On a day that was far from perfect for the Oakland Raiders, Darren Waller was as close to perfection as the Silver and Black came Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The athletic tight end hauled in 13 catches for 134 yards – both single-game highs for tight ends this season – and was far and away the best option for Derek Carr and a Raiders’ offense that struggled to maintain any type of momentum throughout the afternoon in Minneapolis.
But even still, following the team’s 34-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Waller was focused on the aspects of his game he thought could have been better on his career day.
“The first thing that comes to mind for me from the game is – we were driving down the field in the first half, and that one that I didn’t catch, because that’s points right there that we could have had on the board and gone into halftime with momentum,” explained Waller postgame. “So I look at me first, and what I could have done better, and there are plenty of things I could have done better. There are plenty of things we could all do better, but that’s why you play a whole season, you can turn this thing around.”
The play Waller referenced was a 3rd and 6 pass from Carr in the final minutes of the second quarter that No. 83 couldn’t quite haul in – a pass that had he corralled would have at the very least placed the Raiders in field goal range.
“Absolutely,” said Waller when asked if he thought he should have made the catch. “Two hands on the ball, there’s no question. I already know my trainer from back home texted me, talking about ‘need those pushups,’ because it’s pushups for all drops. That absolutely should have been caught.”
While Waller blamed himself for the play, Carr also unsurprisingly said that the pass should have been better, but regardless of who was really to “blame” for the ball touching the turf, that lone play was the single blemish on Waller’s big day in the Twin Cities.
“I mean, I want to praise the guy as much as I can because the guy literally blocks Everson Griffen, he blocks [Danielle] Hunter, he's in there blocking these guys, and he's out there running routes on Trae Waynes and he's out there running routes on [Eric] Kendricks and he's out there running routes on [Harrison] Smith,” Carr said. “You're like, ‘Bro, what can't you do, right.’ I don't think enough kids are wearing his jersey, that's for sure.
With 26 catches for 269 yards, Waller is now officially the Raiders leading receiver – he’s currently 89 yards clear of wide receiver Tyrell Williams – and still with just 25 career games under his belt, the 27-year-old tight end is still scratching the surface of who he can be as a playmaker.
“It’s just playing football,” Waller said. “I’m not trying to make it too much more complex than that. I do have fun. The scoreboard’s there, but at the end of the day, it’s just football… Once you kind of get in a groove, it is fun, it’s all about executing and doing your job to the best of your ability, because there are a lot of things that you can’t control, and I’m just trying to control what I can.”
Following the Week 3 loss, the Raiders now own a 1-2 record, and while flying home on the heels of a 20-point defeat won’t result in much optimism from Head Coach Jon Gruden’s team, through three games, Waller has shown that he’s more than capable of filling the void left by the departure of Jared Cook.
And while Sunday’s game was the most impressive of Waller’s young career, the Georgia Tech product is staying even keel, and not letting one game – as good as it was – change his mindset.
“I try to not be too extreme with my stance,” Waller explained. “There’s a lot of good, there’s bad to clean up, but yeah, I feel like I’m growing in a positive direction as far as my game is concerned, definitely some positives, there were some things to clean up, but I always try to take the good and bad out of everything.”