Raider interim head coach Antonio Pierce said with candor this week that their matchup with the Jets wouldn’t be a shootout. He said it with a laugh because he knew this one was going to be a grind-it-out affair against a stout New York defense.
The game lived up to that expectation. It was tied 9-9 as it headed into the fourth quarter on six field goals and nine punts.
Late in the game, the Raiders were up 16-12 and then turned the ball over on a Josh Jacobs fumble. The Jets took the ball with under five minutes remaining and were driving to try and take the lead back. That’s when Robert Spillane put on his cape.
The veteran linebacker stepped in front of a Zach Wilson pass and took a potential score off the board, all but ending the game.
“Saw Zach Wilson dropping back, saw a little route concept into the boundary,” said Spillane. “Divine Deablo did a great job of making him double pump on the throw which gave me time to get there. So just good team defense.”
Deferring credit is something we have come to expect from Spillane. But even if he won’t, his teammates will.
“That was huge. Spill steps up, makes a huge play. It’s what he does,” Maxx Crosby said of Spillane’s clutch interception. “He’s a great player. He came in here since day one with the right mindset. He’s been a huge part of this defense so I’m super happy for him.”
Being the one to make that play means something to Spillane. So much so that when asked about it after the game, he got choked up in his response.
“It’s a dream come true,” Spillane said with tears welling up in his eyes. “I poured my heart into this football … so, uh, to be able to help my team win is a blessing.”
There are so many layers to this with Spillane, someone who most people saw as merely a thumper. A run stopper. And his one interception over his first five seasons only confirmed that in many people’s eyes. Sunday night’s game-changing pick was his fourth takeaway of the season and his third interception.
This particular interception is the most amazing of all because he broke his hand two weeks ago and had surgery on it. That injury has not cost him a single snap, and now we find out it apparently doesn’t affect his ability to catch a football either.
“I’m a football player,” Spillane said plainly. “Football players play football games. They play hurt, they play injured. I learned that at a very young age. Most people think you have to play hurt but not injured. You have to play injured. You got to play with broken fingers. You got to play with a broken hand. You got to play with a torn MCL. It’s an honor and a privilege to go out there. So I never want to miss any opportunity to be on the field.”
I’ll admit to being somewhat skeptical when Spillane was signed by the Raiders. That had less to do with Spillane than with the team’s track record with adding not well-established free agent middle linebackers. In hindsight, I’m thinking now we all should’ve listened to Crosby when he told us early on about the intangibles that Spillane brings to the field.
Crosby and Spillane have known each other since college. Crosby went to Eastern Michigan, while Spillane went to Western Michigan. So Crosby was a believer and had a hand in getting Spillane to the Raiders.
“During free agency we had a great talk, and I was trying to convince him to come here,” Crosby said. “And he ended up coming, so since day one, you know, he comes in, he’s been working his ass off and he’s just a great dude to be around. He brings energy all the time. He loves football and those are the type of guys you want to play with.”
It’s often that Crosby is the one closing out games. But he’s more than happy to see his teammate and fellow football lifer be the hero at the end of this one.