Raider Pro Bowl cornerback Terry McDaniel hates to lose. So you can imagine how he feels as the Raiders head into this weekend’s bye with a 1-3 record.
“There was definitely no way I would have thought that we would start off 1-3,” McDaniel said. “In fact, if someone had asked me before the season, I probably would have said we’d be 4-0, and at the worst 3-1.”
Those lofty dreams of getting off to a fast start and taking control of the AFC West quickly turned into a continuing nightmare for the Raiders when they were trounced by San Francisco on Labor Day to start the season.
They were routed by Seattle, then bounced back to blow out Denver. Last Sunday against San Diego, they rallied from a 20-point second-half deficit only to lose on a last-second field goal.
“Mistakes, just too many mistakes,” McDaniel said of the team’s poor start.
Although the season is still young, the Raiders find themselves three games behind the Chargers with their next two games on the road against the AFC’s top two scoring teams, New England and Miami.
“We just have not had everyone clicking at the same time,” said McDaniel, a first-round draft pick from Tennessee in 1988. “It doesn’t matter if we have everyone playing great for one or two snaps, then on the third or sixth snap we mess up. That may be the snap that breaks us for that moment in time.”
But if the Raiders as a team have had trouble with consistency, McDaniel as an individual has not had that problem.
He has scored two touchdowns, made two interceptions and caused another, recovered three fumbles and forced another.
“He’s been one bright spot for the team this year,” said John Fox, the Raiders’ defensive coordinator. “As poorly as we’ve played, he’s stood out with the plays he has made.”
In the Raiders’ 44-14 loss to San Francisco, McDaniel deflected a pass intended for John Taylor that ended up being intercepted by Greg Biekert. The play led to a touchdown.
The next week, in a 38-9 loss to the Seahawks, McDaniel recovered a fumble and returned it 41 yards for the Raiders’ only touchdown.
After the Raiders’ victory over Denver, McDaniel was named AFC defensive player of the week. He returned a pass by John Elway 15 yards for a touchdown, forced two fumbles and recovered another.
Then last week against the Chargers, McDaniel made his second interception of the season and came close on two others.
“Terry has been playing like a Pro Bowl player and is sending a message that he deserves to be grouped with the best,” Coach Art Shell said. “Like all the great players, he puts enough pressure on himself to excel and is never satisfied. He’s always pushing himself to get better.”
In seven seasons with the Raiders, McDaniel has matched up against the best receivers in the NFL. Although he does not rate them in any particular order, here is what he has to say about a few:
--Jerry Rice: “Very explosive. A big-play receiver who’s always around the ball. If you don’t stop him, he’ll take advantage of you.”
--Sterling Sharpe: “Strong guy who is always (Green Bay’s) go-to guy. You know that he is going to get a lot of balls.”
--Michael Irvin: “A big guy who always wants the ball, (who wants) to make the big play and has the ability to make it.”
--Andre Rison: “A lot of quickness. A guy who is always trying to make the difficult catch.”
McDaniel, 29, prepares for each receiver by studying hours of film, cataloguing strengths and weaknesses. That’s why he can attack an opponent’s slant pattern as if he heard the route called in the huddle, then outrun the same receiver on a deep route for an interception on the next play.
“I don’t want to be the type of cornerback that is just good in one area,” he said. “I want to be able to do whatever is needed. From feathering a receiver with finesse or coming up playing bump-and-run. I try to be the best in all areas.”
Some other defensive backs have gained exposure because of their flash (San Francisco’s Deion Sanders) or their tough hitting and trash talking (Pittsburgh’s Rod Woodson), but McDaniel has earned recognition by quietly doing his job.
“Since he’s been in the league, he’s just gotten better and better each year,” said Denver wide receiver Anthony Miller, a teammate at Tennessee. “He used to rely on his speed all of the time, but now, since his technique has improved, he’s one of the best.”
McDaniel credits his home life with his wife, Janna, and 2-year old daughter, Shayla, with keeping him focused during the Raiders’ struggle this season.
For McDaniel, it doesn’t matter that he is on his way to earning his third consecutive Pro Bowl trip to Hawaii. What’s important is reaching the Super Bowl.
“The bottom line is wins and losses,” McDaniel said. “I can go out and play my best but it doesn’t matter if we don’t win. We just have to find another notch to reach for us to start winning again.”