Facing a 4th and 1, Jon Gruden had a decision to make.
With under 6:00 left in regulation, and the early 17-0 lead that his team took dissipated into a four-point deficit, Gruden, and Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia had a decision to make.
Either punt the ball away to a Chicago Bears team that had found the end zone on their three of their last four possessions or roll the dice just outside their own red zone.
The Oakland Raiders’ decision makers ultimately decided to go with the second option, as the team lined up in punt formation, with Trent Sieg then snapping the ball to Erik Harris, who barreled over right guard for a gain of four.
“Honestly, I was relieved that we were calling it,” said Sieg when discussing the fake postgame. “We’d been practicing it for a while, but yeah, it was just an all-or-nothing type play just with the point of the game that it was, and Erik did a great job of getting the yardage we needed, and we did a good job of clearing out just enough space for him.”
“I just have to run up, kind of watch, because on that fake, there’s really nothing I can do, because we’re just snapping it direct to Erik, I can’t really sell anything,” added A.J. Cole. “So, I really just stand there, and just help the guys block, and they did. It was awesome.”
As far as Harris was concerned, the fourth quarter run was his first designed rushing attempt since high school, and although it wasn’t the most glamorous of carries, it proved to be one of the biggest plays of the Raiders’ 24-21 win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“We were in a situation in the game where we needed a big play,” Harris said. “I feel like it was a pretty gutsy call, but obviously, we had confidence in the guys to execute the play. Kudos to them, they did a hell of a job blocking it, and I just have to not scare everybody, and hold onto the ball.”
As Harris mentioned, the ball came out after his elbow hit the ground and was briefly recovered by the Bears – a call reversed by a quick replay review – but according to the veteran safety, he knew the entire time that possession was returning to Derek Carr and the Oakland offense.
“I definitely knew I was down,” he said. “Obviously, it’s always scary, because it could be like a split second, but I knew I hit the ground. As soon as my elbow hit, I felt the ball pop out. I had the arm sleeve on, so I was pretty confident.”
The play – in addition to seizing back the momentum the Silver and Black saw evaporate in the third quarter – kept the team’s final drive of the evening alive, a 13-play, 97-yard masterpiece punctuated by rookie running back Josh Jacob’s two-yard dive across the end line.
And while Jacobs, Carr, and the Silver and Black’s offense will understandably earn the praise for pulling the Raiders back into the win column, Jacobs’ dramatic dive for end zone likely never happens unless Harris and the special teams’ unit converts their chance.
“It’s always nice when you contribute to the game,” Sieg said. “Obviously, we had that one big punt return I wish we didn’t give up, but we picked the team up, they picked us up when we struggled, just a good team win overall.”
“That was a really big opportunity once we got that flag,” Cole added. “And just being able to go out there, and the last punt of the game, just being able to go out there, Curtis Riley did a great job of getting downfield, covering, and making the tackle, just being able to kind of put that game away after we gave our offense a good chance to get back on the field to score a touchdown, that’s great. You never know when you’re going to be called on, but you just have to stay ready, and make the most out of every opportunity.”
With the international win, the Raiders now own a 3-2 record headed into the bye, and as exciting as the team’s third win of 2019 was, it probably doesn’t happen if not were a fourth quarter fake punt.
Head out to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as the Raiders arrive and prepare for kickoff before their Week 5 matchup against the Chicago Bears.