LAS VEGAS — The Raiders won’t go 0-17. That’s the good news.
The better news is their stars showed up Sunday at Allegiant Stadium and made enough big plays to keep Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos from pulling off the kind of magic Siegfried and Roy used to when they performed at The Mirage.
Las Vegas’ 32-23 win in front of 62,332 got the Silver and Black out of their early-season funk for a week, giving head coach Josh McDaniels his first Raiders win. Now, can they build on it?
“We keep reminding ourselves that it’s a long season and nobody is giving up,” said defensive back Amik Robertson, who was the beneficiary of a Melvin Gordon III fumble in the second quarter after Duron Harmon separated Gordon from the ball. Robertson scoped up the loose ball and zigged and zagged his way 68 yards to the end zone to give the Raiders a 16-10 lead. It was the first defensive TD scored by the Raiders in three years. “In this league, it’s all about making big plays and I was fortunate enough to make one.”
Now 1-3, the Raiders have a test of keeping their new-found mojo working when they travel to Kansas City next Monday night to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. But if Derek Carr is finding Davonte Adams often enough, if Josh Jacobs is making positive yardage running the ball, if Maxx Crosby can get to Mahomes and create a little havoc, perhaps Las Vegas can seriously begin climbing out of the hole it created for itself with the 0-3 start.
Carr knew he was facing one of his contemporaries in Wilson and he couldn’t afford to play catch-up. He was 21 of 34 for 188 yards, was sacked twice but not intercepted. He found Adams nine times on 13 targeted passes for 101 yards and it forced the Broncos to pay additional attention to Adams.
That helped Jacobs, who had a career-best 144 yards on the ground. He scored a pair of touchdowns and took care of the ball in workhorse fashion with 28 carries and an average of just over five yards a carry.
“You cherish these moments, especially being 0-3 and all the hard work we’ve been putting in,” Jacobs said. “It felt good to come together as a unit.
“It’s been frustrating because in this league, every team has elite guys and to be so close and it was like, ‘What do we do at our end to change that?’ and that’s what we did (Sunday).”
McDaniels said of letting Jacobs shoulder the load: “We kind of had the mindset we wanted this to be a physical game and leaned on Josh and the running game a little bit more than what we have and really established that. Our goal was to try to make it that kind of game and make it a fourth-quarter game.”
We see weird things every week in the NFL. It’s almost a given that something crazy is going to happen And certainly, the Raiders have been involved in such scenarios, as was the case in Week 2 when they squandered a 20-point lead and lost to Arizona.
Sunday felt like one of those games that bad teams find a way to lose and despite being up two scores in the fourth quarter, it took a big 22-yard run by rookie running back Zamir White and have Jacobs score from the Denver 3 to finally exorcise the Raiders’ demons. Wilson has been around the NFL long enough that he can still scare the hell out of a defense.
But Crosby, who sacked him twice, and his teammates made sure Wilson didn’t get it done, even though he had his opportunities.
You can argue that with a play here or a play there the Raiders would be leading the AFC West at 4-0. Instead, they’re still at the bottom at 1-3. But the Broncos and Chargers are both 2-2 and they’re dealing with consistency issues. The season is only one quarter complete. There’s plenty of football left to be played.
And that’s what the Raiders have been reminding themselves every day when they go to practice — the season’s not lost. And at 1-3 and with some positive momentum riding into Kansas City next week, maybe they’ve figured some things out.
Certainly they remembered how to celebrate a victory. Guys were smiling in the home locker room as the rap music was cranked up to full volume. Nobody had to search for answers this week. It was all right there in black and white.
A balanced offense that generated 25 first downs, had 212 net rushing yards to go along with Carr’s 188 through the air. A defense that wouldn’t allow an elite quarterback to singlehandedly beat them. And some keen special teams play, specifically a great hustle play early in the fourth quarter by Mack Hollins who kept A.J. Cole’s 60-yard punt from finding the end zone and knocked it back into play and being downed at the Denver 1. It led to a three-and-out for the Broncos and eventually a 30-yard Daniel Carlson field goal to make it a two-score game at 25-16 with just under 10 minutes to play.
It’s those kind of plays that make teams winners in the NFL. We’ll see if the Raiders remember how to make such plays come next Monday in Kansas City.