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Raiders vs. Texans: It’s a must-win game

Fresh off the bye week, anything but sharp football and a victory by Las Vegas is unacceptable

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Miami Dolphins
There will be no safety net for head coach Josh McDaniels, center, and his Las Vegas Raiders this coming Sunday. Anything but sharp football and a victory would be unacceptable with the team coming off a bye week.
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Las Vegas Raiders beat the visiting Houston Texans this Sunday? Yes. As the “best 1-4 team in the NFL”, the Silver & Black most certainly should. Will they is the key, however.

Suffice it to say, but the Raiders have no excuse not to play sharp football when kickoff occurs at Allegiant Stadium and come out with a much-needed victory. Coming off their bye week demands nothing less but a high-octane, well-coached team brimming with confidence and synergy. Play calling and execution melding into the best performance the Raiders have put forth yet should be the talk of the day.

High expectations? Undoubtably. But this is a byproduct of a team that went on hiatus. Two weeks of self-reflection — and ensuing self-correction and self-improvement — means Las Vegas comes out like gangbusters at home and takes the fight to Houston (a team fresh off its own bye week).

The prevailing opinion out there is the Silver & Black are slated to go on a run of victories — one that turns its season around. NFL Media’s Jim Trotter was the first to broadcast this belief.

I’m not being obtuse, either.

Offensively, the absence of tight end Darren Waller (declared out of Sunday’s game on Friday) alters what the Raiders can do. Ditto for fellow tight end Foster Moreau, who is limited in practices. Waller’s hamstring issue continues to linger and Moreau has has a knee ailment and it’s not readily clear if he’ll suit up, even though head coach Josh McDaniels remains optimistic. Slot receiver Hunter Renfrow missed Thursday’s practice, too with what’s labeled as a hip injury.

Flip it over to the defense and the loss of talented cornerback Nate Hobbs to a hand injury hurts the Raiders tremendously. Linebacker Jayon Brown, who missed the clash with the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago, got limited practices this week.

Yet, the Raiders have ample time to adjust and tinker both roster and gameplan to absorb and offset the missing players. They have no choice but to keep marching forward with who they have available. Las Vegas defensive coordinator Patrick Graham summed it up best:

“Well, any time a player gets setback because of injury, especially a player of Nate’s caliber, it’s always next man up,” Graham said during his mid-week press conference. “It’s the biggest thing. It’s a collision sport, injuries are going to occur, and you just hope that he’s doing what he has to do to get better and then we get him back as soon as possible. But always next man up, nobody’s going to feel sorry for us so we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves.”

Graham is right, there’s not time for “woes me”. Especially not when the Raiders are paragons for post-bye blues. Just look at the Silver & Black’s performance coming off a bye week the last 20 years:

That’s a disconcerting history. And Las Vegas is banking on past performance not being indicative of current production — as horrific as the last 20 years have been. What’s encouraging for this incarnation of Raiders is despite being 1-4 overall, there’s still excitement. An eagerness to go out and prove the team is on the verge after tightly contested matchups that resulted in single-digit losses.

“Excited, urgent, and honestly, the best thing I can say is consistent,” McDaniels said during his mid-week press conference when asked about his player’s attitude. “You wouldn’t know today that this is the first day after a bye or anything like that. This feels like a Wednesday that we want to come in here and get our job done the right way. I really love the attitude and demeanor of our team. I think our captains have set a great example for that. And that’s what I think they expect of the locker room, and I think that’s what they’re going to get. don’t think there needs to be a radical change and shift in everything.”

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr echoed the head coach’s words.

“If I were to say anything, the feeling I had today was excitement, not only myself, but I would say our team at practice. There was a lot of energy, a lot of joy, excitement, a lot of enthusiasm, real enthusiasm because we know what we’re capable of,” Carr said. “We didn’t win as many games as we thought we would at this point, that’s for sure, but it’s all within so many points. We know that we’re close, and again we’ve always said this — close doesn’t count, it doesn’t matter.”

Like I’ve written previously, close is hope eternal. But close is loser talk. The time for the “we’ll get it right” mumbo jumbo is over — it’s proving time. The whole “learning to win” mantra McDaniels preached from Day 1 up until the bye was valid. But after two weeks of rest and prep, it must flip to “we’ve learned how to win”. Five games and the by week are more than enough for the Raiders to look at themselves hard in the mirror and change.

Winning is hard to do in the NFL, no question. Yet, the Silver & Black have shown an uncanny penchant to make losing look very easy. Time to flip the script. McDaniels is apt to say “there’s no shortcut”. But if Las Vegas stacks another L on the four it has already, the prospects become dim. And the Raiders will again prove they’ve mastered the shortcut to a Top 5 draft pick.