If you didn't watch the Oakland Raiders' Week 13 battle against the Kansas City Chiefs, rookie wide receiver Marcell Ateman's stat line might not wow you, but his play late in the fourth quarter was a defining moment in the game.
You may remember the former Oklahoma State Cowboy's late-game heroics against the Arizona Cardinals a couple weeks ago, hauling in a clutch sideline catch with moments remaining in the fourth quarter, which set up the game-winning field goal.
Sunday against the Chiefs, with the Raiders trailing 23-33, the offense stood at the nine-yard line, and what followed was an impressive play from the 24 year old. Lined up across Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson, Ateman ran a fade route, and proceeded to use his 6'4" frame to leap over the 5'11" Nelson, bringing down the jump ball with both feet just inbounds for the touchdown. The reception was the first touchdown of Ateman's young career, and it brought the team within one score of the Chiefs.
"It was big, just because it was a crucial time of the game," Ateman said postgame. "If we would've got that stop down there on third-and-five, anything could've happened. We were moving, we were moving the ball on them, man, and we've just got to keep pushing."
Earlier in the game, No. 88 had a chance at another TD grab in the end zone, but couldn't hang on. In that moment he knew he needed to redeem himself; he just needed an opportunity, and Carr wasn't scared to go back to the young wide out.
"I just got to keep going because I missed the [touchdown] in the back of the end zone [earlier], and I just didn't get myself down. I told myself, 'I'm going to have to come back and make a play,'" he shared. "That's what Jordy [Nelson] preaches to me, that's what all the veterans tell me, 'just keep playing, keep playing.' Derek [Carr] gave me another shot to make a play, but we just got to keep going.
"It's a blessing, I'm thankful for that, but we still lost," he said when asked about his first career touchdown. "We just got to keep it rolling, man, we just got to keep building."
With limited targets, Ateman is proving to himself, the team, and the league, that he's capable of competing at a high level in the NFL. Monday afternoon, Head Coach Jon Gruden touched on the rookie's growth, and how he's seen his confidence rise since earning more playing time.
"I think he's getting confident. Game speed too. You get acclimated to the game speed the more you play," Gruden explained. "It's his third start now. I thought he had a couple chances yesterday to make some signature plays I would like to see him make, but he did make the big touchdown reception to make it 33-30. It's kind of neat seeing these young guys gaining confidence. I think the more they play, the more they get truly acclimated to the speed of this game. It's a lot faster than what they are used to, but he's getting more and more comfortable. He played two positions yesterday and he helped us out. We did some good things offensively."
Despite the loss, Ateman's teammates were excited for his accomplishment, and made sure he kept his touchdown ball — a cool memento to remember his first score by.
The Raiders are a relatively young team, and Ateman's recent production has been a pleasant surprise. Building confidence will be key for the development of players like Ateman, and it's a promising sign for things to come. He'll have an opportunity to continue building on his success next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.