ALAMEDA – The Broncos were a yard from the goal line, but NaVorro Bowman could tell quarterback Paxton Lynch was trying to throw it in. Eyes were evidence in this regard. Lynch locked on tight end Virgil Green near the baseline, so Bowman stopped tracking the quarterback and drifted toward the intended receiver. He got in Green’s way and defensed the pass. Reggie Nelson batted it back to Bowman, who caught it lying on the ground. In the end zone, of all places.
Interception, Raiders. Drought over.
The Raiders set an NFL record going 10-plus games without a pick. The Raiders went 357 passes without an interception, so this one was a big deal.
“Oh, God. We celebrated,” defensive play caller John Pagano said. “It was like the Holy Grail they brought walking over. It was outstanding. I wanted to put that ball on a pedestal. That’s a great effort play by No. 53 [NaVorro Bowman]. You can’t say enough of him filling in an A-gap, turning, running. The tight end was covered by Reggie. All of the sudden, he loops back inside, the quarterback throws it, but just the effort of 53, getting over there, hitting it, tipping it, Reggie keeping it alive and that ball being able to fall.
“That was a great ball. I touched it. I made sure I touched it. That thing was awesome.”
Bowman hasn’t been here that long. The 21-14 victory over Denver was Bowman’s fifth game in silver and black, his desired destination after the 49ers released him early in the season. The interception gap didn’t have the same weight, but he was happy to lift it all the same.
“Anytime you make a play like that,” Bowman said, “you expect it to propel you in a positive direction.”
It certainly did. It was part of a solid defensive showing that featured five sacks and (drumroll, please)…a real, live turnover. It has to be graded on a curve because Lynch was downright awful, but that defensive effort could be a foundation for better.
“I think it could help us,” Bowman said. “Teams that start figuring things out in November and December have a chance to get hot and close the season strong. We still have a ton of work to do, but that Broncos game was a good sign, and showed that we have the capability to control the game on defense.”
Pagano tweaked some things after Ken Norton Jr. was fired early last week. Head coach Jack Del Rio wanted the team to play faster, so Pagano made assignments easier even when disguised as complex.
“Simplifying things helped everyone, coaches included,” Bowman said. “It got everybody playing fast and got people comfortable and utilize our talents.”
The Raiders have given Bowman on-field control to line the unit up right. The middle linebacker has had some issues in coverage, but has brought stability to the interior defense, with 44 tackles, a pick and two passes defensed with the Raiders.
“This scheme allows you to just play,” Bowman said. “The last scheme I was in asked you to be very specific in some areas. Some times it’s best to just let players go play. You can’t draw it up from A to Z and expect everything to go according to plan. Over here they allow me to play a little bit and utilize my experience.”
Bowman signed a one-year deal with the Raiders in Week 7. They aren’t committed to him beyond that, and have fifth-round pick Marquel Lee as a long-term possibility. General manager Reggie McKenze said during the bye week he was open, yet noncommittal, to re-signing Bowman to another deal.
“Yes, he could be. He’s a football player,” McKenzie said. “Needless to say, his experience, and the way he plays...I’m talking about from an instincts and savvy standpoint, anytime you come two years off an injury, it’s always going to be better than the next year, so that’s not going to be a deterrent, but he can still play.”
McKenzie referred to an Achilles’ injury suffered early last season. It takes time to return from that injury, and it’s possible some lost explosiveness could return as McKenzie suggests.
Bowman believes he can still be an impactful player. He has five games left in this season, but admits he has pondered a future that keeps him in silver and black.
“I still study the same way,” Bowman said. “I still feel like I can play this game at a high level. I feel like I can average 10 tackles a game. I don’t see why they wouldn’t sign me back. I’d love to stay. I like the area. I like the team and the organization. Hopefully we can make it happen.”