On September 27, the Las Vegas Raiders will travel to New England to face Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. They will return to the crime scene 19 years later.
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had the Silver and Black sniffing greatness nearly a generation ago in his first stint. As they faced the Patriots in a snow-laden field, the NFL referees found a way to swindle Gruden and sealed his fate: He was traded after the loss. The events I’m referring to took place back in 2002. All these years later, Gruden will have to exorcise some of those demons albeit in a regular-season matchup.
Same Enemy, New Faces
While not a playoff game, there’s no doubt Gruden’s looking forward to this meeting even though there’ll only be one familiar face. The Patriots will be without the NFL’s generational quarterback, Tom Brady and their superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski, both now in Tampa. The current Patriots quarterback group doesn’t exactly strike fear: Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, and Brian Lewerke. While their names aren’t familiar, it would be unintelligent to assume this will be a cakewalk. Year in and out, Belichick fields a stout defense, and the offense under coordinator Josh McDaniels shouldn’t suffer much of a drop-off. The Raiders secondary will be made up of a lot of speed and youth but not much in the way of experience, something Belichick will no doubt look to exploit.
Offensively for the Raiders, quarterback Derek Carr will have his work cut out for him. In a year that feels like the litmus test for Carr to show he’s the “guy” moving forward, a loss to a Brady-less Patriots squad won’t do him favors. Leading up to the game, there’ll be plenty of coverage regarding the “Tuck Rule Game” and Gruden will likely have to answer questions about the game’s significance to him as well. For Belichick, it’ll be business as usual. However, in a pivotal year for Gruden’s second go-around, the Raiders coach can finally put some ghosts to rest.
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*Top Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images