The Las Vegas Raiders are finally turning the page and in a tumultuous 2021 season, no less. In three-straight ballgames, the Silver & Black have defied the odds and are flipping a sad hackneyed narrative that’s haunted it for years. Vegas’ 23-20 road win in Indianapolis this past Sunday is a testament that.
“Two years ago, who knows if we would have won this game,” Hunter Renfrow said after the Raiders victory against the Colts. “To get three wins here, it says a lot about this franchise.”
It says keep flipping the narrative and, like the Raiders legendary owner Al Davis was keen to say, “Just win, baby”.
This incarnation of the Raiders isn’t letting mistakes — their own or the officiating — outright scuttle their hopes and aspirations. Vegas defense is playing well enough to get the offense the ball back to win the game. And special teams is answering the call, too. It’s complementary Raiders football. It may have come late, but better late than never.
The Raiders are fighting past adversity and winning. That’s all that matters. Renfrow knows it. Even quarterback Derek Carr knows it. In year’s past, he had to be as flawless as he could knowing a turnover or point-less drives would torpedo the Raiders.
“No one’s going to come feel sorry for you,” Carr said after Sunday’s win. “No one’s going to come pat you on the back and tell you it’s going to be OK. It’s not OK. We have to win. And I think it’s that mentality that we keep speaking into existence that when things happen — if I throw a pick, the defense doesn’t care. They don’t even blink. They go out, and they don’t even let points happen. It’s unbelievable.
“There’s been years in the past where if I turned it over one time, the game might get out of hand.”
There are examples of just that this season alone. The terrible losses the Raiders suffered to the Chicago Bears (20-9), New York Giants (23-16), Washington Football Team (17-15) and back-to-back thuds against the Kansas City Chiefs (41-14 and 48-9) en route to their current 9-7 mark are evidence of that. But despite those Ls, the loss of scintillating wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and the exodus of head coach Jon Gruden, Rich Bisaccia’s Raiders have endured. And the team locked in a winning record, their second since 2003.
But the job isn’t finish, as the late-great Kobe Bryant was apt to say. And Carr wears that shooting sleeve on his arm as tribute to the Black Mamba. To get a berth in the playoffs, the Raiders must drop the Los Angeles Chargers in a primetime Sunday night clash inside Allegiant Stadium.
“We still have one more to go, but we’re finishing better,” Carr said. “At the end of the year, that’s all we’ve talked about. That’s all we talked about before the season. For whatever reason, we’ve had adversity this season, we’ve had adversity in the games. It’s almost like, ‘Gosh, can we get a break here or there?’ But we’ll take the wins. No matter how we have to do it, we’re finding a way to do it because we have the right kind of guys. And there’s never been a doubt. … Nobody cares. We have a bunch of guys that believe that and just keep going.”
The belief has given Vegas something many teams want at this stage of the season: A terrible resolve. The Raiders have risen from the dead and are fast becoming a team no one will want to face in the playoffs. Frank Reich’s Colts found that out this past Sunday. Reich has seen first-hand what purpose can do for an NFL team, as both player (leading Buffalo Bills to The Comeback against the Houston Oilers) and coach.
“We knew they’d come out with a lot of energy, and they did,” Reich said after his team’s loss. “They executed well. They were coached well, and they played well. We just didn’t quite coach well enough or play well enough in all three phases. It was a close game, it could have gone either way.
“This was a winning football team, right? A team who has a chance to make the playoffs. So, as much as we want to score 30 in every game and hold them under 20, doesn’t always happen. So, you fight, and you scratch, and you claw. It was a closely contested game.
“Really, what it comes down to is making one better call on offense, defense or special teams or making one play on offense, defense or special teams somewhere along the line to put us in position to win that game.”
Well-coach? Execution? Played well in all three phases of the game? That hasn’t been synonymous with Raiders football very much from 2003 to now. Vegas is deviating from the pathetic script it had written and it shows. Shoot, the off-script nature of these Raiders happens snap-to-snap. Just take that prevailing notion that Carr can’t extend plays and if you take away the initial reads, it’s game over for the Raiders offense, for example.
When it mattered and Vegas needed it most, Carr didn’t merely panic or wilt. He didn’t crumble to the turf or loft the ball out of bounds. He evaded danger, climbed the pocket, and threw dimes to his receiving options.
“Yeah, Derek did a good job extending the play. I know a lot of people have been on him about that,” Renfrow said.
“Those are the plays that you see so many of those great quarterbacks make,” Carr added. “And I’m not putting my name in there. You see Aaron (Rodgers) make them all the time, you see Patrick (Mahomes) and those guys. Those are plays that aren’t drawn. It’s just your receiver staying alive and helping you out and making plays on the ball. For me, I’ve watched those guys. You try to take things from everybody and learn from them.
“Whether it’s protection or the routes covered, then you just try and find a couple steps to your right or up the middle or whatever just to make some more time to let someone maybe break off his route and do something else. We did it well today. We don’t do it every play, but for the most part whenever we can do those things it opens up our offense. It helped us win a football game today, that’s for sure.”
In order to get in the playoffs and have an extended stay in the postseason, the Raiders must continue to flip the narrative. And they’ve got an opportune opponent to do that against in the Chargers. Talk about resolve — Joey Bosa’s savage comments about Carr (I’ll get into this more later in the week) chief among them — Vegas’ motivation in the regular-season finale must be exponentially ramped up.