LAS VEGAS — Late in the third quarter, the Las Vegas Raiders were in the process of seeing their season go riding into the sunset. The Houston Texans, a team that is still trying to figure out how to be successful in the NFL, were clinging to a precarious 20-17 lead Sunday afternoon at Allegiant Stadium.
One stop by the Houston defense or another score by the offense, led by quarterback Davis Mills, and it was likely going to be over for the Raiders’ hopes of a season turnaround from a 1-4 start.
Then, the Raiders remembered they had the best weapon on the field. No, not Davante Adams, who is pretty good when they throw him the ball. Not Derek Carr, the oft-maligned quarterback who runs hot and cold like Katy Perry does when she’s singing her hit song (Hot N Cold) onstage down the street during her residency at the Resorts World Hotel-Casino. And not Maxx Crosby, the great pass rushing defensive end who would scare the bejeezus out of most tough guys at a biker bar.
No, when the Raiders needed to take control of things, they looked to a running back from Alabama who believes the more work he gets, the better he performs.
Josh Jacobs has been the one constant in what has been a troubling season to date for the Silver and Black. And with the Raiders trying to climb out of the early-season hole they found themselves in, it was Jacobs who showed them the way out. He scored three times, rushed for 143 yards on 20 carries, shredded the Houston defense and made a little history in the process by becoming the first running back in the team’s 62-year history to rush for 100+ yards and score a TD in three consecutive games.
Las Vegas improved to 2-4 with its 38-20 win over the Texans in a game it appeared to be slow to matriculate to and at other times looked downright confused. But eventually, the Raiders got it together, rode the broad shoulders of the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Jacobs and finished off the Texans (1-4-1).
“It’s more a credit to our offensive line,” Jacobs said. “They’re making it pretty easy for me. I love the fight in them guys. They motivate me.”
Mind you, this is just the first of several steps this team needs to take in order to save its season. But you have to start somewhere and the fact the Raiders, who were 7-point favorites, found a way to take the game over in the fourth quarter and get the desired result has to be an encouraging sign for their rabid and frustrated fan base.
Las Vegas got away with not targeting Adams, its star receiver, for long stretches. The secondary, which gave up several big plays that allowed the Texans to either stay close or gain the lead, held its ground in the late stages and got a pick-6 TD from Duron Harmon, who took an errant Mills pass 73 yards the other way.
But the Raiders did more than enough things right at the right time and in the NFL, you get what you earn. Twenty-one unanswered points and some smart, physical play gave Las Vegas what it deserved.
“I thought our group hung in there and they kept on playing,” coach Josh McDaniels said. “We thought it would come down to the fourth quarter.
“We want to be a tough football team. But you have to put in the work during the week. There are no shortcuts.”
For Carr, who took a big hit to the ribs in the first offensive series but came back two plays later and finished with 241 yards on 21-of-27 passing, a late second-quarter TD pass to Mack Hollins and no interceptions, it was a very good performance.
“I was really proud of the way we finished the game,” Carr said. “Josh is one of the best backs in the league and it’s very nice and I’m blessed to have so many options.”
The Raiders proved to themselves that doing things the right way can pay off. Limiting the physical and mental errors has its rewards. Now, they are headed to the Southeast for the next two weeks, starting Sunday at New Orleans followed by a trip to Jacksonville Nov. 6. They have an opportunity to be a .500 football team the next time they step on the turf at Allegiant Stadium when they host Indianapolis on Nov. 13. A lot can happen between now and then. But at the moment, this is a team that appears to be moving in the right direction.
“Hopefully, we keep getting better as the season gets later,” Carr said.
Having a motivated and healthy star running back can only help the trajectory.