Lost amid the mistakes that cost the Las Vegas Raiders in a 28-14 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night was the erasure of what would've been one of the biggest among them: a fake punt that wide receiver Hunter Renfrow foiled with a defensive play that was spectacularly instinctive for an offensive player.
For starters, it's a stretch to suggest the punt was a true fake, because that suggests it was planned and called. The Raiders took the field for the first quarter punt return with just 10 men on the field, and the missing man just happened to put the Raiders in the worst possible position -- with one of the Chargers' gunners, Tevaughn Campbell, completely uncovered to the wide side of the field. Chargers punter Ty Long wisely tried to take advantage of the glaring miscue and threw to Campbell for what should've been an easy first down.
Renfrow, recognizing the audible, broke away from his punt return position as the ball was snapped, and broke up the completion near the first-down marker with a crushing hit on Campbell.
"We didn't have a guy out there and I was kind of in between, and I didn't know if I should play the return or go down and play the receiver," Renfrow said. "Luckily he took some time to throw the ball and I was able to make a play. It was a big stop for us, I guess."
Indeed, Renfrow was able to take advantage of a punter's passing skills -- Long's delivery was true to his name, and his pass was lofted high and softly enough for Renfrow to make up a lot of ground. Still, it was a highly impressive masquerade as a defensive back for a guy who hasn't played defense since high school. Per Next Gen Stats, Renfrow covered 10.4 yards in 1.5 seconds to make the fourth-and-12 play.
"That was an amazing play. Even if the guy had caught it, he was short," Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. "And that just shows you what kind of football player [Renfrow] is. I think he's one of the best football players in the NFL. I think he's a special, special talent and for him to make that play ... you look back at that play like, 'Wow, what a play.' I was very impressed by that."
On a three-TD night for Chargers star QB Justin Herbert, perhaps the Raiders could've used a bit more Renfrow at the safety position.