The first-place Las Vegas Raiders?
Yeah, I know it’s just Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season but you’ve got to admit it’s a tad strange to see the Silver and Black atop the AFC West.
But hey, they’ll take it. And after doing more things right than wrong Sunday in rainy Denver to beat the Broncos 17-16, while the Chargers ere blowing a fourth-quarter lead to lose to Miami, there was plenty of cause for optimism from the head coach and within the visitors locker room at Empower Field at Mile High.
From the opening kickoff, which Denver tried and recovered an onside kick only to be flagged for an illegal touch, to the end when Jakobi Meyers suffered a concussion after being knocked woozy from a blow to the head after making a catch for a first down, this one had a little bit of everything.
Of course, some of the oldies but goodies were still being played by the Raiders. Even before the team flew to Colorado, there was the drama between the team and edge rusher Chandler Jones who didn’t make the trip and was ruled inactive Sunday. We still don’t know the true reason for what is going on between the two sides but suffice to say the team handled the potential distraction well and making it a non-issue.
Whether Jones and the Raiders can kiss and make up remains to be seen. A divorce is possible and perhaps even likely. But for the season-opener, it was not an insurmountable obstacle.
Neither were the 97 yards in penalties, another Raiders tradition. Fortunately for Las Vegas, Denver was just as reckless as the Broncos had 83 yards in flags, the most egregious being the last one on Meyers with three minutes remaining that wound up being a 15-yard penalty and virtually assured that Russell Wilson would remain glued to the sideline.
“That was not a masterpiece out there,” said Raiders coach Josh McDaniels. “But I liked our mental toughness. I liked how we handled the adversity.”
But maybe we’re seeing some new traditions established. Jimmy Garoppolo certainly looked comfortable running the Raiders’ offense and while he wasn’t always sharp and accurate —20 of 26 for 200 yards and a pair of TD tosses to Meyers — he was good enough to win the game.
Josh Jacobs looked like someone who could use some reps. The man who led the NFL in rushing last season and missed the preseason after refusing to initially accept the team’s franchise tag designation had just 48 yards on 19 carries against a team he has owned the last couple of years. But I would expect better numbers next Sunday in Buffalo against the Bills who will be on a short work week after playing the Jets Monday night in the Meadowlands.
The Broncos had their hands full dealing with Maxx Crosby, who got a sack and was pressuring Wilson all day long. Linebacker Devine Deablo had nine tackles and was making plays. It was a bit of a tough day for rookie corner Jakorian Bennett who got burned a few times as Wilson picked on him. But he’ll learn.
This was the kind of game the Raiders have consistently lost over the years. Garoppolo had a horrible throw into the end zone that was intercepted after the Raiders had 1st-and-goal from the Denver 1 that short-circuited a likely scoring drive. The penalties would normally get them beat but they managed to overcome the fouls. And usually missing a key component in Jones would negatively impact the defense to the point where it would be a determining factor in the outcome.
Yet none of it did the Raiders in. They gutted it out, found a way to persevere and win a game in a tough environment against a team that is also trying to shake the demons of its recent past.
“Everything came together but guys stepped up in those big moments.” Garoppolo said. “Jakobi making that huge first down for us, getting the penalty. The O-line blocked great today. It was all those little things coming together.”
The Raiders talk about returning to the playoffs. They talk about having to have success in their own division. It was nice to see for one day, it wasn’t just talk. They backed up their words and produced the desired result. Even if it was just for one week.