The Las Vegas Raiders saw the return of Darren Waller in Week 18, and it could not come at a better time as the team was in a dogfight against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chargers forced overtime thanks to Justin Herbert, who repeatedly made big-time throws in the fourth quarter, but the Raiders came through in the extra period to secure their spot in the Wild Card round. Waller was not too involved in his first game back as he secured two catches for 22 yards, but his presence occupied the L.A. defense and gave Derek Carr more options to throw to.
Waller missed five games due to back and knee injuries and the star tight end admitted that his time off the field presented challenges to his sobriety, via Vincent Bonsignore of Las Vegas Review-Journal:
“It’s tough, honestly, because I’m a human being at the end of the day, and I’m still trying to shed my old thinking patterns,” Waller said. “So, when I’m not out there, I can think these thoughts of, ‘The team is balling without me being in there. Am I useless?’ These irrational thoughts.”
Being unable to practice and play in games took Waller out of his regular in-season routine, which opened the door for him to revisit negative thoughts he had previously discussed. Waller’s past issues with sobriety have been well-documented, and although he has been able to stay from substances, it is undoubtedly still difficult not to fall into old habits.
It may sound silly for Waller to think that the Raiders did not need him after their three-game winning streak, but that is unfortunately the result of what a negative headspace can do. The Silver and Black are much better with the 29-year-old on the field, and it will be exciting to see how he does in his first playoff game this weekend.