ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders have a potentially season-killing locker room dynamic to solve. Especially in the wake of a potentially season-saving 31-30 win against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night to end a four-game losing streak and improve to 3-4 overall.
The question? Who, exactly, was Marshawn Lynch running on to the field to protect when a skirmish broke out in the wake of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr getting blasted by Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters in the second quarter? It was a hit that drew not only a flag, but the wrath of Raiders offensive linemen Donald Penn and Kelechi Osemele.
If it was Peters, Lynch's close friend from Oakland, then there are issues that a team meeting may not be able to resolve. Especially not with Lynch reportedly leaving Oakland Coliseum before halftime.
Oh yeah, and Lynch was ejected for his actions. No, not necessarily for running off the sideline to join the scrum, but for making contact with line judge Julian Mapp. Lynch grabbed Mapp's jersey and balled it up before letting it go and tending to Peters.
"I was disappointed that he ran out because I knew that we had a 15-yard penalty and we were going to be in good shape," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "I didn't get a chance to have a conversation about it. I told him you can't leave the bench like that. That was about it. Next thing I knew, he was being tossed.
"Obviously, you can never put your hands on an official and he was DQ'd."
The Raiders would have loved to have Lynch when they had first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 8 seconds to play.
"Marshawn came out and did his thing," Carr said. "Obviously, you never want a guy to get kicked out. That stinks, but just from knowing him, I know that he was out there just taking care of us."
Penn said he saw Carr get hit late so he went over to handle things.
"I ran over there and got [Peters] off of him because the refs weren't doing their job of protecting my quarterback when he's on the ground," Penn said.
"I saw Marshawn come out there; that's his cousin. Chris Long did that thing to his brother a couple years ago. Marshawn wasn't doing anything. He was just trying to protect his cousin, get his cousin to the sideline. They're real close, they're more like brothers than cousins, they're real close. He's going to learn. Marshawn's smart, he's going to learn from that moving forward."
Lynch has spoken to the media three times since coming out of retirement after being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks in April. And perhaps Lynch gave a sense of his true loyalty -- city or team -- in his first news conference.
I asked Lynch about joining a team that seemed, at the time, ready-made for a Super Bowl run, what with the reigning NFL defensive player of the year in Khalil Mack, a stout offensive line, a pair of explosive receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and one of the best young rising quarterbacks in Derek Carr.
Lynch did not mince words.
"Yeah, I got the whole town. You feel me, though, riding with me. So that's good what they've got going on, all that good s--- you just said. But I've got a whole new Oakland behind me, though," Lynch said on June 6. "The way we feel just about where we're from and why we represent where we're from so hard is because we know what the struggle is and how we get down, so every home game I'm probably going to be riding with the whole town."
It is not like Lynch has been a bad teammate. Far from it. He has been at every offseason workout. Every organized team activity. Every training camp practice. He has been a mentor to young running backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.
"It ain't like I'm saying, 'I'm coming to y'all's city and I'm riding with y'all,'" Lynch continued. "This is actually like, born and raised and bred and pissing in them hallways and running down them alleyways. I really did that right here and now I get an opportunity to play here. So all of that you said is great, that's good, but there's more for like Oakland, though."
In soccer, they call it club or country. The Raiders need to find out if Lynch is playing for Oakland, or the Raiders. Unless it is already too late.
"I know Peters is his cousin, right?" Khalil Mack said. "So, I didn't know if he was just talking trash to him, trying to play around or what. Knowing that you got DC on the ground and you see a guy hit him late, these guys love their quarterback and they are going to protect him at all costs, but in that situation we've got to use our head."
That the Raiders pulled off the win with no time on the clock -- Carr hit Crabtree for a 2-yard touchdown pass and Giorgio Tavecchio converted the PAT -- and Lynch long gone could be a good omen for a team trying to right itself. Especially with Cooper breaking out with 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns.
Lynch, after reportedly leaving the stadium, popped up in the Raiders' locker room after the game while wearing a mask over the lower part of his face.
He said, "We back in this." Does Lynch mean team or town, though?