Terrance Mitchell knew the ball was coming his way. Had to.
This was Thursday, late in the fourth quarter of the Chiefs’ 21-13 win over Oakland, and the Raiders faced fourth and 6 at the Chiefs’ 19 with around two minutes left.
Mitchell, the Chiefs’ untested third-year cornerback, was lined up across from Seth Roberts — one of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr’s favorite targets — to the field side with no safety help.
So as Carr prepared to receive the shotgun snap, and the crowd of 75,191 roared, Mitchell took a deep breath and readied himself for one of the game’s biggest plays.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“I felt it was coming — I felt it,” Mitchell said. “I just know there was a lot of space and me and him. It was fourth down and he took his shot on the guy that ain’t been out there.”
Didn’t work. Carr lofted a floater toward Roberts, who ran a fade pattern down the numbers. But the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Mitchell blanketed Roberts and knocked the ball away, forcing a turnover on downs and icing the game for the Chiefs.
“He gave his dude a shot,” Mitchell said with a grin, “and I was ready for it.”
The Chiefs’ third corner spot — alongside stalwarts Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson — has been a bit of a merry-go-round because of injuries and performance. Mitchell’s effort in his first career NFL start Thursday left an impression on coach Andy Reid, who praised the 24-year old for making “a couple” of nice plays.
“He has a little bit of experience and it looked like it showed,” Reid said. “It didn’t seem too big for him. He got in, and he competed — gave you an honest down.
“Were there a couple he’d like to have back? Probably. But there are some that he sure did a nice job on.”
There weren’t that many Mitchell would like to have back, though. According to Pro Football Focus, he surrendered just three receptions for 14 yards on seven targets, while also making the aforementioned pass deflection in a clutch situation.
Not bad, for a player who is on his fourth team since he was selected in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.
Mitchell, a three-year starter at Oregon, declared for the draft a year early. His fall to the seventh round, which was precipitated by a 4.63-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, still makes him shake his head.
So does the fact he was cut by the Cowboys in his rookie preseason and by Chicago Bears 14 months later. Another stint in Dallas ended this summer, and a short stint with the Houston Texans ended right before the season opener.
That’s when the Chiefs, who play the abundance of man coverage Mitchell craves, came knocking. He signed with the practice squad and looked to impress his position coaches, particularly former all-pro Al Harris, who Mitchell grew up idolizing along with other press corners such as Charles Woodson.
“The way he played,” Mitchell said, “I just want to emulate that.”
It may sound simple, but three months later, Mitchell earned his shot — first against Atlanta on Dec. 4, in which he played 36 snaps — by practicing with consistent competitiveness.
“We felt it was worthy to give him a shot to see what he could do,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “I think you really have to say that this guy has stepped up and done a really nice job.”
Sutton said Mitchell will continue to get opportunities. He is getting more reps, which means he should continue to improve … just like he did in Dallas, when he had to cover Dez Bryant daily, and in Chicago, when he had to cover Alshon Jeffery.
“I have a lot of confidence in my ability,” Mitchell said. “All those stops I’ve made, it’s prepared me.”