It has seemed like the news for the Raiders has gotten worse and worse throughout the early part of this season. Before the opener, there was the Antonio Brown drama coming to a head leading to his release. They already knew there were going to be without their two starting guards for the first two weeks, and starting right guard Gabe Jackson for longer than that.
Then in the season opener they lose rookie first round pick safety Johnathan Abram. Last week their linebacking corps was depleted including losing Marquel Lee for the season. Then just prior to the game today starting receiver J.J. Nelson felt tightness in his leg and sack leader Benson Mayowa was unable to go with a knee injury.
The loss of Nelson had the Raiders receiving corps coming in looking pretty sketchy. Top receiver Tyrell Williams was followed by two rookies and a guy who just signed with the team last week.
Come the second quarter, starting middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict was ejected. As the game went along right guard fill in Jordan Devey was lost to a torn pectoral muscle and starting right tackle Trent Brown went out with a hand injury. And yet somehow under these circumstances, the Raiders came out and put up their best game of the season.
“I’m as proud of this win as any one I’ve ever had before,” Gruden said after the game.
Trevor Davis, who is almost exclusively a return specialist, came in and actually started for the Raiders just ten days after they acquired him in trade from the Packers. The first time he touched the ball was on a sweep which was designed for J.J. Nelson and Davis ran for a 60-yard touchdown.
“You get a guy, what is it eight nine days ago, he’s probably not going to be featured in the pass game, it’s a little bit different timing and stuff, but now that he’s been around and he’s showed that he can make plays, you get kind of excited like ‘Man, what else can we do with him?’ kind of a thing.”
That was the second touchdown of the game. The first went to rookie tight end Foster Moreau on a play that wasn’t even designed to go his way.
On the second play of the second quarter, the Raiders had gone up 21-7. Then they lost Burfict, and Devey, and Brown, and scored just a field goal until late in the fourth quarter.
With just over five minutes left in the game, the Colts managed to pull to within a touchdown, down 24-17. Then they were threatening to march for the tie with just over two minutes. And another unexpected hero rose to the occasion. It was Erik Harris who got the start at safety because Curtis Riley – who was replacing Johnathan Abram – wasn’t cutting it. Harris intercepted Jacoby Brissett and returned it 30 yards for the touchdown.
That looked like the game sealing score. But the Colts moved right down the field to again pull within a touchdown. They had three timeouts so all they needed was a stop. And despite the Raiders fielding a backup tackle in David Sharpe and their third string right guard in Denzelle Good, they got the yards they needed on the ground to run the clock out to secure the win.
Gruden is happy about the win, but these elements added some extra pride to it for him.
“There’s a lot of difficult things that we’ve gone through,” said Gruden. “You show up here today and the guy you’re counting on to play the Z position doesn’t play, your middle backer gets thrown out . . . your right guard goes in [to the locker room], your right tackle goes in, there’s a lot of reasons to fold your tent. There’s a lot of reasons to start making excuses, but our guys, they’re really resilient and they’re tough mentally, and those are components I think that are going to serve us well as we try to build out team. I’m really proud of these guys.”
The need for resiliency may continue next week. Burfict may be looking at a suspension, Gabe Jackson still won’t be back, and once again Trent Brown’s status is in question.
The right tackle has been banged up a lot this season including injuries to his ankle, knee, and now his hand. He’s come back each time before, but at some point you have to wonder which injury will prove to be too much. And he’s going to be going against Khalil Mack and the Bears elite defensive line with a third string guard next to him.
They can worry about next week soon enough. For now, they can sleep well on that flight across the pond knowing they stepped up under tough circumstances to pull out a gritty, much-needed win.