Amari Cooper, not Marshawn Lynch, the real story for struggling Raiders

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone’s talking about Marshawn Lynch this Friday, and I totally get that. He did get ejected Thursday night, watched the game from the stands with fans and then rode the BART afterwards, which would be akin to Aaron Judge taking the subway home from a Yankees game.

But all this talk about Beast Mode is detracting from what we all should be talking about, which is that the Oakland Raiders finally got a breakout performance from Amari Cooper, and it saved their season.

Until Thursday night, Cooper had been a total dud this year for Oakland. Entering Week 7 he led the league in drops with a stunning nine cases of full-blown butterfingers.

He had just 18 catches for 146 yards with only one touchdown through five games, that one score coming way back in Week 1. From Week 3 to Week 6 he caught just nine passes for 51 yards, despite the fact he was fully healthy and was targeted 21 times.

Those are frighteningly bad numbers, no matter who you’re talking about.

It just so happens Cooper isn’t just somebody. He’s a guy the Raiders have invested a whole heck of a lot into, having selected him fourth overall in 2015. A guy who caught 155 passes for 2,223 yards and 11 touchdowns his first two seasons in the NFL.

While it’s impossible to pin losses on a receiver, it’s not crazy to say Cooper’s struggles were one of the big reasons Oakland dropped four games in a row. With or without Derek Carr in the lineup the past four games leading up to Week 7, the Raiders were awful offensively, in part because their most dangerous offensive weapon was broken.

All that changed in Oakland Thursday night, in a must-win scenario for the Raiders against hated AFC West rival, Kansas City. A team that features a very good defensive secondary that has given the Raiders fits in recent years.

Cooper finished the game with 11 catches, 210 yards and two touchdowns. His breakout performance finally gave the Raiders the boost they had missed in previous weeks. His dominant play forced the Chiefs to make covering him a priority. Which in turn made it possible for Derek Carr to find Michael Crabtree for the game-winning touchdown pass with no time remaining on the clock.

And it came in a game in which Marshawn Lynch was unavailable. A game that would have likely sealed Oakland’s fate if a fifth loss had been earned, rather than a third win. Whether Lynch should have been ejected for his contact with an official is certainly a conversation worth happening. But when it mattered most, Lynch wasn’t on the field for the Raiders making plays.

Cooper was. He’s the guy we should be talking about right now. He’s the player who came through with the clutch performance with the season hanging in the balance.