I still distinctly remember editors’ rolling their eyes when reading the hackneyed phrase “a tale of two halves.” It’s something I grew weary of too, when I became a sports editor. But as overused as that phrase is, the game of football remains tried and true to timeworn phrases. The Las Vegas Raiders’ 38-20 victory over the visiting Houston Texans this past Sunday was a case in point. Use any of the phrases or analogies you like; that game surmised it perfectly.
You can go the Tortoise and the Hare route or the time-honored “It’s not how you start that’s important, but how you finish!” quote commonly attributed to author Jim George. Each is apt to describe what happened inside Allegiant Stadium.
For much of the first half, the Raiders’ efforts were basura. A steaming pile of two-week old garbage. Why the specific timeframe on the basura, you ask? That type of effort (or lack of it) is not what you expect from a team that just came off a bye. One week to get physically and mentally healthy and then another week of practice to prepare for the Texans. Outside of a few splash plays — namely Derek Carr’s 26-yard touchdown dart to wide receiver Mack Hollins just before halftime — Las Vegas was sleep walking. Houston, on the other hand, came out of its bye determined and controlled the line of scrimmage. The score being knotted up at 10 apiece didn’t truly indicate how the Texans mastered trench warfare. And for the then 1-4 Raiders, that was about the worst thing they could’ve done against the also slumping Texans. That whole “best 1-4 team in the league” malarkey sure did look like some grade-A manure, didn’t it?
There was no panic on the Raiders’ sideline
But there was no panic on the Vegas sideline. Of course, one could surmise the lack of panic was due to an aloof head coach in Josh McDaniels, who is captaining this Silver and Black blunder. But steady is the course Captain Josh is charting.
“The National Football League is hard. And so, just wanted them to stay like this,” McDaniels said in his post-game press conference Sunday when asked why he wasn’t screaming and yelling. “We don’t need to go up and down and scream and throw helmets and rant and rave on the sideline. That’s really not going to do any good. I’ve learned about that over many years and just trying to give them confidence that if we do our job the right way, which I didn’t think we had done up until that point consistently.”
And guess what? McDaniels was right. His Raiders began to put miscues behind them and play McDaniels’ brand of football. His desert marauders woke up in the second half and seized control of the trenches on both sides of the ball. Backed by an efficient outing by Carr, the Raiders’ much-maligned offensive line paved the way for running back Josh Jacobs to basically pound the Texans into submission. Jacobs ran for 143 yards and a trio of touchdowns on 20 carries to power Vegas’ offense to 21 points.
“I thought we would be able to move the ball and be productive. And I think they saw that from themselves on that last drive in the second quarter and then started the third quarter and scored three more drives. It’s all them. The players win the game,” McDaniels noted. “I think they settled down, they got into the flow of the game.”
The Houston Texans didn’t have an answer for Josh McDaniels’ offense
Las Vegas’ offensive resurgence forced Houston to do something it couldn’t do—go to the air and play catch up. The Texans are rebuilding, yes, but the team is constructed to build a lead with a dominant run game with timely passes sprinkled in and a defense to preserve said advantage. The Raiders thwarted that effort by asserting their own dominance on offense with a terrorizing run game to go along with timely passes.
And the Raiders’ defense, which was being abused by Texans quarterback David Mills and rookie running back Dameon Pierce, yielded 20 points and slammed the door shut on Houston’s face in the form of veteran safety Duron Harmon’s 73-yard pick six. The rice paper-thin defense with more holes than Swiss cheese actually made a stand.
Are things turning around? Perhaps. But just like Jacobs’ long-term status with the Raiders, that too is precarious.
“It lets me know we’re getting better,” Harmon said to a throng of reporters in the locker room post game. “People are sticking to the process, and we’re working our butts off. Hopefully, we can stack some wins together and turn this thing around.”
The fruits of labor are showing, but can Las Vegas maintain them?
After heading into their bye with only one win and four losses, the Raiders got the best view of the fruits of their labor this past Sunday.
“Really, towards the end of the second quarter and on, we stopped beating ourselves up and we just executed,” Carr noted. “It sounds so clichÃ©, but when you just do your job the right wayâ€”not your way, but just do it the right way, and all 11 do that. On offense, you need all 11. If one guy doesn’t do it, the play’s over. Defensively, if a corner blows a coverage but the defensive end gets a sack, it’s nice. But offensively, you need all 11, and if we can keep doing that, then hopefully we can play good football going forward.”
“But it’s not going to be easy. We’ve got a lot of tough teams coming up, especially this next week.”
Seeing the fruits of their labor is one thing. Learning from that and maintaining the same concentration and determination is another. But the Raiders must do it, especially since they are 2-4 and 10 teams in the AFC are at .500 or better. The Silver and Black have a lot of ground to make up. And Carr’s right, next Sunday isn’t a cakewalk.
That would be the New Orleans Saints (2-5 overall and coming off their own bye week) in the Big Easy. It’s a team that’s averaged 33 points scored and given up 34.6 points in its last three games.
So why don’t we end a piece that started talking about cliches with another one? Raiders at Saints has the makings of a classic shootout.
*Top Photo: Associated Press/David Becker