It was a contest the Silver & Black would’ve dropped last year — something they did way too often in 2022. Josh McDaniels’ desert marauders allowed leads to vanish resulting in defeat, and after blunders littered throughout the season opener, Week 1 looked eerily similar to situations the Raiders found themselves in last season. And the Raiders were all too aware of that after the victory.
“We were just talking about that,” wide receiver Davante Adams said when asked about how the team from last year likely would’ve lost the matchup with the Broncos. “This type of game was the difference in our season last year.”
Granted, it’s only one game, the Las Vegas can roll snake eyes and face plant in Week 2 and beyond. But rising to the occasion and playing complementary football — especially in the all-important fourth quarter — can’t be simply brushed away as happenstance.
“I think just overall execution in the fourth quarter, getting the ball down six points and going down there and scoring a touchdown in about two minutes and then getting the ball back,” said Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi. “Our defense — credit to our defense because we get the lead for the defense and then they get a big stop late in the game and give us the ball back with about five minutes left and it’s our time to try and go out there.”
Because of how the Raiders consistently tripped over themselves in McDaniels’ initial season as the head coach, the late-game, crunch-time performance in Week 1 and eventual victory represents progress.
“I thought a lot of guys stepped up today,” Las Vegas quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who iced the game with an eight-yard scramble on 3rd-and-7 after the two-minute warning, said. “It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t perfect by any means. But it’s a division game; we know it’s going to be tough. The guys just stuck with it for 60 minutes.”
Focus, and more importantly, execution were severely lacking in McDaniels first year as Raiders coach. General manager Dave Ziegler, his personnel crew, and the coaching staff took to remedying that this offseason and while it’s a long way to go, and the eventual results still up in the air, the early return after one game is promising. So much so the stark comparison is evident from 2022 to now. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham admits as much.
“It starts with the personnel evaluations from the personnel department. They do a good job of bringing in smart, tough, disciplined football players,” he said. “And you hope that through the habits you built through spring and training camp and practice, that all that stuff becomes a habit from the way we practice and the way we prepare. And as a coach you just want it to show up on the field on Sunday.
“And so, as you look at the film, obviously room for growth, but the fact to be able to have some grit during the third and fourth quarter, I would say definitely proud of that just, but just recognizing that we have a long way to go.”
Las Vegas’ willpower is going to be thoroughly tested by the team’s upcoming three-games slate. First is a matchup at the Buffalo Bills (0-1) this Sunday. Then it’s a home date with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 24 followed by a road trip to face the Los Angeles Charges on Oct. 1.
The Raider’s resolve was impressive. What will be exponentially more remarkable is consistently showing that determination. Proving what the team displayed against the Broncos is not merely a fleeting thing, that indeed the Raiders are truly a different team.
The first impression Las Vegas left was a good one. On the opposite spectrum, the initial look Buffalo provided was a bad one. But it’s a long season and there’s 16 more regular season games to go. The Raiders will need all the conviction it needs against a Bills team looking to rebound after a sorry performance this past Monday night.
Let’s see what Las Vegas accomplishes in Buffalo this Sunday.