It had all the makings of a disaster. On the heels of a national scandal that resulted in their coach Jon Gruden resigning, the Las Vegas Raiders had to play a game in Denver on Sunday. How could they focus? How could they overcome a two-game losing streak, the loss of their coach, and the feelings of betrayal and confusion brought about by the Gruden news?
Not only could they do it by compartmentalizing their emotions and personal feelings about their former coach, but they did it with a renewed focus on the football field, which led to an impressive 34-24 win over the rival Denver Broncos on the road Sunday.
It was the most complete game these 4-2 Raiders played all season. They did so against all odds, including most prognosticators (including this one) who didn’t think Las Vegas could pull it together so quickly. Boy, we were wrong.
“It’s a bunch of grown men handling their emotions throughout the week and putting them in perspective when it was time to go play the game,” interim head coach Rich Bisaccia said. “They seem to do a really good job with it. We’ll see what goes on from here. We’ll see the consistency that we can have going on. I think that’ll be the challenge for all of us.”
Tough times have a way of showing you a person’s, or a team’s, moxy. You can sometimes crumble under the weight of the situation or dig deep and find something in yourself you didn’t think possible. In the case of this Raiders team, they didn’t need to be convinced it was possible; they just needed to focus on the football.
“Sometimes when you get punched in the gut, it’s hard to bounce back,” team captain Derek Carr said after the win in Denver. “We were able to do it. We needed it. With everything that’s gone on, I know there will be a time for the emotions of all that, but now is not the time.”
Still, the NFL season is a long one. The Raiders now sit tied atop the AFC West with the Los Angeles Chargers, who were throttled Sunday by the Baltimore Ravens. The Kansas City Chiefs, still reeling on defense, beat the Washington Football Team convincingly on Sunday and aren’t finished in the division either. The Raiders still have the return game with the Chargers later in Las Vegas and have yet to face Kansas City this season. While yesterday’s win was big emotionally and from a playoff chase standpoint, there’s much work to be done and one week does not make a season.
“For us to go out there and have a great week of practice and go out there and play good football, it’s just a testament to all of these guys in the locker room,” defense end Maxx Crosby said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis battle brewing with the NFL?
In a report from CBS Sports on Sunday, owner Mark Davis believes the decade-old Jon Gruden emails — and his ensuing forced resignation — was a “hit job” by the league. He also believes it’s a concerted effort by the league to oust him as the owner of the Raiders. You can’t argue with the “hit job” portion as out of 650,000 emails being investigated in the train wreck, that was the WFT front office only Gruden’s contained objectionable material? As discussed with ESPN’s business and legal analyst Andrew Brandt on our Silver and Black Today: Game Day show on The Fan in Las Vegas Sunday, that seems highly unlikely.
Reviving the old “Davis vs. the NFL” feud might be an ingredient for this Raiders team. Although I have been critical of Davis’ handling of the situation, it certainly looks like he’s preparing for a fight of some sort and I can’t blame him. The beef is legitimate.
The Raiders final 2021 chapter will be fascinating
While the book on this Raiders season remains entirely written, Sunday’s win in Denver was a statement from a team in transition. There will be a new coach in 2022, and there could even be a new general manager. This current version of the Silver and Black isn’t worried about that just yet. They’re channeling the crazy mix of emotions they’ve dealt with over the past 10 days into football, and that’s good for everyone.
Six weeks are in the bag for these Raiders. What the next 12 weeks bring is unknown. The way the team has responded to the worst of situations bodes well for them. The defense continues to lead the way and the Las Vegas offense came alive under new play-caller Greg Olson. All of that is good news.
But let’s take it one game at a time right now. Just like the Raiders are doing themselves.