ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Michael Crabtree wasn’t going to help the Raiders by doing his real job—catching passes—on Sunday. After all, he’d averaged a robust four catches for 37 yards in his four games against the Broncos as a Raider.
So, he figured he could help his team by catching Aqib Talib’s hands instead.
“We all knew it was going to happen,” Raiders wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said after the game. “It was just a matter of when.”
Was it premeditated? Was it a setup? Well, if it walks like it and talks like it.
Think of it this way: On Oakland’s fifth offensive play of the day, “Crab boy”—as Aqib Talib likes to call him—went out of his way to “sucker punch” Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. with an uppercut to the stomach, leaving the pro-bowl corner on the ground.
What’s one great way to get to Talib? Well, recent history would tell you that it’s going after his teammates.
“I didn’t even defend Chris,” Talib said, explaining how he dodged phase one of the plan. “If you see the play, I didn’t defend Chris… I wasn’t even defending Chris this time. That wasn’t even a problem.”
On the very next play, Crabtree lined up across from Talib, chain meticulously taped to his neck, and immediately went after him, knowing full well that the Broncos’ enforcer may not be a shit-starter on this day, but he is always a shit-finisher.
“I came out there to play football on Sunday, and I don’t really know what he came out there to do,” the pro-bowl corner explained. “I came out there to play football, and he came out here on this extra stuff, so one thing led to another.”
Phase two was a success.
Aqib did what he had to do, and Crabtree took his beating, catching a stiff left from Talib as well as a host of pushes and shoves from other Broncos. The result? A lost battle for the sake of the war. Sort of.
Both Crabtree and Talib were ejected.
One of those players is a team captain. One of those players didn’t have a suitable replacement. One of those players is the heart and soul of their unit. Here’s a hint: it ain’t Crabtree.
“That’s what he wanted,” Talib said. “He didn’t want to play that game.”
Talib is right, and that’s the unfortunate part because, on Sunday, Crabtree’s plan worked. To perfection.
Not only did he get one of the Broncos best players out of the game, he set up the Raiders offense for a series of mismatches surrounding Broncos rookie cornerback Brendan Langley. Langley was the culprit on a touchdown, a pass interference in the end zone and a third-down conversion that effectively ended the game.
All the while, Crabtree looked on from a luxury box, his work done for the day, with a smile on his face.
It was the perfect setup… Well… Until Monday, when the league announced that both players would be suspended for their antics, originally for two games and later reduced to one.
Where “Crab” erred in his plan was in thinking you can have an everyday tussle with Aqib Talib. No, if you want to go with Aqib, you better be ready to go for real. So even after things appeared to calm down, they weren’t over. It wasn’t until the second meeting of the two players that Talib landed the one and only solid swing of the fight.
Unfortunately for both players, it was the “second half,” as Talib called it, that forced the league’s hand in bringing down suspensions for the two. That’s when the optics went south quickly.
So, because Crabtree wasn’t interested in playing football on Sunday, both players will be forced to take another game off.
This is where the plan from the Oakland side turns sour. Why? Well, somehow, the mediocre Raiders find themselves right in the thick of the playoff race in the top-heavy AFC, just one game out of the AFC-west lead and the limping race for the wildcard.
Now, due to an unfortunate injury to Amari Cooper—on a completely clean hit form Darian Stewart—it appears the Silver & Black will be without their top two receiving threats on Sunday.
From a Broncos standpoint, though, the suspension of Talib could be a blessing in disguise. At this point, wins are Denver’s worst enemy, and with Talib on the sideline, the Broncos can get an extended look at what life without him may look like. Only time will tell if his eventual departure is as obvious as some have made it out to be.
No matter what, the Broncos don’t necessarily need Aqib Talib on Sunday. The same can’t be said for the Raiders and Crabtree.
On a short-sighted scale, Sunday showed that the Raiders lost the battle and won the war. But even when the Raiders win, they lose. Talib won the fight, and the Broncos are better off in the fallout.