Tackle Donald Penn
On one of the most frustrating days of his football career, Donald Penn had to heed some of his own advice, no matter how hard it might have been.
Since entering the NFL in 2007, the Oakland Raiders left tackle had been the epitome of consistency, starting 156 straight games over the course of a decade, but for arguably the most important game of his career to date – a Wild Card matchup against the Houston Texans – the Pro Bowl lineman was regulated to watching from the sideline dealing with a knee injury.
And for a guy who hadn't missed a game since he entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, watching his teammates take the field in the organization's first postseason appearance since 2002 was understandably a tough pill to swallow for Penn, a horse-sized one at that.
"It was hard, I'm not going to lie," said Penn.
He paused, reflecting momentarily before continuing.
"There were so many points in that game where I had to stop myself from crying – I'm big on my son, when we take him to basketball practice, and something doesn't go right, or he cries, I tell him to suck it up; you have to wait until you get home," Penn said. "If you're going to cry, wait until you get home, wait until you get in the car... It's hard. There were a couple of times when I wanted to shed a tear. I knew there were a lot of people watching, I had to hold it in."
The Silver and Black ended up falling to the Texans 27-14, wrapping up their season at the site of Super Bowl LI just a few weeks earlier than they would have liked, and while Penn was individually upset he wasn't able to line up at his usual spot on the quarterback's blind side, his absence was certainly not caused by a lack of desire.
"I tried to do everything I could do to play that game," Penn said. "I wanted to play as bad as possible, but the knee just wouldn't give it to me…. It was tough, but I'll tell you, I've been working my tail off. I know 'DC' [Derek Carr] has been working his tail off. I know all the guys I've been talking to have been working their tails off, and we left with a bad taste in our mouth. We left a lot on the field for the NFL world that we still have to show, and coming into these OTAs [Organized Team Activities], and this stuff, we're going to work even harder, because we got a little taste, and I know all of the guys want more, just like more. We got a little taste, now I want more."
Taste might be the perfect word to describe what the Raiders accomplished on the field in 2016. While Head Coach Jack Del Rio did lead the Silver and Black into the postseason for the first time since 2002, without Derek Carr leading the offense – and without Penn at left tackle for that matter – there was a feeling that the Texans didn't get the full complement of the Raiders offensive arsenal in the opening round of the postseason.
Would the Raiders have taken down Brock Osweiler and Co., if Carr and Penn were in the lineup? We'll never really have the answer to that, but there's no question that it would have been a different ballgame.
That being said, the veteran left tackle is now using that game, that feeling of helplessness standing on the sideline, that raw emotion, as added motivation headed into 2017.
"We still have a long way to go," Penn explained. "We're still working our way there, and I'm happy that what I said is coming to fruition, but that was just a little taste, and it was so, so hard, but the good thing about it is it's going to make me work that much harder, like I've been doing, like I'm going to keep doing, to get back there this season."
When Penn signed with the Raiders prior to the 2014 season, the team – and organization in general – was at a very different place than they are three seasons later.
In 2014, there were no talks of a potential playoff run, never mind an appearance in the Super Bowl, something that is in the ether for the 2017 Raiders, but for Penn, even though it's nice to have expectations, he thinks those conversations are better had a few months down the road.
"We ain't done nothing yet," Penn stated. "We made it to the first round of the playoffs, yeah, we lost. We need to make it a lot further this year. We're going to put in that necessary work. All that stuff does sound good, but like I tell everybody, it's just April. That means nothing until September when we start putting the pads on, and games start going, but it feels good because we earned that, but I'm not buying into it. We have a lot more work ahead, and our main mission is to win the AFC West, and make the playoffs, then after that we'll start talking about the Super Bowl, because it's a whole new season after that."