The rumors swirled a week ago as the trade deadline approached.
It might be time, many surmised, to move Jalen Richard. There were pressing needs elsewhere.
But zero hour arrived and Richard was still employed by the Raiders, a fact that on Sunday proved indispensable at the season’s midpoint.
Josh Jacobs has made the NFL stand up and take notice when it comes to who’s running the ball in Oakland. But it was Richard, a fourth-year backup, who helped secure a 31-24 victory against the Lions.
On the same day Jacobs passed Marcus Allen for the franchise’s rookie rushing mark, Richard gained 66 of 75 yards on a game-winning drive in the final minutes at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
This is what most expected when the Raiders made Jacobs a first-round draft pick out of Alabama, that he would immediately become the premier back and Richard and DeAndre Washington (also in his fourth season) would spell him when his young legs became weary.
But surrendering snaps and carries to a first-year player, no matter how special, can be difficult for veterans in a league full of egos. Humility is a nice idea that often has no place in the cutthroat world of professional sports.
That idea about being simple and less vain rarely defines a locker room.
“That’s true if you’re a hater,” Richard said. “Point blank. Period.”
Richard and Washington are not that.
“At the end of the day, we understand there is a higher power and you control what you can control, which is when your number is called, be ready and go out there and produce,” Richard said. “No matter what, you just need to keep your head up and play the game.”
They know Jacobs deserves his reps. “He has earned the right to carry the mail the way he has carried it,” Richard said. “You see him. He’s a generational guy. When you talk about great players who play the game for a long time, put his picture right next to them. He’s going to be one of those guys.”
He showed it again Sunday, Jacobs rushing 28 times for 120 yards and two scores, pushing his team rookie rushing mark to 740 and counting.
And yet when the Raiders assumed possession with 5:16 remaining in a tie game, he remained on the sideline and Richard took over.
Derek Carr has thrown few better passes in his career than the one he lofted on first down from the Raiders 25, Richard needing time to catch and then get on top of a defensive lineman who had dropped into coverage downfield.
He would corral the floating ball for a 31-yard gain.
Richard then rushed for gains of 7 and 5 yards before running away from a cornerback on a shallow cross and picking up 23 more.
Three plays later, Carr hit rookie Hunter Renfrow from 9 yards out and the Raiders had the lead for good.
Go get it
“We were hoping (Richard) was so short, they wouldn’t see him,” Carr joked of his 5-foot-8-inch teammate. “(Jacobs) is our workhorse, but we have to finds ways to get him breaks, and we’ve seen over the years how good Jalen and DeAndre are.
“They’ve always been stuck behind someone, you know? But they don’t look at it like that. I thought Jalen did a great job making those winning plays for us.”
The Lions doubled Richard on those times when he saw the field early in the game, often hitting him with a defensive end so as to disrupt any rhythm he might create.
Prior to his fourth-quarter outburst, he had totaled 2 yards.
The idea of possibly including him in trade talks shouldn’t have come as a surprise — the Raiders still need countless defensive upgrades and running back is a position of depth for Jon Gruden’s team.
But the deadline passed, Richard wasn’t move and his speed and skills sure paid off Sunday.
“We have some dogs, from the top on down,” Washington said. “(Jacobs) was hot again and (Richard) carried us that last drive. You have to be ready, man. Everyone has to contribute. We’re going to ride (Jacobs). But any chance for the rest of us to go get it, we’re going to go get it.”
Jalen Richard went and got it Sunday, all right.
For it, the Raiders are 4-4 at a season’s midpoint.
Everything is still there to play for with — believe it— a big dose of humility from the backfield leading the way.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.