After dealing with an emotional, turbulent week, the Las Vegas Raiders rose up and showed their toughness in beating the Denver Broncos.
If that’s not the motto for the Las Vegas Raiders the rest of this season, it ought to be.
No team had more right to lose this weekend. The Raiders saw head coach Jon Gruden resign in disgrace on Monday night following a hoard of ugly emails coming to light. In the following days, owner Mark Davis was a coward, hiding in the background while assistant coaches and players answered for Gruden’s actions.
Despite interim coach Rich Basaccia’s best efforts, it seemed a trip to Denver would be a big ask for a team in turmoil.
Then, on Sunday, the Raiders rose up and won 34-24, snapping a two-game skid while extending Denver’s losing streak to three.
Throughout the game, Las Vegas imposed its will on all phases. Maxx Crosby was dominant with three more sacks, bringing his total to five this season. The Raiders picked off Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater three times, and held him to 173 yards through 45 minutes before garbage time kicked in.
Offensively, Derek Carr re-established after a few bad weeks. The veteran went for 341 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover, finding second-year receiver Henry Ruggs three times for 97 yards and an opening-drive score.
At 4-2, Las Vegas is tied atop the AFC West with the Los Angeles Chargers, who were hammered by the Baltimore Ravens. The Raiders also remain a game ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs, with two matchups remaining against them.
But the story from Sunday isn’t about the standings or a few standout performances. It’s the collective effort which wasn’t expected in many corners. Under Gruden, the Raiders continuously came up small in big moments, shrinking as the stakes grew. Then, with Gruden putting the organization in hideous position, Carr and Co. rallied around each other to score a huge win.
Whether the Raiders can sustain this is unclear. Las Vegas hosts the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend before visiting the New York Giants. After that, Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium against Kansas City followed by the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys. It won’t be easy.
Regardless, Las Vegas put the league on notice with a resounding win over the sinking Broncos. The Raiders aren’t ready to capitulate. They’re ready to fight, and Basaccia is capable of steering them forward.
This season, the Raiders aren’t going to make excuses.
On Sunday, they didn’t need any in a demolition of Denver.
Top 10 return men of all-time
1. Devin Hester – Chicago Bears (19 TDs, 4x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, All-Decade 2000s Team)
2. Gale Sayers – Chicago Bears (All-time yards per return leader, 8 TDs, 3x all-purpose leader)
3. Billy Johnson – Houston Oilers (3x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, All-Decade 1970s and 1980s Teams)
4. Cordarrelle Patterson – Minnesota Vikings (4x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, All-Decade 2010s Team)
5. Rick Upchurch – Denver Broncos (4x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, All-Decade 1970s and 1980s Team)
6. Mel Gray – Detroit Lions (4x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, All-Decade 1990s Team, 4th all-time yardage)
7. Dante Hall – Kansas City Chiefs (12 TDs, All-Decade 2000s Team, 6th all-time yardage)
8. Deion Sanders – Atlanta Falcons (9 TDs, 5,722 yards, 3x TD leader, 1x leader punt yardage)
9. Josh Cribbs – Cleveland Browns (11 TDs, All-Decade 2000s Team, 3rd all-time yardage)
10. Brian Mitchell – Washington Football Team (1x yards leader, 3x TD leader, 1st all-time yards)
Joe Judge: “We’re in that submarine right now. Something wrong happens, it’s going to be someone on the ship to step up & save everyone. If there’s a leak, someone’s gotta plug it for you. No one is coming. No one will get there in time to help you if you don’t fix it yourself.”
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) October 17, 2021
There’s no plugging these holes in New York. The Giants, again, are sinking.
In 1979, the Seattle Seahawks hosted the Los Angeles Rams at the Kingdome. The home team proceeded to set a record for offensive futility, notching -7 yards in a 24-0 loss.
Info learned this week
1. Ravens, Chargers separated by defenses going forward
The Baltimore Ravens should terrify the rest of the NFL.
After a summer of injuries and prognostications of doom, the Ravens are 5-1 after plowing the Chargers on a short week, 34-6. Baltimore’s defense held Justin Herbert to 195 yards and an interception, while Los Angeles only ran for 26 yards on 2.2 yards per carry. Conversely, Jackson accounted for 218 yards and a touchdowns, albeit with two interceptions.
The bigger long-term story, though, are the defenses.
