June 13, 2024

HENDERSON, Nev. — As Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby turned the corner and zeroed in on New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones to share a game-sealing sack and safety with defensive tackle Bilal Nichols in Week 6, it only seemed like the play was a blur.

From Crosby’s perspective, the 3.66 seconds it took for him to go from a three-point stance on the left edge to tossing Jones onto the silver and black-painted end zone unfolded in slow motion.

“I see everything,” Crosby said. “I was very calm. The play before, I came through clean, and they blew the whistle. So I was like, ‘All right, I’ve got to get this s—. I’ve got to get home.'”

The Raiders’ two-time Pro Bowl defensive end noticed tight end Mike Gesicki cheating toward him, a sure sign he would chip-block Crosby before releasing him to right tackle Vederian Lowe.

Crosby blew by Gesicki, who whiffed so badly he fell to the grass, effectively taking himself out of the play as a potential outlet receiver. Then Crosby feigned a spin move on Lowe before simply stutter-stepping around him to meet Nichols at the Patriots quarterback for his first safety at any level.

Ballgame. Raiders 21, Patriots 17.

“There’s no better feeling, closing the game out,” Crosby continued. “It was an out-of-body experience. It was incredible.”

Almost as fanciful as Crosby, who was given the nickname “Mad Maxx” in college, is going from Day 3 draft pick to one of the most feared edge rushers in the NFL. Crosby, a recovering alcoholic who checked himself into rehab in the spring of 2020, acknowledged his singular focus and temperament is what makes Maxx so mad, literally, and figuratively — on, and off, the field. Entering Week 8, Crosby ranks second in pressures (31), is tied for second in tackles for loss (9), and his 6.5 sacks are tied for seventh most in the NFL.

“Yeah, I’m an addict,” he said. “I went through what I went through, but this is way bigger than that. For me, it helps that I have that addictive personality, but I’ve always loved football. Just now, I have a lot more time and a lot more energy and I’m not going out and doing the s— I used to do. Now, all my energy is put into my craft, and when I have the time to be home, it’s with my daughter. That’s all that matters to me, and that’s most important.

“I don’t ever want to look back and be like, ‘Damn, I wish I would’ve done more. I wish I would’ve done this.’ It’s like, ‘No, I’m going to put f—ing everything I have into it and see where it takes me.’ And that’s why I feel like I just continuously keep getting better.”

Crosby will lead the Raiders (3-4) into Detroit to face the Lions (5-2) for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” (8:15 p.m. ET, Ford Field, ABC/ESPN). And his engine is revved for the trip to the Motor City. But really, his motor hasn’t stopped since he began his quest to be one of the NFL’s best edge rushers.

“S—, I want to be the best,” he said. “That’s why I do this. I’m obsessed with getting better. Every single day.”

THERE WILL BE pangs of nostalgia for the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder. It will be a homecoming of sorts, as he attended Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti — some 40 miles from Ford Field. He was a Lions fan while at EMU, which put him in its Ring of Honor this past summer. It’s also near where his mother Vera grew up in East Detroit.

The heavily tattooed Texas native — Crosby has an outline of the Lone Star State inked on his right thigh, an outline of Michigan on his left — was so large as a newborn, weighing in at 11 pounds, 9 ounces at birth, his mom added the extra “X” to his name.

That wasn’t the only thing extra about Crosby when he arrived with the Raiders after being a fourth-round pick in 2019.

“He was blonde, and he didn’t have no facial hair,” howled All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs, a fellow member of the Raiders’ 2019 draft class. “And he looked like [Draco] Malfoy.”

Bearing a resemblance to Harry Potter’s foil might have been enough for the red-headed Crosby to go natural and let his beard grow out. But the effort and obsession to be great was there from the moment he arrived, because, after all, he was playing football, not Quidditch.

When former Raiders coach Jon Gruden and then-general manager Mike Mayock called Crosby on April 27, 2019, to tell him the Raiders were using the No. 106 overall pick on him, they relayed another message.

“I’m expecting you to come in here and lead the league in effort, brother,” Gruden said.

“Yes, sir,” Crosby replied through tears. “You already know.”

Indeed, Crosby was the 10th defensive end taken in that draft, the second by the Raiders, who selected Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 overall pick. Crosby’s 44 career sacks are the 10th most in the NFL since he entered the league.

Along with his innate talent, it’s the dedication to his craft that has made Crosby stand out. The intensity is unavoidable in Raiders practices for the unfortunate offensive linemen tasked with blocking him. Yes, even if they wear the same colors.

