-minute offense seriously, bite down and everyone goes one-on-one,” said Richard, the second-year back who rushed twice in the game-clinching series and had 22 yards on five carries. “That’s how you finish a game.”
You couldn’t find a soul in the Raiders’ locker room who was surprised about not only Lynch’s production, but how impressive he looked earning it. He was shifty enough to make defenders miss in the backfield and violent enough to crush extremely large men like Casey.
He played the game’s first two series and then was spelled for the next two by Richard and DeAndre Washington. You get the idea that could become a standard rotation to save Lynch’s legs and ensure he’s somewhat fresh when the fourth quarter arrives.
In typical Lynch fashion, meaning all zany and unpredictable, he interrupted head coach Jack Del Rio’s post-game press conference with this offering for a team official: “I was available for three minutes. They didn’t holler at me. I’m good, right?”
Mental note: Holler at Marshawn faster next time.
It doesn’t matter how much, if at all, he speaks. The Raiders didn’t sign him to talk — he has said he’s all about the action, anyway, boss — but rather for those critical times when a clock needs draining.
“He’s going to make it a pain for people to tackle him,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “You’ve got to earn it if you’re going to tackle him. There’s a lot for (defenses) to think about with our offense, and now you throw (Lynch) in there with our offensive line … that’s a whole other story. We got to see that Marshawn is Marshawn.”
A 60-minute game on Sunday came down to a four-minute offense that highlighted what had been one of the NFL’s more dominant reputations for some time.
But then Marshawn Lynch went away for a while.
I’m not certain he’s totally back, but for six of eight run plays when winning was on the line, he made all the difference.
Beast of a season-opening win is right.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.