Los Angeles entered Sunday as the league’s worst defense in yards per carry (5.6) and rushing yards per game (157.6) allowed. The Ravens feasted, gashing head coach Brandon Staley’s defense for 187 yards on 4.9 YPC, along with three scores. Over the past two weeks, the Chargers have permitted 78 points. It’s been rough.
As for the Ravens, they’re overcoming the torn ACL of corner Marcus Peters. Baltimore held Los Angeles’ receivers to 110 yards while sacking Herbert twice. With Baltimore’s offense humming behind Jackson — the MVP frontrunner entering Week 7 –the Ravens only need the defense to be solid.
2. Chiefs look awful early, rebound behind Mahomes, defensive adjustments
Patrick Mahomes fumbled the snap, gathered the ball and threw it straight into the blue sky. Interception.
At this point, Mahomes had two red-zone picks — the previous one on Tyreek Hill — and Kansas City went into halftime against the Washington Football Team trailing 13-10. After 11 turnovers in their previous 13 quarters, the Chiefs committed three more in the first 30 minutes on Sunday.
Then, suddenly, Kansas City found itself.
Mahomes went wild in the final two quarters, finishing with 397 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs totaled 499 yards with 29 first downs. Reserve running back Darrel Williams made his first NFL start and ran for 62 yards with two scores. Imagine if Kansas City’s offense could stop turning the ball over.
Additionally, after being the league’s worst defense through five weeks, the Chiefs held Washington to 276 yards and 15 first downs in a 31-13 win. While Washington’s offense is pitiful, it was the unit’s worst output. For Kansas City, an array of adjustments paid off, limiting Taylor Heinicke and the offense to a single explosive play.
It’s only 3-3 and a win over Washington, but the second half may be a turning point for the Chiefs.
3. Cowboys offense overcomes Patriots, makes Dallas an elite contender
Dak Prescott better build a large trophy room.
The Cowboys quarterback is a cinch to be Comeback Player of the Year, and he’s firmly in the MVP race. And, don’t look now, Dallas is a legit threat in the Super Bowl conversation.
On Sunday, Prescott led the Cowboys back late and then sealed the win over the New England Patriots in overtime on a 35-yard touchdown to CeeDee Lamb. All told, Prescott threw for 445 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, helping Dallas rack up 567 yards of total offense.
At 45-1, the Cowboys have finished off the NFC East race. They’re now onto bigger things, trying to keep pace with the other conference powers. It’s been an impressive rebound from such an ugly first season under head coach Mike McCarthy, where injuries and poor play resulted in a 6-10 finish.
The defense has been solid — save for corner Trevon Diggs, who is a Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner with seven interceptions — but it’s not about that unit. No, it’s about a top-flight offense led by Prescott which can beat any team on a given day.
Dallas now enjoys its well-earned bye week before a three-game stretch against the Vikings, Broncos and Falcons. Good times.
4. Unbeaten Cardinals smash Browns, who have concerns abound
The Arizona Cardinals deserve respect. At 6-0 with road wins over the Rams and Browns, Arizona has one of the league’s best resumés. It also has the only clean record in football.
Kyler Murray had another wonderful game, throwing for 229 yards and four touchdowns without a turnover. For general manager Steve Keim, this season has been vindication of an offseason loaded with veteran additions, including receiver A.J. Green, edge rusher J.J. Watt and center Rodney Hudson.
Behind Hudson, the Cards’ offensive line has been much better than years past. Watt, who notched his first sack in ’21 on Sunday, has been a positive force every game, making the little plays. Green, long thought a relic, has 340 yards and three touchdowns. It’s been a trio of wins for Keim.
As for the Browns, the alarms are quietly sounding.
Cleveland watched running back Kareem Hunt carted off with an Achilles injury. The Browns were already without tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin, and Hunt’s running mate in Nick Chubb. Baker Mayfield, dealing with a left shoulder injury, doesn’t look right. He went for 234 yards and two touchdowns with three turnovers. Those numbers look far worse without the 57-yard Hail Mary at the conclusion of the first half.
The Browns don’t have time to dwell with a Thursday night game coming against Denver. At 3-3, the season remains in hand, but Cleveland is starting to drown in problems.
5. Packers pulling away in weak NFC North after win at Chicago
Only six weeks into the season, and you can start printing the banner in the NFC North.
