Bruce Irvin

Irvin opens up on anger from Norton Jr's firing: 'He has changed my life'

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AP

Irvin opens up on anger from Norton Jr's firing: 'He has changed my life'

ALAMEDA – Bruce Irvin was upset the Raiders fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. The prolific edge rusher made that clear shortly after the Norton news broke, with a tweet that contained one word, written in all caps.

"BULLSHIT."

Irvin’s reaction was no shock. Irvin and Norton Jr. are extremely close, dating back to their days in Seattle. Irvin was a 2012 first-round pick and Norton his position coach, someone who taught him how to be a complete linebacker and stay away from off-field issues that plagued him so.

Irvin signed a four-year deal with the Raiders in 2016, in large part, to reunite with his old friend and mentor. Norton joined head coach Jack Del Rio’s original staff back in 2015, and was let go following a Week 11 blowout loss to New England in Mexico City.

Seeing Norton sacrificed for team-wide defensive failures was a difficult thing for many, Irvin the most.

“Ken Norton’s like a father to me. He has changed my life in so many ways, not only on the field but off the field,” Irvin said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Fallon Smith, on this week’s episode of Raiders Central. “It was a tough situation. I basically came to Oakland for him, and he was let go. But I do believe it’s a production business and, and we weren’t getting it done. He knew that, and understands the business part of it. If you don’t produce, you won’t have a job long.”

Understanding the situation didn’t numb the sting. Never shy about expressing himself, Irvin made his feelings public.

“The tweet was just me,” Irvin said. “I’m a very outspoken person, anyway. I’m going to say what I want to say when I want to say it. I was mad at the moment, but I talked to Jack and he understood. He didn’t hold anything against me. He just gave me a few days, and it blew over.”

Anger subsided. Some guilt remains.

Norton was extremely popular in the locker room. While there was some sentiment there that he became a fall guy, defensive players believe they could’ve done more to keep Norton’s job.

“Definitely. Guys like me, Reggie and Khalil, we definitely felt like it was on us that we had lost our guy,” Irvin said. “It is what it is. We all understand the business part of it. We didn’t produce and it cost him his job. We have to keep fighting and keep playing. That’s what he’d want us to do.”

Del Rio hoped to create a spark by letting Norton go. That has happened. The defense has eight sacks and three turnovers in consecutive wins under new defensive play caller John Pagano. Irvin in particular has been strong. He has 10 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in that span.

The team's defensive efforts against lackluster quarterbacks Paxton Lynch (Denver) and Geno Smith (New York Giants) should be graded on a curve, but it’s a positive step nonetheless for a Raiders team now tied atop the AFC West.

Irvin was asked if Pagano’s influence or improved execution has produced better play.

“It’s a little bit of both,” he said. “Guys saw the Norton situation, and that kind of got guys fired up, I would say, and more focused. Once again, I think guys are looking at that situation and thinking, ‘Man, we can get fired, too.’ It’s not only coaches. It falls on the players, too. It was a wake-up call for us, and guys really started to hone in and get in their books. We’re practicing better, and it’s starting to translate on Sundays now.”

While Irvin believes Norton should still be employed here, he has been impressed by Pagano in his expanded role.

“He has done a great job,” Irvin said. “He’s a guy who knows football. He was in San Diego for 15 years. He has done a great job of letting me and Mack just go. That’s what we’re good at, just going for it. These past few weeks he has done a great job dialing up blitzes and sending us, knowing his personnel and what guys are good at and letting them do what they’re good at.”

Three things you need to know from Raiders' 24-17 victory over Giants

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Three things you need to know from Raiders' 24-17 victory over Giants

OAKLAND – Here are three things you need to know from the Raiders’ 24-17 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum:

1. Raiders control path to division crown: Read that headline to the left. It might require a double take but it’s accurate, and a bit beyond belief.

The Raiders can win the AFC West by winning out.

The Raiders won, the Chargers won and the Chiefs lost, setting up a three-way tie atop the AFC West. Each team has six losses at this stage, and the Raiders have a chance to give each rival a seventh. The Raiders play in Kansas City next week and close the regular season in Los Angeles.

They simply have to win those two, and probably beat Dallas and Philadelphia in between. Falling to 9-7 makes things real messy. That remains a tough ask, especially for a team lacking offensive consistency.

The Raiders have quietly won three of their last four to recover from a four-game losing streak earlier this year. They’ve seemed dead and buried a few times now, but the Chiefs are in a tailspin and have given the Silver and Black second life.

“Our goal is to stack these wins up and see how the cards fall at the end of the season,” edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “We’re not looking toward the future. We’re not thinking about the past. We’re only focus on our current opponent. That’s it. It’s worked for us the past two weeks. Hopefully we can continue to keep it (going) like this.”

2. Channeling last year’s defense:The Raiders gave up a lot of yards and points last year. They had a penchant for performing in the clutch and generating turnovers when trouble’s afoot.

The Raiders had 30 takeaways last year, but have struggled stealing possession this time around. That trend got bucked Sunday.

