This season the Raiders have been starting Darren McFadden with Maurice Jones-Drew getting some carries as well. Over their ten losses this season, they were 0-10 because of their historically bad run game. It was the primary reason for the team having the worst offense in the NFL and the main reason for their not having a win this season.
I myself have harped on the issue more and more as the season went on and as the offense continued to struggle.
First of all, it was not using Latavius Murray at all. Then it was the Raiders inability to pick up first downs on run plays, even in short yardage. Tony Sparano said two weeks ago that the team had tried to run on third and short and had basically given up on it ever working.
He had lost faith in the run game. But all the while, Murray and Marcel Reece stood on the sideline while the team would hand the ball to Darren McFadden in short yardage or even Jamize Olawale. In this game, both Murray and Reece showed why they deserved the ball in those situations all along.
It began with Murray, who didn't start the game, but who got his first carry on the first drive of the game. At the time, Darren McFadden had run the ball three times for seven yards (1, 3, 3). Murray got the ball and took it for six yards. Then after the Raiders drove down the field, they gave it to Murray again and he took it 11 yards for a touchdown.
It was the first running touchdown by the Raiders all season. And it was not the last.
The next time the Raiders got the ball, on the first play, they went back to Murray and he broke through the line and went 90 yards for the touchdown. It was the fourth longest run from scrimmage in Raiders history. He would later leave with a concussion but not before running for 112 yards and two touchdowns on four carries.
"We put him in there early and got him going early and when you run the ball the way he ran the ball today, he earns more snaps no doubt about it. I think we just gotta see how he comes out of this thing here and what happens with him here over the next couple days."
With Murray sidelined, in his absence, the Raiders turned to Marcel Reece to grind it out late. On the final drive, with the Raiders down 20-17, they needed a long drive and it would help if they could run some time off the clock. They got both thanks to Reece.
The veteran Pro Bowl fullback had 7 carries for 25 yards on the drive as they Raiders ran 7:21 off the clock and Derek Carr finished it off with a 9-yard touchdown pass to James Jones. That score turned out to be the game winner.
"Today the offense took the ball down the field at the end of the game and did it the good old-fashioned Oakland Raider way," said Sparano. "They ran it, and ran it, and ran it, and were efficient. And we made a big play. The quarterback made a heck of a play, James made a heck of a play."
Turning to Reece late in this game when the Raiders most needed a long drive turned out to be just the right formula. And it was not something that was in the Raiders game plan coming in.
"I felt like we could run the ball downhill at them a little bit," Sparano continued. "I said to [running backs coach Kelly Skipper] at one point, we lost Latavius there and I felt like Marcel - I tried to get him involved last week that way. It just didn't fall out that way - I just felt like we need to get this guy back there. He's a big back. Any time I've ever used him that way or seen him used that way, he can push the pile a little bit and I felt like we were moving them pretty good there and he did a heck of a job. He really did. I don't think the guy took a hand-off this week in practice and he's just always ready. A real Oakland Raider."
With Murray and Reece as the workhorse backs in this game, they had 149 of the Raiders 179 rushing yards on the day. That rushing total was unheard of through the first ten games. And they did it with a healthy Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew standing on the sideline watching.
Tony Sparano said following the game that they learned something about themselves today. He said they learned that they fight. Well, they also learned something that it seems like they were the last ones to learn - that their best running backs were on the team, but they weren't the ones they had been putting on the field.