“I f—ing hate him,” deadpanned Raiders right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor. “Very irritating. Goes hard as s—.”

Then Eluemunor laughed. What else could he do when it comes to Crosby’s game-like intensity in practice?

“It makes you better, honestly,” Eluemunor said. “Him going to that speed and that tempo and with the aggression he plays with, it readies you for a game. Especially with the guys you go against in the season.”

Thayer Munford Jr., who rotates with Eluemunor, agreed.

“He goes 110 percent every day and [I have] all types of respect for him, even though I hate him sometimes,” Munford said of Crosby with a grin. “Most of the time I hate him during practice, but he’s trying to make everybody else better.”

Without being dirty?

“It’s just, he goes hard,” Munford said. “He’s just crazy. And that’s my guy, man. I love him for being him … he always wants to win. He always competes, every day. In everything.”

Eluemunor compared going against Crosby in practice to going against Pittsburgh Steelers five-time Pro Bowl edge rusher and 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt in a game.

“Just that relentless aggression and they’re just going to keep going and keep going,” Eluemunor said. “But even T.J. gets tired; Maxx doesn’t get tired. He’s out there running with the fricking DBs, outrunning them.

“His gas tank, I think, is what makes him the player he is. Because he can go and is just relentless and he doesn’t get tired. And when he does get tired, he goes even harder.”

That nonstop activity that sometimes ticks off his teammates also can get under the skin of opponents. It enveloped Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in a Week 5 meeting last year.

As seen on Episode 2 of the Netflix series “Quarterback,” the two have developed a rivalry started by in-game “mind games” played by Crosby, with Mahomes complaining to referee Carl Cheffers about Crosby “diving” at him after every play.

The Raiders had jumped to a 17-0 lead before the Chiefs stormed back for a 30-29 victory. And it was after one of his four touchdown passes to tight end Travis Kelce when Mahomes screamed five times in succession at Crosby, “I’m here all day.”

Crosby responded by sauntering up to Mahomes and giving him a slight headbutt.

“You woke up the wrong motherf—er,” Mahomes yelled, five times in a row.

But after the final gun, guess who Mahomes sought out?

“Hey, you know I love you, dawg,” Mahomes told Crosby. “Hell of a game. You’re a f—ing baller.”

WHEN CROSBY FIRST joined the Raiders, Mayock told him he wanted him to hit the weights.

“Nothing will stop you once you get more powerful,” Mayock told him.

It was a sentiment shared by others in his rookie class.

“Coming in, I mean, he used to be a little chubby, you know what I’m saying?” Jacobs said. “So seeing him now, coming in and slimming up and really focusing on working on his physique and working on his game every day, I think is the biggest [change] that I see.

“He finally understands more of who he is and what he’s capable of and the potential that he’s willing to reach.”

Receiver Hunter Renfrow, taken one round and 43 picks after Crosby in the same draft, has seen a certain maturity take hold.

“That rookie year, he was still trying to figure himself out a little bit,” Renfrow said. “The biggest thing that has jumped out to me is probably accountability — accountability for himself. You can tell that, one, he’s accountable to other people, obviously, and he has been becoming more and more and more to the team, to his work ethic, to his body. Every year he takes it to another level.

“He kind of had to look himself in the mirror and say, ‘This is not what I want,’ and then, ‘This is where I want to be.’ And then every day seemed like he’s attacking that, and taking those steps to be who he wants to become.”

A surprising standout rookie season with 10 sacks led to his finishing second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. The lifestyle of being in the NFL also placed him at a crossroads, so on March 11, 2020, he entered rehab at a facility in Hollywood, California. He spent a month there, then was in treatment at a sober living facility in Venice Beach prior to training camp.

He says he has not had an alcoholic drink since, and his career has taken off while his family life has settled down thanks to his wife Rachel and the arrival of their daughter Ella Rose, who celebrated her first birthday Oct. 13.

All of which made the two-time Pro Bowler’s training camp comment about having “no balance” when it comes to chasing his football life somewhat eyebrow-raising with his admitted addictive personality.

“When you’re obsessed with something, it requires all your attention and energy and yeah, there’s no balance,” he said. “You just have to have people in your circle that understand what you’re chasing. And it is not just about me, it’s way bigger than me — it’s about my legacy. I do it to set an example for my daughter, my wife, the people in my circle that are the closest to me.

“I want to go and do everything I ever imagined. And it requires a ridiculous amount of work and a ridiculous amount of attention to detail to do that on a daily basis. And that’s why I feel like I’ve separated myself from everybody.”