The Raiders forced two turnovers inside their own 30-yard line that ultimately changed the game. Bruce Irvin strip-sacked Geno Smith in the second quarter, and NaVorro Bowman recovered at the Raiders’ 29. The Raiders stole a scoring opportunity and produced a field goal at the other end.

Khalil Mack made his best play this season late in the first half from the Oakland 4. Smith never felt his presence, and Mack straight-up stole the ball to take more easy points away from the Giants.

“We pride ourselves on getting turnovers,” Irvin said. “We didn’t have many early, but they’re starting to come. We have three in two weeks. They say turnovers come in bunches, and we have to keep pushing for them.”

3. Missing Cooper and Crabtree: Amari Cooper was ruled out of Sunday’s game with concussion-like symptoms and a sprained ankle suffered while beating the Denver Broncos. Michael Crabtree wasn’t allowed to play the Giants, serving a one-game suspension for fighting with Aqib Talib in that same game.

That left Johnny Holton, Seth Roberts and Cordarrelle Patterson to pick up the slack. Tight end Clive Walford and Jared Cook offered assistance. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Raiders got the job done. Receivers dropped four passes. Johnny Holton fumbled another and lost it.

That group had some positive moments, highlighted by Patterson’s 59-yard catch and run that established a two-score lead late in the fourth quarter. Holton scored that deciding touchdown, and had a nice, toe-tapping catch to set up another score.

“We did good, man,” Patterson said. “We’re in this league for a reason, we not just here to (mess) around. We come out each and every week and we got to perform. Unfortunately, our No. 1 and No. 2 receivers were down but, like I say, every receiver on this roster can go out and make plays.”

The Raiders will get Crabtree back next week. Cooper remains a question mark as he recovers from injury. The passing game suffers without him, even during a relatively lackluster season. Cooper has game-changing ability, and draws attention from others even without the ball. He also torched Kansas City for 210 yards and two touchdowns earlier in the year, so the Raiders hope he can return for the rematch.

Raiders notes: Did Mack, Irvin protest the firing of Norton Jr.?

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Raiders notes: Did Mack, Irvin protest the firing of Norton Jr.?

ALAMEDA – Edge rushers Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack were given a rest day on Wednesday, which raised a few eyebrows.

Mack hadn’t missed practice in months. Irvin hadn’t been sidelined since the start of training camp. Both guys stretched and then left the field during individual drills a day after defensive coordinator Ken Norton was fired. Mack and Irvin were extremely loyal to Norton. An easy parallel could be drawn between the firing and Mack and Irvin’s rare, non-injury related missed practice.

Head coach Jack Del Rio said Friday there was no connection.

“Not even in the slightest really,” Del Rio said. “…We’re in good shape. The guys understand. It wasn’t anything personal.”

Del Rio insisted the rest was designed and scheduled.

“It’s something we do. It’s kind of a ‘Woodson Wednesday,’” Del Rio said. “We did it a lot with Charles toward the end of his career. We’ve had good success with guys that have taken a heavy load, being smart with them on that Wednesday. So, it’s just a rest day.”

Irvin and Mack have declined to comment on Norton’s firing and the missed Wednesday practice.

Johnny Holton concussion watch: Raiders receiver Johnny Holton is in the NFL’s concussion protocol, though he should be cleared out of it before Sunday’s clash against the Denver Broncos.

He ended up there in a roundabout way. The Raiders announced he was being evaluated for a concussion early in a 33-8 loss to New England, but returned later in the first half.

Then he missed Wednesday’s practice with concussion-like symptoms. That raised a red flag. Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio explained the sequence of events in greater detail on Friday.

“I’m at the mercy of those that are the experts in that field. He got a scratch on his eye. That was what occurred there (against New England),” Del Rio said. “(He) came in this week and had some symptoms, so we put him into the protocol and he went through the protocol. I believe he’s in the final steps now of clearing. We’ll get that final clearance he’ll play. If we don’t, he’ll be down.

“That’s a question mark going in that hasn’t yet been fully resolved, but since he came in and had the symptoms he had, those have gone away and everything else is checking out. We anticipate having him.”

Horton is formally considered questionable on the team’s official injury report. As a note, all head injuries are evaluated and diagnosed by independent medical personnel not directly affiliated with the team.

Amerson out again: Cornerback David Amerson will miss a fourth straight game with a foot injury that has kept him from practicing the last few weeks.

It just can’t get right, leaving the Raiders with the same beleaguered cornerback corps from recent weeks, with Sean Smith and TJ Carrie expected to play significant snaps. Dexter McDonald remains in a mix joined by career safety Obi Melifonwu, who played cornerback Sunday against New England.

"There can be injuries, there can be anything,” new defensive play caller John Pagano said. “He’s got to take advantage of next time when he’s called upon in those certain roles to be able to go out there and do the things that we need to do. there’s always going to be growing pains with young players. He’s got to grow up real quick and understand that we cannot let the ball go over our heads on those deep balls.”