ALAMEDA – The Carolina Panthers were in some trouble, down three points and facing a 4th-down-and-10 just beyond field goal range.
Most eyes were on Cam Newton, waiting to see if the reigning MVP would do or die.
Not Raiders receiver Amari Cooper.
“I was watching Khalil (Mack), I wanted to see what he was going to do on potentially the last play of the game,” Cooper said. “This guy is unusually talented and he made a play.”
Did he ever. The Raiders edge rusher had three Panthers assigned to him. None could stop this force. He pushed the tackle back, got a running back to go outside and cut in before a guard could slow him down. Mack infiltrated the pocket and brought his right arm down like a guillotine.
It knocked Newton down and set the ball free, which he pounced on to secure a 35-32 victory.
“You want to change the game by any means,” Mack said after the game. “Knowing it’s fourth down and they’re going for it and it’s late in the game and they could possibly tie it up, you want to make that play to get the ball and end it.”
Mack ended that game, but it wasn’t his only highlight. In addition to the sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery on that play, Mack also had an interception that he returned for a touchdown.
He was the first defender to record all five feats in the same game since Charles Woodson did so in 2009. That’s fitting considering how Woodson helped groom him into the leader and impact player he is today.
While there are a few defenders – Von Miller, for one, as 12.5 sacks -- with big-time numbers, Mack may have the best of them all.
Consider this stat line: 51 tackles, nine sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three passes defensed and an interception returned for a touchdown. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Mack leads all edge rushers with 60 total quarterback pressures.
Mack is dominant in all facets, and should be strongly considered to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. There are five games remaining to argue individual merits, though Mack won’t play a part in it.
He isn’t a numbers guy. Except, of course, for win totals.
“No doubt. No doubt. By any means. By any means necessary,” Mack said repeating a mantra that has become his trademark. “That’s the message every week. Whether we have to pull them out in the fourth (quarter) or overtime... we need those wins. That’s the message.”
There is a number that gets lost in all the sea on impact stats. Mack plays 90.1 percent of Raiders defensive snaps. On Sunday against Carolina, he played every single one.
By contrast, Miller plays 80 percent of Denver’s count.
Mack is an excellent run defender and is needed as a three-down player coming off the edge.
The Raiders need Bruce Irvin to do the same. He rarely leaves the field, spends more time in coverage and, like Mack, played every defensive snap against the Panthers.
He has had some special moments off the opposite edge, with 37 tackles, four sacks, 33 other pressures, and has tied an NFL best with four forced fumbles. He had a late sack the week before against Houston to ice victory over the Texans.
Getting contributions off both edges has been key during this 9-2 season, especially during this current five game winning streak. Irvin is happy to be working well with Mack, whom he considers a truly elite talent.
“The guy is one hell of a player,” Irvin said. “We feed off each other. On that last drive we told each other ‘It’s on us, it’s on us to put the team on our back and end it.’ That’s exactly what we did. I’m just blessed to be in such a great situation playing with a future Hall of Famer.”