Reading that headline doesn’t sound like something you’d think after losing to a division rival on national television. Raise your hand if you ever considered the possibility of the Las Vegas Raiders starting the season 3-1 when the schedule was released. If you just raised your hand, you’re a liar.
Las Vegas has had an interesting start to the year. They sit tied atop the division lead. For a moment, they were one of just two remaining undefeated teams in the NFL. Derek Carr is near the top as one of the league’s passing leaders, with 1,399 yards and eight touchdowns. They’ve won two overtime games in just four contests and have endured a weather delay in a stadium with a roof.
None of those things seem familiar. And to be honest, one of the most familiar things the Raiders could have done on Monday night was lose in disappointing fashion, as they did. Ironically, during their loss against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders may have proved themselves.
Those slow starts caught up to them…
This team is no stranger to slow starts. They’ve somehow won two games after trailing 14-0, and they found themselves down by the same amount against the Bolts on Monday. There is nothing impressive about looking at a 14-0 deficit to begin three out of four games to start the year. What is noteworthy is how the team responded.
In years past, the Raiders would have rolled over and died after going down 14-0. We saw the same scenarios last year. The Raiders entered Mercedes-Benz Stadium last year with the playoffs on their mind against a 4-7 Atlanta Falcons team. They went down early and got trounced 43-6. They did the same thing against the Colts and Patriots and rightfully earned the choker moniker after a disappointing end to the year.
2021 is different for the Raiders
This time, it feels different. We all know that moral victories don’t count for anything in the NFL. Still, even if it results in another number in the loss column, moral victories show the morale and heart that lies within a team. We’ve seen plenty of heart from this Raiders unit.
They went down 14-0 against the Ravens and came back to win in overtime. Then, they went down 14-0 to the Dolphins and responded by dominating the rest of the game and winning in a game that wouldn’t have gone to overtime if not for their own mistakes. This week, they went down 14-0 to Los Angeles. While the Silver and Black weren’t able to come out with a win, they did succeed in shifting the momentum and were within striking distance of erasing a 21 point deficit in one quarter.
On the surface, this team is different than last year. This time, the Raiders are good in the second half, but not the first. This time, it’s the defense that has kept them in games when the offense can’t get going. Now the offensive line is the weakest link of the team instead of the strongest.
Below the surface, it’s the same team. Just much improved.
Raise your hand if you’ve seen Jon Gruden make successful halftime adjustments during this coaching stint. If you just raised your hand, you’ve now lied two times while reading this article.
Gruden ditched the original game plan and was able to adjust very well on Monday. Sure it’s easy to ditch the run for the pass when you’re down 21 points. But Gruden changing his game plan for the better is just something we haven’t seen him do.
Carr has turned a lot of heads this year, and it looks like he’s back to his 2016 MVP form. Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards have both made huge strides in their sophomore campaigns. Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow continue to be reliable security blankets.
Most importantly, the defense is much better. The unit entered the game on Monday as the 15th best unit in the NFL. That’s not overly impressive, but it is still so much better. They have a pass rush, they’re tackling better, and they’re showing the ability to cover down the field. Gus Bradley seems to have made a world of difference so far.
The Raiders won’t see a ton of success if the offensive line continues to falter. The team won’t see postseason glory until they figure out how to avoid a two-score deficit at the beginning of every game. Still, this team is much better than last year’s, and it has shown with their fight in the second half on Monday night.
*Top Photo: AP Photo/Isaac Brekken