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The Morning After: Raiders break another streak, 3-1 best team start to season since '02

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Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Raiders had this good of a start to the season was a very long time ago. Like, pre-dark era long time ago. The Raiders were 4-0 in 2002, and this year's 3-1 start is the best for Oakland since that Super Bowl losing year. Hopefully, that is a sign of great things to come for this season.

Now my definition of great isn't Super Bowl great or anything, though that of course would be a dream. No, "great" is still just going 9-7 and breaking the curse of the 13 year non-winning season streak. This start definitely puts the Raiders in great shape to be able to finally break that far too long streak, though we certainly can't count any chickens before the hatching occurs.

The funniest part about this great start is that it comes without a game where all aspects of the team played great together. The first win against the Saints was all offense, no defense. The win against the Titans was all defense, little offense. Now, this latest victory against the Baltimore Ravens had good defense and solid offense but you can't really say either one was spectacular.

The Raiders grinded out a very tough victory against the Ravens despite inconsistency on offense in fact. That isn't to say the offense doesn't deserve credit, they do deserve a lot of praise for their cold blooded game winning drive. However, throughout the game some drives were amazing from Derek Carr and the offense, while other drives they couldn't string 3 productive plays together to save their lives.

Ironically, that actually proves how good they are though. Anybody can win when the whole team plays great, but it takes a good team to power through inconsistency like they did in this game. That type of tenacity is great to see from the Raiders, and specifically from Derek Carr on the game winning drive.

Carr actually ended up with a good day despite the moments of ineptitude from the offense. The problems when the offense stalled were not usually on Derek Carr, they were on the rushing attack for the most part. The running backs were bottled up all day long, averaging just 3.3 ypc on their 19 rush attempts.

It takes a lot of discipline not to abandon a run game that was that stagnant, and as infuriating as it was to watch it was very important for the Raiders to keep the Ravens defense honest. That's exactly what the Oakland offense was able to accomplish, proven by Derek Carr's 25 of 35 (71% completion percentage) passing with 4 touchdowns.

That game winning drive though, are you kidding me? When this offense plays hurry up like this and gives the reins over to Carr good things happen. Carr went 4 of 6 on that drive for 66 yards and the touchdown pass was as pretty of a connection as it gets. Michael Crabtree's catch was even better than the throw, but Carr's throw was on the money to the back of the end zone where only Crabtree had any shot at making a play.

The defense was impressive throughout the game too, although they did give up the lead in the 4th quarter. Still, the offense didn't help them out there with DeAndre Washington's fumble that led to the lead changing touchdown for the Ravens. They made up for all that after the Raiders took the lead back though.

Reggie Nelson almost single handedly stopped the Ravens offense on that final drive, him and rookie Karl Joseph together did it anyway. Both players had rushes on the QB to force incompletions, one of which was almost intercepted by Nelson. However, that hit on the Ravens last play of the game was what really stands out by Reggie Nelson. The receiver bobbled the catch but had Nelson not clobbered him he still could have got that first down. Instead the physical play by Nelson clinched the game and it was glorious.

It was great watching that secondary really start to gain chemistry in general though. Sean Smith had one pass defense specifically that stood out in my mind on a 3rd down play. The Ravens tried to go deep against Smith to Mike Wallace, a speedy receiver match up that burned Smith in the first 2 weeks. This time he played it perfectly though and knocked the pass down, and then it seemed like the entire team was congratulating him afterwards.

That is the type of camaraderie that the best defenses have, it's that type of connection that can create the communication needed to be the elite defense we thought they would be. The Raiders had an epically bad start to the season in the first two weeks, but they were playing two of the best offenses the NFL had to offer and they have done much better in the two games since then.

The player that has stood out the most all season for the defense isn't in the secondary though, that honor belongs to Bruce Irvin. He again had a huge play for the Oakland defense in this game too. He has backed up every word he said in the off season with his play on the field.

Irvin's strip sack on Joe Flacco in the start of the 4th quarter was almost as game winning of a play as the final offensive drive from the Raiders was. They absolutely needed something to spark the team and Irvin provided it by forcing that fumble, and the offense capitalized on that momentum with a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree just a few plays later.

Speaking of Michael Crabtree though! He was a steal for the Raiders and has been phenomenal for the team that should have drafted him all along. They went with Darrius Heyward-Bey instead which actually worked great because they got Crabtree after he matured and had something to prove.

Prove it he has with the Raiders. His 3 touchdown receptions in this game against the Ravens is as exciting of a game from an Oakland receiver as we have seen since the days of Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. Amari Cooper is getting all the attention from this receiving corp, but it's been Michael Crabtree that has been the heart of the unit.

Now it's onto the San Diego Chargers at home, a game that shouldn't be written off despite the Chargers 1-3 start. The Raiders still haven't won at home, losing their only home game so far which was against the Falcons. San Diego is a divisional rival that has actually played very well for a 1-3 team, they just have not finished their opponents despite good offensive play so far.

That's next week, for this week let's celebrate. Your Raiders are 3-1! It's a great feeling having stuck through all these horrible years in a row to be rewarded with finally having a great start to the season. Now they need to step up even more and not have any letdowns like we have experienced in the past. This needs to be the year that the curse is lifted, and they have had a hell of a start to make sure they accomplish that vanquishing.