Updated: Nov 17, 2020
For an NFL franchise whose traditional slogan rings out, “Just Win, Baby”, the Las Vegas (née Oakland, Los Angeles before that, and even before that, Oakland) Raiders are living by that credo more this season than seemingly in years past.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden, in all of his years in coaching and broadcasting, knows all too well that the NFL doesn’t award style points for winning football games, and that winning games in a down-and-dirty variety are sometimes necessary.
The Raiders’ 37-12 win over the Denver Broncos at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas was one of those games, despite what the score might suggest.
This win was achieved through a strong defence and a stout running game.
Taking a bend-but-don’t-break approach and outcome, the Raiders’ “D” held the Broncos to 66 yards rushing, sacked Denver quarterback Drew Lock twice and intercepted four of his passes, including two from strongside safety Jeff Heath, then allowed the Broncos’ only touchdown of the game when the result wasn’t close to being in doubt.
And with quarterback Derek Carr playing steady if unspectacular on 15-of-25 passing for a mere 154 yards – but for no touchdowns, but did not get sacked nor intercepted as well – Gruden and his offensive assistant coaches put the onus on the running game, with second-year halfback Josh Jacobs leading the ground attack with 112 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
“I guess it’s a testament to how good this team can be eventually when we start putting it all together, I think we’ll put the league on notice. We put up, what, 30-plus points playing bad for the most part,” Jacobs said after the win that looked a lot harder than the final score would have indicated.
Jacobs, who topped the 100-yard mark for the second time in the Raiders’ last three games as his team won its third game in a row, also gave credit to teammate Devontae Booker, who also added 81 yards and two touchdowns of his own on 16 carries.
“We basically put our dominance on the game and to see [Devontae Booker] out there balling makes it fun,” Jacobs added.
“We try to play to our strengths and I think we try to feature our best players as much as possible,” added Gruden, about the depth the Raiders possess at multiple positions.
“We’ve had some alternating players up front, we’ve had to switch gears and we’re able to survive. We’re gonna get better and better,” warns Gruden, perhaps best-known to casual NFL fans for his Chucky-like alter ego on the sidelines.
Moreover in the big picture, the win puts the Raiders in the thick of a logjam of AFC teams at 6-3 in the competition for wild-card playoff places, the type of NFL discussions inevitably occurring in mid-November.
Currently, six AFC teams sit at 6-3 – the Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns – in a season where the NFL have already announced that its playoffs will be expanded to a total of 14 teams, accounting for seven in each conference, with just the top seed receiving a bye when the playoffs begin in January.
So that makes three wild card spots available, in addition to each of four division winners in each conference.
The Raiders, at this point, hold the edge over the other 6-3 teams on various tiebreakers.
And with two of those teams, Indianapolis and Tennessee, currently deadlocked at the top of the AFC South, and one must win that division, that most likely means – barring a late run by the New England Patriots, the closest team to that group of 6-3 teams – five teams will compete for three spots.
Mind you, specific to the Raiders, there’s one other wrinkle to the story.
“We’ve gotta play the Chiefs” next week, Gruden reminds everyone.
Indeed, the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs come into Sin City next week to take on the Raiders.
Gruden’s Raiders are the only team to beat the 8-1 Chiefs this season, winning 40-32 in Week 5 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
Another win over Andy Reid’s and Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs would put the Raiders one game back in the AFC West race, and as they would potentially hold a tie-breaker with a sweep in the teams’ season series, that would be a game-changer.
The chase is on, and the Raiders find themselves right in the thick of it.
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