On shenanigans over the course of the 2021 season alone, it was easy to write off the Las Vegas Raiders. The loss of scintillating wide receiver Henry Ruggs III. Jon Gruden taking his ball and going home after he was exposed in ‘Email Gate’. Losing a prime weapon and the head coach should’ve sent the Silver & Black back to the drawing board.
Coupled with three-straight losses, then a win sandwiched in between two more Ls … the Raiders 1-5 performance Weeks 9 through 14 was atrocious and further evidence of an unravelling.
But this Raiders squad is a different breed, apparently. “FOH!” they’ve collectively said.
“No one’s going to come feel sorry for you,” Raiders quarterback Dere Carr said after the game. “No one’s going to come pat you on the back and tell you it’s going to be OK. It’s not OK. We have to win. And I think it’s that mentality that we keep speaking into existence that when things happen — if I throw a pick, the defense doesn’t care. They don’t even blink. They go out, and they don’t even let points happen. It’s unbelievable. There’s been years in the past where if I turned it over one time, the game might get out of hand.”
In the last three games, the Raiders have taken opportunity by the throat and squeezed. Vegas found the testicular fortitude to not only honor a legendary front man John Madden, but also stay in the playoff hunt with a 23-20 win over the Colts. That win in Indianapolis was a signature victory for interim head coach Rich Bisaccia and proved Vegas isn’t to be taken lightly. The team sits pretty at 9-7 and has only the Los Angeles Chargers (also 9-7) as the last obstacle to get into the playoffs. Win and the Raiders are in.
“We had a lot of adversity this year,” slot machine Hunter Renfrow said during the postgame press conference. “It’s one thing to come in after a loss and say, ‘We’re built of the right stuff. We have a lot of character. We have a lot of guys in the locker room.’ But it feels good to come out and really have some proof that we are. All we need to do now is win next. We’ve put ourselves in a good chance to win next week and we’re in the playoffs.
“That’s what we’ve all talked about since the beginning: Just give a chance in the dance.”
So time to give credit, where credit is due — even if we’ve written off the Raiders. It’s ok. Trust me. Crow tastes like chicken, it isn’t bad.
Derek Carr: DC4 flipped a lot of narratives in Sunday’s win over the Colts. Sure, he threw two interceptions. But in the end, the Raiders won. That play he made on 3rd-and-10 with 54 ticks left to play is THE play Raider Nation has waited for him to make. Carr stared down the barrel of the gun, didn’t panic or wilt when Colts linebacker Darius Leonard (who read Carr like a book earlier for the INT) blew past right tackle Brandon Parker and was gunning for No. 4. Carr slickly jump cut to his left, climbed the pocket and delivered an absolute dime to Renfrow. That play, that sequence, saved the Raiders playoff lives.
“When the game’s on the line like that, I’m just trying to keep every play alive as long as I can,” Carr said. “Just trying to extend the play and create. I’m not going to go out and rush for 100 yards, but I can create and extend the play a little bit longer when I get outside and things like that.”
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) January 2, 2022
Hunter Renfrow: I was in the “If Renfrow is your leading receiver, you got problems” camp before the Raiders three-game win streak, but I’m no longer there. He was precise, shifty and reliable against the Colts. He hauled in a dart on 4th-and-2 for his seventh touchdown of the year and could’ve had No. 8 if it weren’t for a Colts DB’s index finger to his heel. What the slot receiver has done this season — 99 catches, 1,025 yards, 7 touchdowns — is Madden-production. It’s video-game-like numbers but in reality. In the era of aerial attack, it doesn’t matter if the slot is the leading receiver. Renfrow and Carr are a great tag team like the Rockers of WWF fame. The receiver is Shawn Michaels in that scenario with Carr being the trusty Marty Jannetty.
“Two years ago, who knows if we would have won this game,” Renfrow said. “To get three wins here, it says a lot about this franchise.”
Zay Jones: The “hardest working guy on the team” according to Carr, Jones stepped up in the must-win game in Indy. Eight catches for 120 yards — the first 100-yard outing in his NFL career — was Jones’ stat line as he provided both safety net and big-play threat for Carr and the offense. Relegated to nary a target to perhaps one to two and now to full-blown part of the Vegas offense, Jones’ situation is an example of the virtue of patience and dedication.
“The patience of what I had to go through and what I had to endure,” Jones said. “Work while you wait. Opportunities came for me. I’m just trying to seize it. I think that’s what happened tonight.”
Big. Play. @zayjones11.
Every catch from his 120-yard day in Indy pic.twitter.com/pFHc3PIBGH
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) January 3, 2022
Darius Philon: Two years out of football after an arrest hasn’t dampened the defensive tackle’s effectiveness. With nose tackle Jonathan Hankins out, the Raiders needed a tenacious presence in the middle and Philon delivered. Helping limit the Colts to a field goal on their final drive, Philon made a shoe-string tackle to drop Carson Wentz before the Indy quarterback could gain more yards scrambling. Then Philon made back-to-back stops on Colts bell cow tailback Jonathan Taylor.
Nate Hobbs: The reliability, coverage skills and instincts the rookie cornerback is showing from the slot position is incredible. On-field intelligence is unquestioned. Not even a bogus pass interference penalty could shatter the fifth-round pick’s resolve this Sunday. Not only did Hobbs shake it off, but he also made a tackle where he didn’t let go until the receiver was down. The read, reaction and tackle forced a fourth down and 41-yard Colts field goal that resulted in a 20-20 tie. That set up Carr for the game-winning drive.
Daniel Carlson: The rallying cry around the placekicker has to be simple: Just get him in range. DC2 has both an accurate and powerful leg and he’s proven to be well-worth the contract extension he landed. His latest game-winner, the fourth of its kind this season, was a forgone conclusion after the offense got him well-within striking distance. Carlson is 35 of 38 this year kicking field goals and 28 of 31 on extra points. Carlson’s game-winning boot with two seconds left certainly makes up for his kickoff gaffe against Indy that saw his kick bounce uncharacteristically out of bounds.
Last but not least, Coaching Staff: Interim head coach Rich Bisaccia, offensive coordinator Gerg Olson and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley deserve a ton of kudos for the win in Indy. Bisaccia going for it on 4th-and-2 instead of sending Carlson in for the chip-shot field goal was a departure from the white-flag nature he previously has shown. Olson’s ability to merge well with Carr was on full display and the team executed. Bradley’s unit limiting the powerful Colts to 20 points was outstanding considering they did it on the road inside hostile territory.
*Top Photo: AP Photo/David Becker