The Raiders were seven yards from wasting a near-perfect start, and Charles Woodson could sense disappointment wearing on the huddle. The Jaguars marched right downfield, with little sign of slowing before pay dirt.
This defense -- this team -- needed a pick-me-up. The veteran free safety knew words wouldn’t work. Actions would speak louder.
Maurice Jones-Drew ran left toward the pylon, and Woodson was presented with an opportunity. He could pursue him toward the goal line and push him out of bounds just in time.
Woodson went with Option B. D.J. Hayden was getting manhandled by a blocker twice his size, creating a bubble for Jones-Drew that could only be popped from the top.
Woodson took flight, sailing over left tackle Eugene Monroe completely horizontal. He hit Jones-Drew unaware, knocking him out of bounds after a 3-yard gain.
The crowd went nuts. So did the Raiders defense. Woodson drew a wry smile with one thought in mind. Mission accomplished.
Woodson killed the Jaguars momentum -- they settled for a field goal -- energized a sulking defense and got the Raiders back on track in their 19-9 win over Jacksonville. In short, the 36-year old did his job.
[RECAP: Raiders 19, Jaguars 9]
“That was a critical play in the game and a big momentum builder for us,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “You could feel the enthusiasm of the whole stadium when he made that play on Maurice Jones-Drew.
“Charles has been a heck of a football player for us. He’s been a great leader for us. He’s been everything that we had hoped for and anticipated when we brought him here.”
The Raiders needed a veteran to mentor a young team in transition in the locker room and on the field. The 36-year old’s wisdom and his status as a Bay Area icon ensured the former. It was uncertain how much the old man had left.
The NFL wasn’t so sure. A humbling free agent tour expressed that. The Green Bay Packers thanked him for seven excellent years and moved on. The Denver Broncos wouldn’t offer a dime in guaranteed money. The San Francisco 49ers took a pass.
The Raiders made him feel welcome, wanted. They gave him a real chance, and Woodson has rewarded them with excellent play at retirement age.
“All I hear these days now is 'old man,'” Woodson said. “Like I told these guys when I first got here, man, I love playing football. Those kinds of plays, like the one from Sunday, are second nature. As long as I’m out there on the field, that’s the kind of effort I’m going to give.”
That’s the effort Woodson expects from others. He hopes unspoken peer pressure brings out the best in these Raiders.
Woodson’s leadership gives the Raiders faith they can survive without a talent like Tyvon Branch. His play within a strong secondary gives the team a puncher’s chance on Monday night against quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
That’s because Woodson has made more than one big play. He led the team with six tackles last week and had three the week before. He can rush the passer, but is generally the last line of defense on passing downs. By doing so well, it gives coordinator Jason Tarver the confidence to blitz defensive backs without feeling vulnerable in the passing game.
Woodson is happy in this place, and in awe of the fan response that prompted him to re-sign with the team that drafted him.
The defense was announced before Sunday’s home opener and, cheers reached a crescendo at No. 24. A few quarters later, Woodson eclipsed himself with that awesome, flying strike.
“It was one of those sellout plays that you need during the course of a game that hopefully can turn the tide and give you some momentum,” Woodson said. “That’s what I love to do.”