Following a 24-14 win over the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers are a full two games ahead of both Chicago and Minnesota, with Detroit four games back. Green Bay already has two divisional wins and provided Aaron Rodgers stays upright, it’s essentially on his health to ensure a home game come January.
The Packers aren’t without issue. The offensive line and defense has injuries and the offense is always a Davante Adams ailment away from struggling to consistently make plays on the outside. Still, Green Bay is clearly tops in the division, and with a road win over the Bears, it’s tough to imagine the other three teams getting into the race.
Going forward, the Packers host Washington before road dates with the Arizona Cardinals and Chiefs. After what should be a win, we’ll see Green Bay challenged on the road against the NFL’s elite. A great litmus test for the Packers as NFC contenders, not just winners of a lousy division.
The Houston Texans are visiting the Cardinals this weekend as 17-point underdogs over at WynnBet. Bet your life savings (not really, don’t do that) on Arizona to cover. The line can’t get high enough.
If the NFL is serious about growing the game abroad, it should consider sending some premier games overseas.
While England is likely excited to host any NFL game, it’s tough to sell games between the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons, and Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. All four teams are struggling and have little star-power. In the beginning of this European experiment, we saw Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. We saw Drew Brees and Philip Rivers squaring off.
This year? Four bad teams with no drawing power. Want to eventually put a team in England?
Showcase the sport at its best.
Inside the league
Back to Gruden, but this time more about him and not the Raiders.
In the wake of the scandal, I texted several league sources, asking the same question: how surprised were you with Gruden’s language in those emails? Here are the responses:
Source 1: “I’m not surprised at all,” one longtime NFL agent texted to me. “This league is a good ole boys network. I’ve been working in the NFL for 20 years and have heard much worse the what Jon emailed. I don’t say that to excuse it – just to answer your question. There are a lot of nervous NFL people cleaning out their outboxes this week.”
Source 2: “Not surprised,” another source with more than 30 years in the NFL said via text. “Gruden was obviously wrong but I remember many emails in the 90s and they wouldn’t go over well at all now. Different time.”
Source 3: “Zero percent. More dissatisfied that WFT escapes and (Gruden) gets pounded.”
Source 4: “Not surprised. Arrogant.”
Going a bit deeper with the conversations, it’s apparent most within league circles want to see improvement in terms of acceptance for lifestyles and progressive viewpoints. Gruden and his communications with former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen were ugly but far more standard than the NFL wants to admit. Time to change. Hell, long past time.
With more than a half-million emails remaining unseen, the league wants fans to believe Gruden and NFL general counsel Jeff Pash were the outliers. If that were true, the exchanges could be made public, something the NFL will fight forever.
Whether the emails come out is irrelevant in one regard: if nothing is done internally to change the mentality within the NFL’s upper crust, more ugly is coming.
The 1987 San Francisco 49ers are arguably the best team to not win a playoff game.
That strike-shortened year, San Francisco went 13-2 while ranking first in points scored and third in points allowed. The Niners boasted a roster which included Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley and Bill Walsh, along with Pro Bowlers in Roger Craig and Michael. Carter.
San Francisco was the NFC’s top seed and prohibitive favorite to win Super Bowl XXII. Then Wade Wilson, Anthony Carter and the Minnesota Vikings happened. Minnesota finished the regular season at 8-7 and was coming off a shocking 44-10 upset of the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round.
Against San Francisco, Carter put forth an all-time game, notching 10 receptions for 227 yards. Minnesota shocked the 11-point favorites at Candlestick Park, winning 36-24. The game was so devastating, 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo wanted to fire Walsh, while the coach wanted to resign. Ultimately, neither eventually happened, and the following year, San Francisco won it all.
Give the Cincinnati Bengals credit.
Young teams are notorious for losing trap games. They overlook the moment and get lost in the big picture. On Sunday, the Bengals were in such a spot, visiting the 0-5 Lions before facing off with the Ravens next weekend.
Instead of fumbling an opportunity, Cincinnati rolled to a 34-11 win, improving to 4-2 on the year. Joe Burrow threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, while Joe Mixon totaled 153 yards and rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase caught four passes for 97 yards.
Beating the Ravens in Baltimore would be an “arrival” victory, but even a loss isn’t crushing. The Bengals would be 4-3 before visiting the Jets.
Most will overlook Cincinnati’s win as something supposed to happen. That’s a mistake.
The Bengals are a young team learning how to be a winner. They took another step on Sunday.