Las Vegas Raiders’ Darren Waller says the battle for sobriety has made it harder to be out of the lineup

HENDERSON, Nev. Las Vegas Raiders tight-end Darren Waller, who returned to action in Sunday night’s playoff clincher after missing five games due to left knee and back injuries and then a positive test for COVID-19, acknowledged that the break was harder than usual because of his daily struggle for sobriety.

“Because of my addiction, it can make me think all sorts of crazy things,” Waller said Wednesday. “So I have to make sure I talk about those things when I have all the free time. I have my therapist. Keep going. [A.A.] meetings. Stayed in the playbook. Works with music. Just stay solid, keep my head out of free time and just get into things that I enjoy. And stay in the football game as much as I can. “

Waller, the Raiders’ candidate for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for his work off the field with youth, was named his first Pro Bowl in 2020 when he set a franchise record with 107 catches for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns .

This season, he finished the regular season with 55 catches for 665 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. After going down with injuries in the first half at the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 25, Waller did not train until last week and was a game-day decision to look up to the Los Angeles Chargers. He caught two passes on nine goals on 22 yards in Las Vegas’ 35-32 overtime win at Allegiant Stadium.

“With Darren and I, there was some rust there and some miscommunication and little things here and there that can be easily corrected and easily corrected,” said Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. “I mean, we kind of fix that on the court and all that.”

That Carr and Waller find their chemistry this week would increase the Raiders’ chances in Saturday’s wild-card game against the Cincinnati Bengals, which will mark the team’s first time in the postseason since 2016 and just its second trip since playing in the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. It will also be the first time the Raiders and Bengals have met in the playoffs since January 13, 1991, when Bo Jackson suffered the hip injury that ended his football career.

Waller said he is happy to be back on the field with the team as it prepares for a short week and an almost cross-country trip.

“It’s hard, honestly, because I’m a human at the end of the day, and I’m still trying to get rid of my old thought patterns,” he said. “Well, when I’m not out there [playing], I can think these thoughts about: ‘The team is frolicking without me being in there. Am I useless? ‘ These irrational thoughts.

“I had to be willing to stay in the practice I have that brings me back from that place – ‘Wow, woah, woah, it’s not even that anymore.’ I’m not out there performing on my own, but I still have a role on this team, but sometimes my mind can tell me, “Oh, man, you’re not really doing anything. You’re out. “

“So it’s just to stay locked in. I have to because my mind can take me to those places. And I do not want to be there anymore.”

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