A little bit of a chip on his shoulder.
That was Jack Del Rio’s succinct description of the man who, unexpectedly — and because of the situation, unfortunately — is now the Raiders’ starting quarterback: Matt McGloin.
A chip on his shoulder. For good reason. For much of his football life, McGloin has been an outsider. He was a walk-on at Penn State. He was ignored in the NFL draft.
Now, as the best Raiders team in more than a decade heads toward the playoffs, he’s front and under center.
This was Derek Carr’s team. “MVP, MVP,” the fans chanted at Carr on Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum. He was a magician, winning games that couldn’t be won. Then, Carr was twisting on the turf. A broken right ankle. The Raiders suddenly were McGloin’s team once again.
“A little bit fearless,” Del Rio, the second-year coach, said of McGloin on Monday at Raiders headquarters in Alameda. Even if Raider Nation was a little bit fearful.
One guy, Carr, was the starter from the first game of his rookie year, a second-round pick playing like one. The other was, well, a feisty kid who kept shrugging off disappointment and stepping in when needed. And never has he been needed more than now.
“He’s true to who he is,” Del Rio said of McGloin. “He gets comfortable with who he is … been prepared all year in the case that anything were to occur.”
As it occurred last Saturday, and in the 2014 season, when then-rookie McGloin took over when those ahead of him — first the $6.5 million bust, Matt Flynn, then the erratic Terrelle Pryor — proved incapable.
“He’s a competitive guy,” Del Rio confirmed, as if McGloin’s past wasn’t enough confirmation. “He loves ball. He loves to compete and prepares hard. I think his teammates know that.”
Del Rio was in a media room packed with bodies and TV cameras. “Looks like a playoff kind of setting,” was his first comment. Along the walls are blow-ups of newspaper headlines and magazine covers. Immediately to his right was the reprint of an ESPN magazine cover photo of Carr, looking intense, and the
words, “Raiders Resurrection. The Inside Story of Derek Carr’s MVP Moment.”
Carr is to have surgery on the ankle today, and the coach was asked — even with the NFL’s repeated belief in “Next Man Up” when a player is injured — whether there was a special remorse while driving home Saturday evening after the game. This was, after all, someone special the next man was replacing.
“I don’t know if I’d quite characterize it like that,” Del Rio said of his emotions a few hours after Oakland beat Indianapolis, 33-25. “I think we’re certainly appreciative of getting that 12th win. The idea is to stack up as many wins as you can. It’s a tough game. Things happen in this game. It’s all about the team.
“It’s all about us moving on with the next opportunity and pulling together as a group of men and being unselfish and sacrificing for each other,” Del Rio continued. “It doesn’t change, regardless of who it is. That’s not in any way meant to be insensitive. You always show love and appreciation for anybody who was banged up … but the team does carry on. That’s what we do.”
What McGloin did against the Colts was connect with Amari Cooper on a third down when the Raiders were semi-desperate for a first. “We expect our guys when they step in and play to play, and we expect to win with them,” Del Rio said reflecting on the completion.
Three years ago, McGloin played well enough as the backup. Starting against the Houston Texans, because Pryor was out with a bad knee, McGloin became the first undrafted rookie with three touchdown passes and no interceptions in an NFL game since the beginning of the merger between the NFL and AFL in 1967.
Dennis Allen was the ill-fated Raiders coach in 2012. Del Rio was defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos and faced Oakland twice a season.
“We’ve been here two years together,” Del Rio said, “and we’re learning each other all the time.”
From now on, the learning gets much more serious.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.