ALAMEDA (AP) — When the Oakland Raiders drafted Jacoby Ford in the fourth round, it looked like another typical Al Davis selection of the fastest player from the NFL combine.
Ford is quickly proving he’s more than just another speedster, giving the Raiders the deep threat that Davis has coveted for so long.
Ford delivered a breakthrough game last week that gave the Raiders (5-4) their first three-game winning streak since 2002 with a 23-20 overtime win against Kansas City.
He returned the opening kick of the second half for a touchdown and made three long and difficult catches to set up field goals, including the tying one in the closing seconds of regulation and the overtime winner.
“I’ve been doing it since I’ve been little,” Ford said. “I did it in college especially. When the ball just starts coming to you, you just keep making plays, and I mean it just comes second nature to you. I just kept catching the ball every time.”
Getting a chance to start because of injuries to Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens, Ford made the most of his opportunity. Ford finished the day with six catches for 148 yards, surpassing his season total of four catches in just one game.
He added 158 yards on kick returns, including the 94-yarder that sparked a Raiders team that was unable to move the ball at all in the first half. He became just the second player to top 140 yards receiving and 150 yards on kick returns in the same game, joining Gary Ballman, who did it for Pittsburgh against Washington on Nov. 17, 1963.
It was the type of performance the Raiders hoped to see regularly from Randy Moss when they acquired him in 2005 from Minnesota or from last year’s first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey.
“He had one of the best receiving outings that I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said fullback Marcel Reece, who joined Oakland in 2008. “I honestly can’t think of anyone else who’s had a better receiving day than he has. He had three huge plays, catches that you don’t see people make. It was an amazing job by him. I’m proud of him. We all knew that he could do it.”
Ford delivered the biggest receiving day in terms of yardage for a Raider since Jerry Porter also had 148 yards receiving in 2004 against Tennessee. The last Oakland player with a higher total was Hall of Famer Jerry Rice with 159 in 2003.
In fact, only seven Raiders wide receivers have had bigger days than Ford since the 1970 merger – a list that includes such greats as Rice, Tim Brown and Cliff Branch.
“I was really excited to go out there and just really just show what I really can do and just hopefully, we can just keep doing it every week,” Ford said.
As impressive as the yardage total was, it was the degree of difficulty on Ford’s catches that truly made his performance special. He made three highlight-reel catches, each unique in its own way.
The first came early in the fourth quarter when Jason Campbell was scrambling around the pocket to extend a play. He launched a deep ball while Ford was falling to the ground. But Ford managed to stay on his knees and reel in the 37-yard gain that set up Sebastian Janikowski’s first field goal to give Oakland a 17-13 lead.
“When I scrambled and just kind of threw it down for him, he made a great catch,” Campbell said. “You see guys making plays like that, you’re always going to try to give them the opportunity to make more and more. As a quarterback, it gives you a lot of confidence.”
Then on the key drive in the closing seconds of regulation, Campbell threw a ball deep over the middle that seemed to be headed right to Brandon Flowers for an interception. Ford tried to break up the pass and did even better, ripping the ball away for 29-yard gain that set up Janikowski’s tying kick.
“He made big plays all night,” teammate Louis Murphy said. “Can’t say which play was bigger, but he made them all.”
The final one came in overtime on the first play after Oakland forced an opening drive punt by Kansas City. Ford went deep against Flowers again and Campbell threw a ball that initially looked like it would be too far. But Ford showed off his sprinter speed and tracked it down for a diving 47-yard catch that set up the winning kick.
“He’s a track guy, he can run fast, and he can accelerate, and I think that’s something our team has,” Campbell said. “We probably have the youngest receiving corps in the league but these guys got so much speed that their acceleration is what helps them out so much.”
That’s what the Raiders were expecting from Heyward-Bey, when they selected him seventh based on his breakaway speed ahead of more productive college receivers like Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin.
While Heyward-Bey has struggled holding onto the ball and using his speed to get separation, Ford is showing signs of being that feared deep threat that Oakland counts on for its vertical passing game.
Ford ran the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds – the fastest at this year’s combine – but lasted until the fourth round because of questions about his 5-foot-10 size and his hands.
Coach Tom Cable said Ford was hurt at Clemson by the presence of first-round running back C.J. Spiller and an offense that was ground-oriented. But the Raiders saw enough to take a chance on him.
“His opportunities were probably not as many as the other receivers,” Cable said. “In terms of getting him to this level and being able to handle the game at this level and being able to release at this level and go get the football at this level and all those things, I think he’s what we thought he was. The finishing speed, no question, I mean you all saw that on the kickoff return, it was pretty special.”
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