OAKLAND – Darren McFadden finished Sunday's first quarter at the same paltry pace he totaled last week against the Colts, averaging 2.8 yards per carry.
Then, on his first touch of the second quarter, McFadden found a rushing lane and busted through it. He ran 24 yards before being brought down. At the bottom of the pile, McFadden exhaled a huge sigh of relief. After an offseason filled with mounting expectations, McFadden was able to break out and break free.
At that moment, football was fun again. It doubled as the true beginning of a solid day’s work.
McFadden had 129 yards on 19 carries during a 19-9 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon, including four beyond 20 yards.
It was McFadden’s best day since Sept. 25, 2011, when he ran for 171 yards against the New York Jets. The Raiders won that game, which is pretty typical when McFadden has a big day. The Raiders are 11-2 when he exceeds 100 yards.
McFadden was powerful, efficient, dangerous. Save a lost fumble in the fourth quarter, McFadden churned out runs and kept the offense moving.
He was part of a rushing attack that totaled 226 yards and scored the Raiders’ only touchdown. The Raiders had several big runs, but McFadden couldn’t be stopped once he broke through the line.
“I thought he was able to run the ball effectively,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “He had (four) runs over 20 yards, and that’s how the running game operates. You’re going to get some short runs and then you’re going to pop one. That’s what we were able to do. We wanted to get into space, and he was able to turn in some big gains.”
McFadden said there was a lot of rushing room in the middle of the field. He met little resistance after sneaking through the line, typically needing to make just one man miss before taking off.
That wasn’t a coincidence. McFadden did significant damage between the tackles because the Jaguars were concerned with quarterback Terrelle Pryor. They didn’t want him to reach the edge, which helped McFadden power through the middle.
“That’s why I believe D-Mac had a great day,” Pryor said. “Guys were over-shifting big-time on me. That gave him space to run.”
So did a worn down Jaguars defense. They couldn’t stop the run, especially in the second half. Late in the game, the Jaguars were gassed.
“It took a little bit out of them. You could tell they were winded after having to defend the run and chase Darren around,” left tackle Khalif Barnes said. “We kept the pressure on and we staying committed to the run and it paid off for us.”
Sunday was a big day for McFadden, who looked lost last season in a zone-blocking scheme that didn’t fit his rushing style. The system became a scapegoat during the offseason, but McFadden had to perform for that excuse to stick.
If McFadden couldn’t perform in a system catered to him, it would be a sign this workhorse had lost a step. After a dismal per-carry average against the Colts, those thoughts popped up. McFadden quelled them, temporarily, at least, with a solid showing in the Raiders home opener.
“The coaches showed a lot of faith in me,” McFadden said. “They put the ball in my hands and let me run with it. Give credit to the offensive line for opening lanes and letting me run downhill. I’m a downhill runner, and that’s something this offense allows me to do. I’m happy that we were able to get a win and do so by moving the ball on the ground.”