OAKLAND -- Trayvon Mullen and Maxx Crosby are always pumping each other up while trying to be the one who makes the next big play for this surging Raiders team.
The Clemson cornerback and Eastern Michigan edge rusher are two pillars of Jon Gruden's close-knit rookie class that continue to come up big for the Silver and Black.
Clelin Ferrell headlined the class in Week 10, racking up 2.5 sacks in the Raiders' win over the Chargers at the Coliseum.
For most of Sunday's fight with the winless Bengals, it was Crosby who was doing the heavy lifting for the Raiders defense. He opened the game by sacking Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley and forcing a fumble the Raiders recovered.
Much like his friend Ferrell in Week 10, Crosby was everywhere the Bengals turned Sunday at the Coliseum. When all was said and done, Crosby sacked Finley four times, recorded three other tackles for loss and forced one fumble.
Four-sack days are rare in the NFL. Even with the Coliseum bumping "Salt and Pepa" after each sack, Crosby ran out of celebrations by the fourth takedown. Still, Crosby was in the zone from the opening snap against the Bengals.
"It's like last week, [Clelin Ferrell] got his first one and it was over from then," Crosby said after the game. "He knew he could beat the guy all day. When you get in that rhythm you are just feeling it and the sacks start rolling in."
While Crosby made life miserable for the Bengals all day, the game hung in the balance with under two minutes to go, as the Raiders clung to a 17-10 lead. Gruden elected to punt from the plus territory, putting the game in the hands of his defense for the third straight week.
On second-and-19 from their own 11, Finley rolled right and threw deep for Alex Erickson. Mullen saw it all the way and snatched the pass out of the air to secure a 17-10 win for the Raiders, their third straight victory.
Mullen, who had dropped a pick-six earlier in the game, made good on a message Crosby gave him earlier in the quarter.
"Trayon's been jumping routes since he's been playing," Crosby said after the win. "I was talking to him with about five minutes left and I said, 'Trayvon, it's time.' He could have had two today. But it awesome to see. Trayvon's a great corner and he's just getting started."
Crosby's talk with Mullen is part of a friendly competition the two rookies have with each other, trying to see who can make the next big play.
"Me and Maxx got that little bond," Mullen said after the game. "Almost every other play, I'm like, 'Man, go get that sack. If you rush him, I'm going to get that pick. So, it be fun because we compete with each other."
Crosby and Mullen's tag-team performance against the Bengals is the perfect illustration of how this Raiders team, now 6-4, has evolved since Week 1. Crosby wasn't expected to see a high number of snaps. The draft experts thought he needed to get stronger in order to make a big impact. Mullen, an uber-talented corner from Clemson, played sparingly through the first six games of the season before the Raiders handed him a starting role after trading Gareon Conley to the Texans.
Both now are thriving and making winning plays for the Silver and Black.
This rookie class has been incredibly productive. They are playing fast, free and having a lot of fun as the Raiders play meaningful November games, something most didn't believe was possible for this young team.
"The passion we have for the game, how much we love it, care about it," Mullen said when describing the rookie class. "Also care about our teammates. Want to show them we are going to show up, do our best and give our all."
Effort isn't something the Raiders have ever had to worry about. "Mad Maxx" has been bringing it since he arrived in Oakland, impressing Gruden with his relentlessness. The sack numbers hadn't come for Crosby prior to his mauling of the Bengals.
They came in waves Sunday, with the four drops of Finley raising his season total to six. Fellow rookie Josh Jacobs believes Crosby should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
He and Ferrell quickly are becoming a dynamic duo. But did "Salt" feel a need to outdo "Pepa" after his breakout game in Week 10?
"No," Crosby said with a chuckle. "He had 2.5. I didn't think I would get four. I've never done that before. It was cool, but it's on to the next game."
The Raiders head to New York to face the Jets in Week 12. Another opportunity for Crosby, Mullen or another rookie to save the day.