Tahir Whitehead

Tahir Whitehead named Raiders as Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee

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Tahir Whitehead named Raiders as Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee

Linebacker and team co-captain Tahir Whitehead was named the team’s nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, the league announced Thursday.

The award honors those active in charitable efforts in the community and excellence on the field. Whitehead has been a community leader throughout his professional career, including his two seasons with the Raiders.

Whitehead was active in several different Bay Area initiatives this season, including the team’s Crucial Catch campaign. He also led a group of players to visit UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and hosted a 5k to support homeless veterans last month. There’s also a holiday shopping spree coming up for deserving kids in the Oakland area.

He also participated in community events in London last offseason while promoting the team’s Week 5 contest against the Chicago Bears at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Whitehead has been a defensive fixture, one of the stable components on a unit beset by injuries and setbacks.

[RELATED: Carr shares special bond with Coliseum, where QB came of age]

The NFL announced all 32 Walter Payton Man of the Year award nominees on Thursday.

The winner will be announced at the NFL Honors show the night before the Super Bowl.

Raiders shocked, searching for answers after yet another ugly loss

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Raiders shocked, searching for answers after yet another ugly loss

OAKLAND -- In the NFL, things can turn in an instance. 

Three weeks ago, the Raiders were the darlings of the NFL, having used a three-game winning streak to catapult themselves into the AFC playoff picture. They were headed on the road to face a Jets team that has a myriad of issues. A 7-4 record and a date with the Chiefs to decide the AFC West was in their sites. 

Things didn't go according to plan. 

The Raiders were ripped limb from limb by the Jets, and then headed to Kansas City where the Chiefs bullied them all around a freezing Arrowhead Stadium to drop Oakland to 6-6. 

So the Raiders returned home, needing a win Sunday against the Titans to stop the bleeding and keep realistic playoff dreams alive. Instead, the Raiders were torched by Ryan Tannehill as the Titans strolled to a 42-21 win at the Coliseum. 

A third straight dud has left the Raiders stunned and searching for answers. 

"That's how things happen in this league," guard Richie Incognito said. "We got home after the big road test, we got the three in a row, in my opinion, we probably weren't playing our best ball during that three-week stretch but we were winning. Then we take the trip over to New York and get exposed, went to Kansas City and they jumped on us and then today. I'm pretty shocked that we are in this position." 

The losses have been deflating and embarrassing. It hasn't been death by 1,000 cuts, but three gigantic gashes that have left the Raiders bleeding out hoping for a miracle to snag an AFC playoff spot that appeared to be theirs three weeks ago. 

The Raiders are banged up and missing bodies. Of that, there is no doubt. Josh Jacobs didn't play Sunday and neither did right tackle Trent Brown. Starting safeties Johnathan Abram and Karl Joseph are done for the season. Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict hasn't been allowed out of the principal's office since a Week 4 hit against the Colts that the NFL deemed a season-ender.

Eventually, it's too much to overcome. It's too much to ask guys who just came in off the street to be meaningful contributors to a playoff run. 

But no one wants to hear excuses. 

"It comes with the territory," linebacker Tahir Whitehead said of the injuries. "It comes with the game. We've had a lot of adversity this season, but you have to go in there with that next man mentality. No matter what. No one cares what you have to go through during the week. No one cares how many injuries and as much as it matters as far as getting guys ready ... no one gives a s--t."

A once-promising season has been nuked by a non-competitive streak that has seen the Raiders outscored 116-33 and look helpless in the process. The defense has been dissected every way possible and the offense has lacked a punch that would strike fear into any creature with even a faint pulse. 

[RELATED: Jacobs 'in tears' when Raiders made him inactive vs. Titans]

The Raiders might be searching for answers, but they are unlikely to find any that will appease their desperate minds. 

There will be no magic elixir to save the Raiders from the disappointing reality of letting a golden playoff opportunity slip away. 

Coach Jon Gruden can't scheme the Raiders healthy or make them more talented. They simply are what they are. 

But no one wants to hear excuses for laying an egg with the season on the line. That's inexcusable.

Tahir Whitehead's leadership vital to keeping Raiders defense together

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Tahir Whitehead's leadership vital to keeping Raiders defense together

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders had three defensive captains to start this season. They’ll play the Cincinnati Bengals with only one.

Vontaze Burfict is suspended for the rest of the 2019 season at least, and Lamarcus Joyner’s out with a hamstring strain.

That leaves Tahir Whitehead to lead this defense into an important stretch, a patchwork unit that looks a lot different than it did a few months ago.

The Raiders have lost Johnathan Abram, Karl Joseph and Arden Key to injury. Marquel Lee’s coming back off IR but hasn’t been available since Week 3. Burfict is essentially banned and Gareon Conley was traded.

Whitehead is a constant, someone counted on as field general and stabilizing influence from the linebacker position while the defense morphs all around him.

At this point, you could argue Whitehead is the Raiders’ most indispensable defender. He calls signals. He knows the defense as well or better than anyone. He mans a razor-thin position and is a veteran they desperately need to lead this defense down the stretch.

“There’s no pressure in that because I’ve had this responsibility before,” Whitehead said Friday in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “I know I can’t have any mental hiccups or brain farts on the field. I also know that so much work is done during the week getting everybody ready so that, if I do make a mistake, everyone else is there to pick me up. Everybody has to own the play, own the call and own the defense we’re in.”

He's involved in almost everything, playing 572 of the Raiders’ 613 defensive snaps this season. He can’t leave the field now, not with the state of his position group. Whitehead and Nick Morrow play virtually every snap, with newcomer Will Compton coming to help defend heavier offensive sets.

Whitehead’s leadership role is vital, but he finds it easier this year than most considering how engaged those defenders remain trying to integrate new players and adapt to so much change.

“We have a bunch of guys on this defense who are determined to get it right, get things rolling and make sure we’re ready to win a game,” Whitehead said. “We know people don’t give a damn about our circumstances. People don’t care that we’re playing with so many men down. They don’t care how many backups or young guys or new guys we have starting. They don’t give a damn. Frankly neither do we. We’re focused on communicating well, asking questions and answering them so we get everyone on the same page no matter who is in the lineup.

“We have a bunch of hungry guys who now know what it takes to show up every day and do your job. If you get 11 guys doing that, you win games.”

Whitehead isn’t a perfect player. He has some struggles in coverage but has been strong in the run game and doesn’t miss many tackles. His leadership has proven invaluable during this stretch, which happens both while the defense is on the field and on the sideline.

That’s especially true after something goes wrong.

“I go up and down the bench and look in each guy’s eyes, to see where they’re at,” Whitehead said “I try to talk to everybody and analyze demeanor to see you if a guy is still stuck in a bad play. We know each other so well that there’s no hiding it. That’s when you can pick people up and get things going right again.”

That has been this defense’s best trait. They give up 381 yards per game with the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense. They struggle to get off the field on third down and give up too many explosive plays. But…they have several times managed to make that plays required to win the game.

That’s why the Raiders are 4-1 in games decided by one score. That’s how the Raiders beat the Lions and Chargers in consecutive weeks heading toward Sunday.

[RELATED: Derek Carr's season resembling 2016 campaign]

That comes from a next-play mentality, an ability to flush out mistakes, refocus on the next opportunity and try to avoid doing too much.

“I’ve been in that position,” Whitehead said. “Sometimes I feel like we’re in a lull right now. I have to go make a play and I do something out of pocket and we get beat right through the spot where I was supposed to be. There’s nothing worse than that. You pick guys up by being smart and disciplined and setting a proper example and proper tone for the entire defense to thrive."