MINNEAPOLIS — Tight end Darren Waller had a career-high 13 catches on 14 targets and was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal offensive showing for the Raiders in a 34-14 loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
But it was the one empty target that stood out in his mind after recording NFL season-highs for both yards and receptions by a tight end.
“The first thing that comes to mind for me is we were driving down the field at the end of the first half and there was a ball there that I didn’t catch,” he said. “Two hands on the ball. There’s no question (I should have had it). I already know my trainer back home is going to be texting me about owing him those pushups because I have to do them for all drops. It absolutely should have been caught.”
That was his only drop on Sunday as he equalled Tim Brown and Darren McFadden for the third-most catches in a single game for the Raiders.
Waller had 134 yards in a game in which Derek Carr threw for only 217 as the offense struggled to get much of anything going in a tough road environment.
The tight end’s performance was a continuation of a good start to the season for the converted wide receiver who drew rave reviews throughout the offseason and training camp.
Waller is now just the second tight end in team history to have 50 receiving yards in each of the first three games of a season, joining Brandon Myers in 2012. He’s also the first tight end for the Raiders since that season to have at least 10 catches and 100 yards in a game.
He’s certainly made a big fan out of his quarterback.
“A lot of his catches weren’t just him first in the progression,” Derek Carr said. “That’s just him (understanding) certain coverages in year two of the offense.
We expect that guy to be like (Jared) Cook was for us,” Carr said, referring to the Raiders’ tight end last season who became a free agent and signed with the New Orleans Saints. “Where we can say, ‘Hey, we have something working over here, but we need you to win (your matchup) just in case.’”
Carr said that happened a couple of times Sunday. “I want to praise the guy as much as I can because the guy literally blocks guys like Everson Griffen and (Danielle) Hunter, and then he’s out there running routes on these great (defensive backs). Like, what can’t that guy do? Not enough kids are wearing his jersey.”
They might start now. Waller has developed into the team’s most consistent weapon through three weeks and is an easy guy to root for after detailing his recovery from addiction on “Hard Knocks” during training camp.
Waller has now led the Raiders in receiving in each of their first three games, though Gruden said his stats on Sunday were helped by the Vikings’ defensive game plan.
“They were playing a lot of zone coverage,” he said. “They know they have the horses to generate pressure and they’ve got a great scheme. Sometimes you have to throw the ball between the zone defenders and underneath coverage to move the ball. They make you possess the ball and convert third downs and go 70 or 80 yards and play mistake-free football and not a lot of teams can do that in this environment.”
Waller was certainly able to find those seams.
“You have to just go out there and try to execute,” Waller said. “The more they put on me, the more I’m willing to take.”
Waller may even let himself enjoy his personal success once he’s done with his pushups.
“I try to not be too extreme,” he said. “There’s a lot of good, but there’s bad to clean up. I feel like I’m growing in a positive direction as far as my game is concerned.”