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Raiders chase to catch the Chiefs is still a marathon, not a sprint

Las Vegas won on Christmas Day, but ever since, Kansas City is rolling and in another Super Bowl

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Aidan O’Connell (4) goes to hug Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes after the Silver & Black won in Arrowhead back on Christmas Day. Since that loss, the Chiefs have ran roughshod over the NFL for another Super Bowl berth.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Toppling the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead on Christmas Day is tangible proof the Las Vegas Raiders are making progress in their chase to catch the AFC West’s best squad. But the Chiefs rising from that 20-14 defeat like a phoenix from the ashes and earning another Super Bowl berth is tangible proof the chase is not a sprint, but a marathon.

Like his predecessor before him, Raiders head coach Antonio Pierce made it clear what the goal is for the Silver & Black under his helm:

“Our vision is clear. Win the division. Get into the playoffs and hoist that Lombardi Trophy. That’s not a promise; that’s our vision,” Pierce said during a joint introductory press conference for him and new general manager Tom Telesco, last week.

Pierce didn’t mention the Chiefs by name, but it’s quite obvious who the Raiders need to beat for that vision to come to fruition. The chase to surpass Kansas City is a long and grueling endurance race, as evidenced by the Chiefs’ almost absurd domination over the rest of the field. For the last eight seasons, Kansas City has reigned supreme as division champs and that lengthy run gives the team 16 total AFC West crowns. The Raiders, Denver Broncos, and Los Angeles Chargers each have 15 over the course of history dating back to 1960.

And while Las Vegas made progress with an impressive win in Kansas City, the defending champions used the Christmas defeat as a springboard.

Andy Reid’s Chiefs have won five-straight games — including impressive playoff wins over the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and Baltimore Ravens — to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVIII against the NFC’s best San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 11. This matchup could prove as a double dagger for the Raiders.

Allegiant Stadium is hosting the Super Bowl and Kansas City is the home team. Meaning, if the Chiefs win another title, they’d get to celebrate that on the Raiders homefield and stadium. Here’s the double part: The victory would give Kansas City the lead amongst the AFC West in Super Bowl wins. The Chiefs, Broncos, and Raiders are knotted up with three victories in the biggest game.

Perhaps, if that were to happen, it will ignite a terrible resolve in Las Vegas to make a serious and — more importantly — sustained run to catch and bypass Kansas City. Even before the big dance between the Chiefs and 49ers, the Raiders engaged in the course of becoming a division power.

Owner Mark Davis picked Pierce to helm the team as head coach and paired his neophyte lead man with the experienced Telesco. As the previous personnel man for the Chargers the past 11 seasons, Telesco has solid background and knowledge of the division and has potential to combine with Pierce to build the Silver & Black.

Just this past week, Pierce is filling out his coaching staff with the reported hires of Gerald Alexander (safeties) and Ricky Manning Jr. (cornerbacks) to the defensive side and Marvin Lewis (assistant head coach). Las Vegas also reportedly interviews Hue Jackson (a former Raiders head coach himself) for an offensive staff position, too. Jackson and Lewis have been connected throughout their coaching careers so it’s no surprise to see Jackson’s name amongst candidates to join the Raiders coaching crew.

The experience and knowledge being added to the coaching staff is all on the premise they each have something valuable to provide the team. And that plays into the turnaround Davis wants from his franchise.

But let’s be clear: The desired change in fortune starts with Pierce and Telesco.

Pierce gave us insight to what his Raiders would look like when he assumed the interim head coach mantle on Nov. 1. And he doubled down on the team’s identity: “Ill intent, physicality, toughness, speed, attitude, and — more importantly — full-blown Maxx Crosby effort”, is how Pierce coined it.

“Our football team takes on the identity of your head coach, and that’s what we’re going to have here,” Telesco said during the introductory presser. “That’s what we’re going to build around.”

The Raiders exhibited that identity by beating the Chiefs and it’s on Pierce’s and Telesco’s shoulders to make that a consistent thing. Pierce by assembling a staff that amplifies his ideals and Telesco by assembling a roster that reflects the head coach. That begins in earnest now with the GM analyzing the current and future states with free agency and the NFL draft coming in back-to-back months in March and April.

We’re going to find out if the new-look Raiders have the mental stamina to endure the marathon race of a chase.

“It goes to our staff with preparation and execution and putting a plan together and executing throughout the week with a smile and a purpose to get a victory on every Sunday that we show up to Allegiant Stadium,” Pierce noted. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be overnight. I’m not promising anything, along with Tom, but I do know this: You’re going to get the best out of myself and Tom. We’re going to exhaust every possible resource and ounce of sweat, tears and effort and night and minute and second that we have to turn this bad boy into a consistent winning organization that is used to and it deserves.”