Safety Charles Woodson (No. 24) is playing at a high level for the Raiders so far. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
When Charles Woodson was introduced before the Raiders’ home opener against the Jaguars this past Sunday, the Oakland crowd roared its approval.
Then the 36-year-old Woodson – playing again for the Raiders after six seasons in Green Bay – went out and had a terrific game, leading Oakland in tackles in a 19-9 victory.
It was a second straight strong game for Woodson, who also played for the Raiders from 1998-2005.
Though many are expressing surprise that the veteran safety is playing at a high level at his age, the one person not surprised is Woodson.
“God’s gift to me was to be able to play football, and I can play football,” Woodson told ESPN.com after Sunday’s game. “I’m at the age where as long as my body feels good, I can go out there and play football. I don’t think it’s really about showing anybody anything. It’s just going out there and trying to help the team win in any way I can.”
Through two games, Woodson has been in on nine tackles, but his impact has gone far beyond the stat sheet. He’s been a leader and an inspiration to his teammates and now, with the injury to fellow safety Tyvon Branch, his contributions in those areas are even more important.
“It’s not like he’s old and can’t move,” offensive tackle Khalif Barnes told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group Monday. “The dude can still play. It’s crazy, actually. He’s a machine. I don’t know how he does it for 17 years.”
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen cited Woodson’s play as a highlight of Sunday’s first victory of the season, and pointed to a tackle Woodson made on Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew early in the game. Jones-Drew appeared headed for a touchdown when Woodson rocketed in with a shoulder-high tackle to stop him cold. The Jags had to settle for a field goal.
“For him to make an effort play like that really gives the whole team and the defense in particular a lot of momentum,” Allen told Corkran. “It was a great play.”
Woodson joked about his touchdown-saving tackle later, saying it “was like flying over a building in a single bound.”
While nobody is calling Woodson Superman at this stage of his career, his impact on the Raiders secondary so far has been noteworthy. After two games, the Raiders rank fifth in the NFL in passing defense, giving up 181 yards per game. The Raiders also rank No. 5 in total defense, allowing just 261 yards per game. The big asterisk over those stats, of course, is the fact one game was against the offensively inept Jaguars.
Oakland’s big challenge will come Monday night against the Peyton Manning-led Broncos in Denver. Manning already has thrown a league-leading nine touchdown passes and is averaging 376 yards passing per game.
Not many around the country are giving the Raiders any hope of beating the Broncos. But, going into the season, that was the attitude in general about the Raiders. Some predicted before Game 1 that the Raiders (1-1) might be headed toward a winless season or the first pick in next April’s draft.
Woodson – even before he showed in Games 1 and 2 that he can still be a fine player – said the Raiders have the talent to surprise people.
“It’s going to be up to us,” Woodson said in the week leading up to the season opener. “Either we can endure that stuff the whole year (negative comments), or we can do something about it. Show people that we do have some talent. And I believe we have talent.”
And, as a 36-year-old who can still leap over buildings “in a single bound,” Woodson remains among the most talented of the entire bunch.