The stadium is glorious.
Standing in line for an hour in the 105-degree Vegas heat to show my vax card was a little painful, but once that process was over, the delights of Thunderdome shone through. Not having a hanging Jumbotron over the field is a great thing, as it lets you focus on the game while the action is live. No one needs a giant screen competing with live play. When it's time to watch a replay, you simply look to the end zone screens. Very clean, very efficient.
So many other positives to point out: the torch, the multiple Raider Image stores, the fully cashless concessions and souvenirs, which speeds up the purchasing process and lessens your time in line. Another huge positive was the hype man at the beginning of the game, the live orchestra (more like 6-person ensemble, but you get the idea) that piped out tunes during commercial breaks, the halftime show, and the amazing, classy Gladys Knight belting out the national anthem. Lady still got the pipes!
The Modelo Cantina Club is spacious and bright, but I was a little disappointed that they close the curtains behind the sofas, blocking your view of the field. Otherwise, you could just chill and eat and drink on the sofas while watching the game from the 50-yard line. That would be sweet!
But the best part of the game, by far, was the crowd. They really came alive in the 2nd half, especially when Baltimore had the ball. By the 4th quarter it was deafening, and overtime was a nonstop shoutfest. I very nearly lost my voice screaming, "Kill him!" every time the ball was snapped into Lamar's hands. At first people laughed, but by overtime, they were screaming it with me.
The energy from the fans fed off itself all game in a crescendoing loop until it reached a raucous, ravaging, alcohol-soaked fever pitch. It helps that beer sales are allowed throughout the game -- it's Vegas! -- as compared to the other (four) NFL stadiums I've been to, where alcohol sales are strictly cut off either at halftime or at the end of the third quarter.
After we won the game the first time I ran up to the handicapped section of C112 and high-fived all the wheelchair-bound folks. An old man who was sitting with his disabled wife jumped out of his seat and hugged me. Then, when they announced that the play was being reviewed, and the touchdown was eventually called back, I found my way back to my seat and commiserated with other fans. When Carr's perfectly catchable (but not perfectly thrown) pass was intercepted in the end zone, a lot of us, including me, thought we were doomed. Our luck had finally run out. We'd fought hard, but the Leatherwood penalty and the doink INT had screwed us out of a much-deserved win.
And then -- miracle of miracles! -- we got Lamar to fumble again, and a few moments later, Carr's frantically thrown, backpedalling wounded duck landed softly in Zay Jones hands for an absolutely stunning walk-off touchdown. To say the crowd went wild would be an understatement. I was sure some of the handicapped people would miraculously stand up from their wheelchairs and storm the field. That's how high emotion was running at that time.
The very thing I wrote last week happened, sort of. I said that if we picked off LJ twice, we'd have a real shot at winning this game. We didn't pick him off at all, but we recovered two of his fumbles, which is just as good, if not better, because it usually provides better field position than an interception way down the field. Without those two absolutely critical fumbles, no way we win that game. Fumbles, and especially fumble recoveries, according to the bean counters, are largely a result of luck. But in this case, it was the nonstop pressure on LJ that caused them. He was harassed and harried no matter which way he turned. He was pressured on 55% of all dropbacks, which is more than the 52% pressure rate the Bucs put on Mahomie in the Super Bowl earlier this year. LJ never had the chance to stand tall in the pocket and go through his progressions. He never got into a rhythm, because we didn't let him. The defense wasn't perfect by any means, but mad props have to go to Gus Bradley for disrupting LJ.
On offense, our greatest strength was simply not giving up. By the end of the game, you could clearly see from the stands that the Ravens defensive backs were gassed. They just weren't able to cover us anymore. It's harder to see that on TV, because the camera is zeroed in on the QB when he's holding the ball, but from the stands you can watch all the receivers run their routes and see how they're being covered, or not covered. In the back half of the 4th quarter and beyond, their DBs were flat-footed, slow, and seemed to give up on some plays. It reminded me of what the Patriots did to the Falcons in SB LI. They just wore them down with quantity. Pass play after pass play. We ran 59 passing plays in this game, most of them in the 2nd half. It's Week 1, and the Ravens' conditioning was not up to par.
Lastly, Carr really came through in the clutch. When we fell behind 14-0, a couple sitting near me said it was time to put in Mariota and see what he had. How much worse could he do than 0 points? Obviously, Gruden stuck with Carr; he had no other choice at that point. If we were still getting shut out late in the 3rd, then I would've considered benching him. But benching aside, Carr didn't get rattled despite his shaky start, and that is a crucial difference from seasons past. I know that Carr has had many 4th-quarter comeback wins, but those were all one-score games. Typically, when the Raiders fell behind by 14 points or more, it seemed Carr would get discouraged. This time, he just adjusted his game. The long balls weren't working early, so he chose to keep going underneath and move the chains. Not Cap'n Checkdown -- that would imply throwing 2-yard dump passes on 3rd-and-long -- but short, quick-timing passes that put us in good positions like 2nd-and-3 or 3rd-and-2. It reminded me a bit of Rich Gannon, but without the Hall of Fame wideouts to bail him out.
And that's where this post ends, with the wide receivers. That may be our biggest shortcoming this season. I know that Edwards balled out at the end, but we need him for the first 54 minutes of every game, as well. Ruggs still seems fragile, and he's not a crisp route runner; that was painfully evident from the stands, as he failed to get open repeatedly despite possessing world-class speed. Renfrow was once again effective and tough and may very well yet turn out to be a middle-class man's Wes Welker or Julian Edelman.
We can talk wideouts later, I'm going to bed now. I was in Vegas for exactly 25 hours, slept for just three of them, and had myself a ball. This was easily one of the top 3 Raider games I've ever been to, and its legend will only grow with time.
Great game, everybody! We deserved a win like this to ring in the new arena.