Oh, it was ugly. No doubt about that. But what the Las Vegas Raiders did at the tail end of the clash with the Cleveland Browns this past Monday was show complementary football can be a Silver & Black possibility.
Think about it, for a minute. That interception — the deep pass from quarterback Derek Carr intended for wide receiver Zay Jones — should’ve been the knockout punch that sent the Raiders face first into to the turf. Folding is a habitual Raiders exercise. But, instead, Las Vegas’ much-maligned defense rose to the occasion, got a stop and the ball back to Carr and the Raiders offense. In turn, the pussyfoot O gave out one last hurrah setting up the special teams unit for Daniel Carlson’s game-winning boot. All three phases of the game clicking in unison delivering a 16-14 victory.
Who woulda thunk it?
For once, the Raiders didn’t go quietly into the Cleveland night and won — ugly, but so be it. The team managed to flip a hackneyed sad narrative where disappointment reigns supreme for once and, more importantly, kept its dwindling playoff hopes alive. There’s hope, miniscule, but it’s there.
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies,” Stephen King wrote in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. It’s a line heard from the lips of actor Tim Robbins in the move adaption of King’s novella.
“We’re excited that we are relevant in December,” Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia said during his Tuesday media session. “So, we do know where we are (and) what the race looks like. We are very respectful of that, but we still have to take care of our part, right?”
Try not to squander hope again, will ya Raiders?
The road to a postseason birth is an arduous one for Las Vegas, however. It’s a trio of games against AFC foes: The Denver Broncos, the Indianapolis Colts and the Los Angeles Chargers. Two are of the division variety while the other is against a squad trying to win its own division crown. Las Vegas must win all three games for the playoffs to be a possibility.
Depending on which data model you choose — in this case, I picked the New York Times and FiveThirtyEight prediction tools — the Raiders current chance for a playoff spot at 7-7 overall is bleak. Both the Times and FiveThirtyEight have Vegas at 11 percent to get in. If the Raiders win the final three games, the percentages jump dramatically to 93 percent and 87 percent, respectively. A loss or tie in any of those final three matchups scuttles the Raiders playoff party boat. Not to mention a series of other wins and losses throughout the AFC can also have the 10-7 Raiders on the outside looking in. All the implications will become crystal clear as we progress from Week 16 to 18.
But before any scenario can even be romanticized, Las Vegas needs to take care of business this weekend at home against the incoming Broncos (7-7). The horsemen will be without usual starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (concussion). He suffered the injury last week in a 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Raiders draw Drew Lock at quarterback instead, and the backup went 6 of 12 for 88 yards and a touchdown against Cincy. Flip the coin and Las Vegas lost hard-hitting enforcer of a safety Johnathan Abram for the year to a shoulder injury. The Raiders did beat the Broncos 34-24 earlier in the season.
“In the NFL, one thing I do know, the last game doesn’t dictate the next game. We’ve proven that as a team,” Carr said during his mid-week media session. “We may have had success before but that means nothing this week. We have to go to work, we have to study, we have to prepare and be ready to play, again, who I think is one of the best defenses in the NFL.”
We’ll dive deeper into the Raiders-Broncos matchup later this week.
First, the Raiders must lasso the Broncos then hit the road to corral the hard-charging Colts (8-6). Indy is coming off an impressive 27-17 win over the Patriots and heads to Arizona to face the 10-4 Cardinals this weekend. After the set of horses, Vegas closes the regular season with a home matchup with the Chargers (8-6). The Bolts head into this weekend’s contest against the Texans off a 34-28 overtime loss to the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs.
Complementary football is a must for the Raiders in all three games. Fire on all cylinders. For too long, when the offense is in sync, the defense is off kilter. And vice versa. That Jekyll and Hyde nature needs to go the way of the dodo. Complementary football is an elusive thing for Bisaccia’s marauders, but if the team can catch that late-game lightning it showed against Cleveland in a bottle and use it the rest of the way, well, stranger things have happened.
Three in a row is a tall order for any football team, but particularly the Raiders. Paragons of success they are not. They haven’t won three straight since they began 3-0 to start 2021. And they haven’t won back-to-back games since October (victories against Denver and Philadelphia).
But, if Carr can maintain the same killer-instinct aggression he displayed against the Browns, if the defense can play inspired, focused football and keep the opposition out of the end zone, and if the special teams crew can keep doing it for the brand — a lot of ifs, I know — then Las Vegas can completely flip the season collapse narrative. A circumstance the Raiders profess they’ve tried to avoid again and again.
Like Bisaccia said, it’s nice to have the Raiders playing meaningful football in December. And his team has a golden opportunity to play relevant ball games in January, too. Time to capitalize. “Audentis Fortuna iuvat.” Fortune favours the bold.
Will the Silver & Black keep hope alive? Or, will it deliver something a loyal fanbase has grown accustomed to?
Hope or disappointment. What say you, Raiders?