It’s official. The Raiders will have their first winning record since their 2002 Super Bowl season. In between they suffered through 14 years of futility with just two 8-8 seasons in the middle for consolation.
No more. They defeated the Panthers 35-32 in Oakland Sunday to improve to 9-2 with five games remaining.
In so doing, they held onto their lead in the AFC West along with the number one seed in the playoff race, controlling the tiebreaker with the New England Patriots.
It’s a big monkey off the backs of the fanbase that has suffered through these long 14 years, some of whom can’t even remember the Raiders ever having been a winning team.
Derek Carr understands the significance of the win. Having grown up in Bakersfield California, his uncle having suiting up for the Raiders once, and half of his family remaining Raiders fans as he played at Fresno State. He understands what this means to this fanbase.
“Obviously, we can’t celebrate anything yet, but I’m happy for my fans,” said Carr. “I know the heartache that they’ve had. Trust me, I’ve been a part of that heartache. I’ve given them heartaches during games in my short three years, but hopefully we’ve given them a lot of happy moments.”
“Winning 9 games, having a winning record for the first time in 14 years, I’m so happy for our fans because I know how much joy that brings to our city, I know how much life that brings to the city of Oakland. And that’s what I’m about. You guys know me, I love to make other people’s day and I’m glad they get to go home happy.”
Jack Del Rio grew up as rabid a Raiders fan as you’ll see. But as a head coach, he has seen a few winning seasons in his career. He was spending nine seasons as a head coach in Jacksonville in the midst of the Raiders streak of futility. Winning nine games isn’t a milestone for him. He knows that doesn’t mean anything if you can’t finish strong.
“No, I think we have work to do,” said Del Rio, downplaying the accomplishment. “We just want to keep stacking up wins as best we can and then prove as a team the best we can. I think you saw glimpses today in the first half of what we think we can be as a complete team. The whole idea is to stay in that. It can’t be for a half. It can’t be for three quarters. It has to be 60 minutes. That’s what we’re fighting for and we’re going to keep fighting for. Certainly it’s a great thing to be 9-2 right now after 11 games that’s what we’ve earned, but we’re going to focus on the work in front of us.”
In front of them is five more regular season games against the Bills and Colts, and one more game against each of the AFC West foes, culminating in the season finale in Denver. Two of those AFC West rivals are facing off on Sunday night football. One will keep within one game of the Raiders with the other dropping to two games behind. Let’s not forget the Chargers who improved to 5-6 with a win over Houston today.
Nine wins gets one big monkey off their back. But the gorilla is keeping ahead in the toughest division in all of football, breaking through to the playoffs and then trying to make some noise there.