This Josh Jacobs is a fabulous player. We’ve got 15 more pennant-racy things to talk about today than the 4-7 Raiders—the 49ers haven’t allowed a second-half point in five weeks, no one wants to win the NFC South, here comes Deshaun Watson, here come the Dolphins, Jalen Hurts could seriously challenge Patrick Mahomes for MVP, the NFL can’t be serious in keeping Denver on Sunday night in two weeks, Washington could dump the Giants into last place in the NFC East next week, what should we think of the North Little Rock Jerry Jones?—and I will get to every one, and more. But what happened in Decibelville Sunday, that 40-34 overtime win for the Raiders in Seattle, was extraordinary.
“It all started before the game,” Jacobs, the hero of Week 12 in the NFL, told me from the Raiders’ giddy locker room in Seattle. “This fan, when we came out of the tunnel, held up a sign: ‘3-7. NOT BAD FOR A TEAM WITH NO TALENT.’ And he was screaming at us, all this bad stuff. I just looked up at him and said, ‘Thank you for that. I needed that today. You turnt me up.’”
Jacobs needed it because he entered the game with a sore calf, and the Raiders didn’t know how long he’d last. Oh, he lasted. Never in his college or pro career had he touched the ball 39 times in a game. Never had he gained 303 scrimmage yards in a game. Never had he rushed for a touchdown as long as 86 yards. He did all of those things Sunday, the final winning one on his last touch of the day in overtime.
But there were losses for Jacobs too. This was a gnarly, feisty game. You think when a guy rushes for 229 yards and walks off in triumph that it was a game of joy with few trials. Not so. Seattle’s got a puncher’s defense, a physical Joe Frazier-type of D that makes you earn every inch. Jacobs was waaaay down when he failed to convert a fourth-and-one run with nine minutes left, leaving Seattle a short field; that touchdown gave the Seahawks a 34-27 lead. But the Raiders came back to force OT. And on the first play of the Raiders’ second overtime drive, the call was a Jacobs burst over right guard.
“We were running outside zone a lot, and I saw the linebackers pointing outside. So we ended up running inside zone, and I knew if I got through the line, it was a foot race after that,” Jacobs told me.
I asked Jacobs if he thought he was the best running back in football, and he demurred, saying he loved watching and learning from Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry. Let’s compare the three men who lead the NFL in rushing entering December:
Jacobs: 1,159 yards, 5.4 per rush, nine touchdowns.
Henry: 1,048 yards, 4.2 per rush, 10 touchdowns
Chubb: 1,039 yards, 5.2 per rush, 12 touchdowns.
Yes, Jacobs has a 111-yard lead for the rushing title with six games left. On Sunday, he cared more about the win. He also cared about the fan with the sign.
“He’s the first one I wanted to find after we won,” Jacobs said. “I went over to him and said, ‘Thank you.’”
The 10 stories in the NFL that interest me the most entering the home stretch of the regular season:
The NFL’s Denver problem. With the Broncos locked into one high-profile stinker in a standalone Christmas-afternoon game at the equally moribund Rams, the league has till tomorrow to flex out of the Week-14 Sunday nighter, KC at Denver.
Should Jerry Jones be publicly flogged for a 65-year-old photo? Jones, thanks to some digging by The Washington Post, is smack dab in the middle of a story of race and culture and the NFL’s bad head-coach hiring practices.
Did Odell Beckham wreck his chances to be a rare late-season playoff vaccine for a contender with his weird Florida airplane story Sunday? Probably not. The Cowboys, Bills and Giants will be the judges of that.
Doug Pederson and Brandon Staley made ballsy calls to go for two instead of playing for OT Sunday—or did they? Our sporting society is so messed up. Pederson and Staley are geniuses for going for two and converting and winning Sunday. If they’d failed? My guess is Stephen A. Smith and the Mad Dog would have them on the public grill today for bad calls.
Mike White did Robert Saleh a solid. In seven days, the Jets’ coach went from saying he wasn’t even thinking about a quarterback change from Zach Wilson, to benching Wilson for White, to watching White play the best-quarterbacked game by a Jet this season. Controversy over. There really never was one.
Well now, Jordan Love. With Aaron Rodgers sidelined by thumb and oblique injuries, and the 4-8 Packers out of any realistic playoff contention, the more-than-encouraging performance by Love should earn him a start next week at Chicago. And perhaps four more after that.
Lord, San Francisco’s defense over the past month looks like something out of the Noll days. The Niners had the league’s fourth shutout of the season Sunday. How great a clash of styles would it be to see the Niners against Dallas or Philly or the Vikes in the playoffs?
Matt Rhule’s coaching Nebraska. Mike Rozier’s not walking through that door. But the King of the Reclamation Project should have a chance to make the ‘Huskers competitive. If you can win at Temple, you can win in Lincoln.
Deshaun Watson’s back. With his mates off Monday and Tuesday after the Browns stunned Tampa Sunday, Watson will be in the facility digesting and contributing to the gameplan for next Sunday’s game in Houston. Weird and somehow fitting: Watson’s first NFL game in 700 days will come in NRG Stadium Sunday at high noon CT.
Justin Jefferson cracks my MVP top five. Part of the reason is what he does without the ball.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column