Fortitude. That’s one of the words that come to mind when looking back at the Raiders’ victory over the Broncos. Fortitude is what it took for Las Vegas to put the Jon Gruden controversy in the rearview mirror. It was an exhilarating sight to see; the team just played football. They did not just deal with the difficult situation; they eviscerated it.
The Raiders came out ready to play for Rich Bisaccia. It was their best game of the season. It is unlikely they’ll be able to consistently play at this level. Nonetheless, this was a huge win for Las Vegas. Make no bones about it; this was a statement victory.
The difference between 3-3 while staring at the aftermath of this Gruden mess and being 4-2 is astronomical. It was about as close to a must-win game as you could have in Week 5. No matter, Bisaccia’s Raiders were up to the challenge in Denver.
It was refreshing to see the different play-calling on offense, to be honest. Gruden’s offense was often productive. However, after four years of the same old shit, it got, well, old. Greg Olson is an experienced play-caller, and he used the change of pace he brought to the offense very well. We even saw a screen pass!
That screen pass was a thing of beauty too. The timing of the call was perfect. It caught everyone off balance. Nobody expected it. The Broncos’ defensive line threw caution to the wind, bum-rushing quarterback Derek Carr and Josh Jacobs caught the screen right behind them. It was a 29 yard gain, and he probably would have scored if not for tripping over Brandon Parker.
Jacobs had his best game of the season with his 82 yards from scrimmage with a touchdown. However, he was the second-best back in Silver and Black on Sunday to Kenyan Drake. Drake’s 23-yard touchdown reception may have been the biggest play of the game. Carr’s toss was right on target, but Drake’s cradle catch and tightrope run to the end zone was what made the play special.
The 73 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns was the type of impact performance Raider Nation expected to see from Drake when he signed this offseason. That’s not how it’s worked out so far because he was a complete nonfactor for most of the season under Gruden. It was a great move by Olson and Bisaccia to switch that up and utilize their high-cost backup running back. The Broncos’ defense has struggled against tailbacks all year, and the Raiders used both of theirs to perfection.
There also was the developing chemistry between Carr and Henry Ruggs III to be happy about. The duo connected for three big pass plays for 97 yards and a touchdown. The 40-yard pass down to the Denver 4 yard-line on third and 12 was their best connection of the day. That was a superstar-level moment for Ruggs, with him making the catch despite tripping while reaching for the ball. Jacobs ran it in two plays later with the touchdown making the score 31-10.
Still, it wasn’t the offense that was the biggest factor in this win. It was the relentless Raiders defense that was most impressive. The unit forced five sacks, four turnovers and held Denver to 112 yards of rushing. It was a dominant performance; the 34-24 final score does not give this butt whooping its due justice.
Maxx Crosby put together another Defensive Player of the Year worthy performance. He finished the game with three sacks and a pass defensed. Talk about a superstar-level moment; there is no longer any doubt of Crosby being an elite pass rusher. He currently has a 91.5 overall Pro Football Focus rating on the season and 92.2 as a pass rusher. That was the best game of his career, though. He was right there in all five sacks for the Raiders with seven hurries on the game and the one batted pass.
It also was the best game of the young career of rookie safety Trevon Moehrig. He had his first career interception and two passes defensed. He nearly had a second interception if not for Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick ripping the ball away from behind to break up the pass. It was still a highlight moment for Moehrig; he looked the part of a high-round draft pick in this game.
As Bisaccia said in his post-game press conference, this was a “We” win from the Raiders. It was an impressive effort from the entire team. That’s what makes this game so huge; this was a statement victory in all three stages during difficult times for the team. The Raiders announced they weren’t tucking their tails this season just because of the Gruden saga. The team is talented, and they are showing that they have a ton of heart.
The question next turns to whether they can keep playing well after the adrenaline of this past week wears off. As awful as this week had to have been for the Raiders, there is something to be said for burying yourself in your work during trying times. Just because they put this game together does not mean that they are going to be lights out the rest of the way.
If they can continue to play like this, it’d be a true testament to the high-character team that the Raiders have. The high character team that the Raiders have been trying to put together for years. They’ve used that strategy ever since announcing their move to Vegas. It paid off Sunday against the Broncos, with cooler heads prevailing in a difficult situation.
Next up, the Raiders have the Philadelphia Eagles at home in Las Vegas. That could be the tougher game for Rich Bisaccia. In the first game, there was so much emotion that turned into adrenaline. That effect of the coaching change is likely gone by game two. Can he get his team ready for round 2, or will it be another game against the Eagles where the Raiders lay an egg?
*Top Photo: AP Photo/David Becker