Time to start cranking up the Xavien Howard Pro Bowl hype.
Shoot, the way he’s played through three games, an All-Pro nod is not out of the question.
Just ask Amari Cooper, whom Howard rendered irrelevant in Sunday’s Dolphins win over the Raiders.
Cooper, with Howard covering him for much of the game, managed just two catches for 17 yards on five targets.
One of those targets resulted in the first of Howard’s two interceptions.
Early on, Derek Carr threw deep into double, if not triple coverage, and Cooper could barely make a play on the ball. Instead, it ended up in Howard’s grasp.
“The receiver stopped and I just wanted to attack the ball. If the ball comes to my side, I’ve got to take advantage of it,” Howard said.
The second pick was far more difficult — and important to the outcome of the game.
The Raiders trailed the Dolphins by four points with three minutes left in regulation when Carr went to Martavis Bryant in the end zone. Bad idea, as Howard was all over him, made the interception and helped sealed the Dolphins’ third straight victory.
“I’ve been hearing it all week that they were going to try me, so I’ve got to make them pay when they try me,” Howard said. “... “It was a tight space. He was trying to do a double move and I ended up reading the quarterback the whole time. He just left the ball in the air and I took advantage of it.”
Howard added: “That was a game changer. That meant everything. I think we took the soul out of them when I caught that interception.”
Howard told us on Thursday that he expected to shadow Cooper, and that was the case for most of the game. And with every failed pass attempt, Cooper’s frustration grew, Howard said.
“He said he respected me after the game,” Howard added.
How could Cooper not? Howard has three interceptions in as many weeks. Entering the game, quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 28.2 when throwing in his direction, and it’s hard to see how those numbers would improve after Sunday’s dominance.
It’s a wonder Carr tested Howard at all, given the success the Raiders had going to Jordy Nelson.
Sunday was a throwback game for the ex-Packer. He caught six passes for 173 yards and a touchdown. He had two receptions of over 60 yards in the first quarter alone. Much of the work Nelson did Sunday was against Bobby McCain, who had a rough afternoon. McCain even had a fat lip in the post-game locker room; his helmet came off on an attempted tackle late in the game and he crashed face-first into the turf.
Early on, we had a tough start. We gave up some big plays early, but we rallied around each other when we got in the huddle, made sure we all locked in and finished the game. That’s all that matters at the end of the day is that second half. We rallied around each other and got the [win]”