John Pagano, the Oakland Raiders assistant coach in charge of the defense, described the play as if it were an act of divine intervention.
“Oh god, we celebrated,” Pagano raved during his midweek news conference. “It was like the holy grail they brought walking over [to the sideline]. It was outstanding.”
“I want to put that ball on a pedestal,” Pagano added, his face lighting up.
Pagano was referring to the Raiders’ first interception of 2017, which came last Sunday against the Denver Broncos, tipped by NaVorro Bowman, deflected by Reggie Nelson and finally caught by Bowman as he lay on his back in the end zone.
When Nelson was reminded that Bowman’s acrobatic pick snapped the historically futile interception-less streak, a smile burst across the safety’s face.
“Oh man. Bow broke the curse for us, didn’t he?” Nelson joked.
After two-and-a-half months of disappointment, the ball is finally starting to bounce the Raiders’ way.
Two weeks ago, the Raiders were flying home from Mexico City, torched by the New England Patriots, 33-8. Head coach Jack Del Rio was on the verge of axing then-defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.
The season was spiraling. The chaos was so profound that, according to a report from CBS Sports, Del Rio was deciding between dismissing Norton or offensive coordinator Todd Downing in the search for a fall guy.
Then, the tail-spinning Broncos, quarterbacked by Paxton Lynch, who delivered a disastrous, 41-yard, three-quarter performance against Oakland, arrived at the Coliseum.
Now, the Raiders face the impressively bad New York Giants, whose offense ranks No. 28 in yards and whose defense is No. 31.
Some 10 miles from the club’s MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., a billboard popped: “Big Blue Shame On You.”
The surprise demotion of Eli Manning precipitated the appearance of the roadside call out. Manning is a two-time Super Bowl winner, but has piloted the Giants to the postseason just once in the past five seasons. The Giants arrive at the Coliseum 2-9.
Del Rio, allergic to offering controversial comments, steered wide of the firestorm of criticism raging around the Giants and head coach Ben McAdoo.
“We don’t get into the media reports,” Del Rio said. “We get into the tape.
“And we’re getting prepared to play a football team with a lot of talented players [and] a lot of talented coaches and we’re gearing up for a tough battle that we’ve got to have,” Del Rio added. “Our margin for error is already in our rearview mirror.”
The Raiders get the gift of facing Geno Smith, as the Giants are content to bolster their draft stock and gauge their stable of quarterbacks, which also features ex-Cal star Davis Webb.
Pagano wasn’t caught off guard by the switch from Manning to Smith.
“Things in this league are never surprising,” Pagano said. “But we’re preparing for both quarterbacks — until I see who’s under center for the first snap and who I see is back there in the second quarter or the third — you have to.”
While the Raiders defensive fortune is changing, the offense isn’t trending nearly as promisingly in the leadup to Week 13.
Michael Crabtree fought his way into a one-game suspension, a topic that Downing addressed — if only indirectly.
“Jack preaches, ‘Working for your teammates, being a dedicated teammate and working to win,’” Downing said. “And we certainly want to do the things that help us not only get on the field, but stay on the field. And I guess I’ll leave it at that.”
Derek Carr’s other favorite target, Amari Cooper, is nursing a concussion and ankle injury and won’t be available to play.
With those absences, it’s setting up to be another busy day for Marshawn Lynch, who toted the ball 26 times against the Broncos — his heaviest workload since October 2015.
The Raiders also hope that it’s another Sunday when the ball continues to bounce their way — like it did in the rainy Coliseum end zone.
“That was a great ball,” Pagano said. “I touched it. I made sure I touched it. That thing was awesome.”