The season has ended after 17 weeks, and the Las Vegas Raiders finished with an 8-8 record. This 32-31 win was Jon Gruden’s first win in Denver as a head coach. He had an 0-7 record at Mile High going into this game. The Silver and Black did their best to give this game away with four turnovers, three of which came on consecutive possessions.
However, an effective two-minute drill followed by a successful two-point conversion sealed the win. Several Raiders set positive personal records today, even though the team didn’t end up with a positive winning percentage.
But let’s break it down by positional group and see who showed up today in the Raiders’ season-ending win.
The quarterback position
Derek Carr certainly had his ups and downs today, but he set a personal high in passing yards with 4,103. This is an especially impressive mark for the quarterback. Keep in mind his top target is tight end Darren Waller and his top wide receiver is Nelson Agholor. Carr was 24-of-38 for 371 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks against Denver.
The first pick was absolutely Carr’s fault. He threw a fastball above Darren Waller’s head, which was tipped into the hands of Denver safety Justin Simmons. A little more touch and better placement of that ball from ‘4’ would have led to a completion rather than an interception.
His two touchdowns were things of beauty, with absolute strikes to Waller and Bryan Edwards. He also threw the two-point conversion to Waller that ended up being the difference in the game, but if not for Carr’s miscues it may not have been so close to begin with. Still, Carr was clutch when it counted.
The rest of the Raiders offense
The running game
The Broncos focused on stopping the run from the beginning and stuffed Josh Jacobs early. However, Josh Jacobs got it going later on in the game, ending up with 89 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He also eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season. Meanwhile, Devontae Booker spelled ’24’ with some nice carries and the Raiders rushed for over 100 yards against a Denver defense determined to slow them down.
Darren Waller broke Tim Brown’s Raiders single-season receptions record with 107 catches. Say what you like about Travis Kelce, who is a tremendous talent, but Darren Waller should be in the conversation too. He did lose a fumble, but he made up for that with otherwise excellent play. Waller’s greatness has given the Raiders a 4,000 yard passer, a 1,000 yard rusher, and a 1,000 yard receiver in back-to-back seasons for the first time in Raiders history.
Nelson Agholor caught one pass for 57 yards, and Bryan Edwards caught two for 51 and one touchdown. Henry Ruggs had three receptions for 38 yards, and it looked like the Raiders were trying hard to get him involved before he took a massive hit on an end-around and fumbled, ending his day.
As usual, the Raider line was missing a few key pieces and they struggled to establish the tone early. Opening up holes in the run game was difficult, but they usually gave Carr plenty of time to throw, even though he took three sacks in the game. However, they opened up better lanes later in the game and gave Carr clean pockets to throw deep, which he did with frequency. It was a pretty good game for this group.
The Raiders defense
The Broncos’ offensive line held up well in this game despite some injuries, and Drew Lock’s mobility in the pocket meant that the Raiders didn’t generate a lot of pressure. The result was one of Lock’s best passing games of the season with 339 yards and two scores.
However, the unit held up well against the run. Denver had 122 yards rushing but it took 32 carries to get there, resulting in a measly 3.8 yards per rush for Denver. Melvin Gordon’s yard-per-carry average was 3.6, and against a tough runner like him, that’s a good number to see. Jonathan Hankins was fourth on the team with seven tackles, but you’d like to see the line get more in the way of a pass rush.
Once again, the linebackers looked much better under Rod Marinelli than they had previously. Nicolas Morrow led the Raiders in tackles with 11 along with a sack. Cory Littleton was third on the team with nine tackles. Each player had one tackle for loss. Raekwon McMillan had four tackles and an important tackle for loss. The group had a few missed tackles here and there but this is miles ahead of where they were in the early part of the season.
Here we come to the problem group. Trayvon Mullen got hurt early on, and at one point the Raiders’ corner tandem was Keisean Nixon and Nevin Lawson. That is not a winning combo, especially when Jonathan Abram continues to freelance and hurt himself. This group committed too many penalties and gave up too many big plays and third-down conversions, most notably a 92-yard touchdown from Lock to Jerry Jeudy.
The Raiders special teams
What a fantastic day these guys had. Daniel Carlson eclipsed Sebastian Janikowski’s single-season points record, becoming tops in Raider history. The Raiders blocked two long Denver field goals, and either one could have made this a Broncos win. Punter A.J. Cole averaged 49.8 yards per punt and dropped in a couple of nice attempts to pin Denver deep in their own territory. Las Vegas’ kicker tandem of Carlson and Cole is arguably one of the finest in the NFL. Hunter Renfrow only had one punt return but he took it for 21 yards.
The Raiders shot themselves in the foot over and over again, and several times this game looked hopeless. However, in their darkest hour, the offense stepped up and overcame the Broncos. This game took years off Raiders’ fans life. But hey, they won. Just win, baby, right?
Overall Team Grade: B-
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Top Photo: David Zalubowski/Associated Press