Hoyer, defense come up big in Raiders’ 21-17 win

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Without Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer came in and helped the Raiders defeat the Patriots, 21-17, on Sunday to improve to 3-3.

LAS VEGAS — For a while Sunday afternoon, it was not looking like a great time to be Mark Davis.

His football team was without its starting quarterback. His women’s basketball team, which was looking to win back-to-back championships, lost its star guard in the fourth quarter and would eventually fall short in their quest to celebrate.

But the owner of the Las Vegas Raiders and Las Vegas Aces settled for a split, thanks to veteran backup QB Brian Hoyer and a defense that once again came up big when it mattered most.

Davis wasn’t at Allegiant Stadium to see his Raiders hold off the New England Patriots, 21-17. He chose to be at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the Aces will have to wait until at least Wednesday to clinch their second WNBA title with or without Chelsea Gray, who injured her left ankle in the 87-73 loss to the New York Liberty.

Sunday had the potential to be the culmination of one of the greatest sports weeks Las Vegas has ever seen. It had started a week ago when the Aces won Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. On Monday, the Raiders won, defeating Green Bay. The Golden Knights raised their Stanley Cup championship banner Tuesday, then started their NHL season with three straight wins. The Aces won on Wednesday to take a 2-0 lead over New York with the chance to clinch Sunday. And UNLV’s football team Saturday routed in-state rival Nevada to retain the Fremont Cannon and improve to 5-1, moving one step closer to bowl eligibility in coach Barry Odom’s first season.

Throw in Tom Kim’s win at the Shriners Children’s Open at TPC Summerlin and Kyle Larson’s victory at the South Point 400 NASCAR race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday and you’ve got a lot of celebrating in one town.

But the Raiders, who were presumed to be left for dead just a couple of weeks ago, are very much alive. True, they had lost starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo again, this time to a back injury late in the second quarter. Yes, the offense still struggles to convert touchdowns in the red zone. But with the defense making enough plays when it mattered, namely Maxx Cosby’s sack of Mac Jones in the end zone with 1:47 left that resulted in a safety, the Raiders got to .500 and surpassed the 20-point barrier offensively for the first time in six tries.

“That certainly wasn’t a Picasso out there,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said in the understatement of the year. “But we did some good things. We had a lot of guys scrapping and clawing. We gave up some things but they did a great job of closing it in the end.”

With Garoppolo leaving Allegiant Stadium for a trip to the hospital to get tests on his back, McDaniels turned things over to Brian Hoyer, the 37-year-old veteran who had three different tours with the Patriots. His mission was simple — don’t lose the game.

“You’ve always got to be ready,” said Hoyer, who did his job, completing 6 of 10 passes for 102 yards, including a big 48-yard hookup with rookie receiver Tre Tucker on a 3rd-and-4 play in the third quarter which would lead to a 30-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson to give Las Vegas a 16-10 lead. “It’s my 15th year. I’ve seen everything.”

It was Hoyer’s first action this year. Rookie Aidan O’Connell got the start against the Chargers last month when Garoppolo was out with a concussion. But Hoyer knew what was needed to keep his team in front after the Raiders held a 13-3 lead at the half.

“I thought, ‘Don’t put the defense on a short field and don’t put them in a bad situation,” Hoyer said. “Our defense gave me the confidence to make the plays I can make.”

The long pass to Tucker was the result of Hoyer knowing Bill Belichick’s tendencies. Belichick never lets your best player beat him so he made sure the Pats’ defense doubled Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers, leaving guys like Tucker and rookie tight end Michael Mayer the opportunity to be playmakers.

“Tre and Michael have worked really hard and they’re getting better and more comfortable each week,” Hoyer said. Mayer in particular was impressive with five catches for 75 yards, three of which came in third-down situations that resulted in the Raiders maintaining possession.

After an AJ Cole punt pinned the Patriots back at their own 9, the Raiders turned Crosby loose. Jones, who has struggled all season and has earned the ire of fans from Massachusetts to Maine with his erratic play, could not escape the clutches of Crosby. For the Raider defense, it was the second straight game the defense came through in the clutch after Amik Robertson’s interception in the end zone sealed the Packers’ doom Monday night.

McDaniels knows there’s still flaws to what the Raiders do. The offense’s continued failure to put up touchdowns within the red zone is something that needs fixing. Garoppolo is still struggling when he’s in there. In his five appearances as the Raiders’ QB, he’s got more interceptions (8) than TDs (7). Penalties continue to haunt the Silver and Black (6 penalties for 42 yards) though the Patriots were far worse in drawing flags Sunday (10 for 79).

But a third of the way through, the Raiders are 3-3 and in second place in the AFC West. Win next Sunday at Soldier Field and we’re talking about a team with a positive record and perhaps some momentum and growing confidence.  

“You have to find new ways to win,” McDaniels said. “No games are ever the same. (Sunday) we had played field position and had our defense win it.”

With an assist from a veteran quarterback who didn’t lose it.