Giving his best effort has been rewarded, as the Raiders signed Crosby to a four-year, $98.98 million contract extension in March 2022, two years to the day he entered rehab.

It’s only served to motivate him more as his offseason workouts have become the stuff of legend around the Raiders compound, where he shows up at 6 a.m. daily.

When Crosby wasn’t working on his pass rush moves on a palm tree in his backyard during the pandemic or sparring with UFC welterweight champion Sean Strickland, he was off on an impromptu 10-mile run on Miami’s South Beach. Or, he was swimming countless laps in the pool and working on quick explosion techniques and changing to a cleaner eating diet. All in an effort to make himself as “uncomfortable” as possible to make it all comfortable in his quest to find that extra 1% improvement.



How boxing, MMA have benefited Maxx Crosby

Maxx Crosby explains to Pat McAfee and A.J. Hawk how implementing boxing and MMA into his routine has helped improve his NFL performance.

And when he wasn’t in the Raiders weight room — he did give himself a week off after starting his program on Jan. 30 — he did his conditioning drills with the defensive backs.

“Some days, it was embarrassing,” laughed cornerback Amik Robertson. “Other days, he’d win the sprints. It was like he was made in the lab.”

A lab in which the burgeoning All-Pro is constantly tinkering with his high-rev motor.

Crosby, who’s been dealing with a sore left knee since a Week 2 game at the Buffalo Bills, recently had a three-game stretch — at the Los Angeles Chargers and home against the Green Bay Packers and Patriots — where he played 100% of the Raiders’ defensive snaps, an almost unheard of playtime percentage for a defensive lineman. Per ESPN Stats & Information, the average percentage playtime for a starting defensive lineman through seven weeks this season was 62%; Crosby was at 97%.

In Sunday’s loss at the Chicago Bears, he took two snaps off.

Last season, he was the only D-lineman in the league to play more than 1,000 defensive snaps. And 9.5 of his 12.5 sacks last season came in the second half of games.

CROSBY, WHO TURNED 26 in August, is an old soul when it comes to football. He maintains a relationship with his former D-line coach with the Raiders, the decidedly old-school Rod Marinelli, and football history is one of the main things they talk about.

They huddle on the phone weekly and a recent topic of conversation was Hall of Famer Doug Atkins, a 6-8 defensive end who played in the 1950s and 60s, a throwback player whose lanky skill set Crosby might glean a thing or two from to add to his own toolbox.

“The history of the game is super important and needs to be appreciated more, especially with these young guys like Tyree [Wilson] and Byron Young,” Crosby said with a laugh of the rookie Raiders defensive linemen. “They have no clue who Doug Atkins is, but I feel like it’s important to know your history and give respect to the guys who did it before.”

Yes, that’s also a part of what drives Crosby, whose 22 tackles for loss last season led the NFL — the game’s history and his place in it.

Because despite a revolving door at edge rusher across from him — Ferrell was his draft classmate and the Raiders have since brought in the likes of Yannick Ngakoue in 2021, Chandler Jones in 2022 and drafted Wilson this past spring with Malcolm Koonce getting a lot of the run this season — Crosby’s 81 pressures, 12.5 sacks and 36 QB hits last season were all career highs.

His 102 pressures over the past two seasons are the most in the NFL.

And while it may seem a task to control that fire that rages inside Crosby — he has been known to commit the untimely penalty at inopportune times — he does not see it as such.

“There’s no such thing as burnout,” Crosby insisted. “It’s just a mentality. You’re physically always going to be sore. You’re going to be tired. You’re going to have ups and downs. But if you stick to your routine and constantly are searching for ways to get better and ways to improve, that’s how you keep going. You’ve got to truly be obsessed with it if you want to be the best.”

It’s something Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, who Crosby recently called a “genius” on ESPN’s “The Pat McAfee Show,” experienced immediately upon being hired in 2022.

Because while Crosby’s intentions to improve himself were evident, McDaniels saw another evolution taking place — Crosby improving players around him.

“He just has such an effect on everybody every day, and then along with that, there’s a lot of pressure because you have to be on every day,” McDaniels said. “You can’t come in and have a day where you just go through the motions. And he never does. … He’s obsessed with being the best version of himself every day and you see it, and that’s why you see him improve at it.”

There’s that word again — obsessed.

A word from which Crosby does not shy away. Far from it. After all, he has no Plan B.

“I show up with a mentality to improve,” he said. “I’m just constantly searching for what’s next, and that’s how you’ve got to be if you want to get to where I’m planning on going.

“So yeah, my motivation is to be the best version of myself. Every day.”

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