A week ago today, Jon Gruden resigned as Raiders head coach following a bombshell report detailing several offensive emails the former ESPN analyst had sent over the years prior to his return to coaching. When the Raiders players convened for their first practice of the week, they were naturally struggling with the emotions of it all.
The emotions were to be expected. And the worst thing you can do as an organization in a time like this is to tell these guys to suck it up and play ball. To the Raiders credit, they didn’t do that. They held several meetings, both as a team and individually to allow players to try and come to terms with it all.
From there the question was whether those emotions — and whatever disruptions the whole thing was sure to cause — would affect their game planning for the division rival Broncos in Denver on Sunday.
As I noted last week things like this can often go in two different directions; either it can tear a team apart — as it seemed to in their 2016 season with the divided views on protests in Washington — or it can bring them closer together.
Based on what we saw Sunday, the latter would appear to be the case.
“We still have our room of guys, our leaders. More now than ever we had to step up and be a voice.” said QB Derek Carr. “And it’s fair to think that way, obviously with everything that’s gone on. Again, there will be a time for all the emotions of all that, but now’s not the time. If anything this brought us closer…It for sure brought us closer. With talking with the guys, in meetings and all that kind of stuff. Proud of where we’re at and glad for our organization to get a win. We needed a win bad this week. Sometimes when you get punched in the gut it’s hard to bounce back, but we were able to do it.”
The Raiders rallied around each other as teammates. They came out strong in the game, with the offense scoring three times and the defense holding the Broncos to one score with a turnover and three punts. The first touchdown went to Henry Ruggs III on a 48-yard pass from Carr on the game’s opening drive to set the tone for the rest of the day. If there was anyone on the team who still had lingering worries, that put those worries to rest.
“We’re a team, so pretty much we came together,” said Ruggs. “As a team, it’s really not about anybody else but us. So, as long as we’re together, we got to go out on the field 11 at a time, so as long as everybody in our locker room is together and on the same page no matter what, we can make some things happen.”
This was also about new head coach Rich Bisaccia. After all, he’s not new here. Bisaccia is in his fourth season as Assistant Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator. He is well respected by the players and the coaches and was thrust into a difficult situation.
“We came out here and we wanted to get the win for coach Rich,” said Maxx Crosby, who finished with three sacks in the game. “We wanted to go out there and play great football and I feel like we did that. We still can be a lot better. We got to finish, but it was good to get the win.”
There was little doubt in this win too. The Raiders jumped out to a lead on the first drive and never relented. They led by ten at the half and extended that lead to three times extended their lead to 17 points before ultimately winning 34-24 with a Broncos garbage time TD.
They looked right in the face of adversity and played their best football of the season. And they should feel pretty damn good about that.
“In this business there’s always crazy things going on,” Crosby continued. “Especially with the Raiders. There’s no mistake about it. Ever since I got here there’s always things going on. But these guys that we have in this building are resilient. From the coaching staff to the players to the trainers. Everybody has a positive outlook on this organization. So, just having everybody around, continuing to not forget what we have in front of us. Everyone’s talking about ‘Oh, no, what are the Raiders going to do? Is the season over?’ And we heard all of it. And for us to go out and have a great week in practice and go out there and play good football, it’s just a testament to all these guys in the locker room. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Crosby played out of his mind — getting in on five sacks — Derek Carr averaged nearly 19 yards per completion, and Rich Bisaccia notched his first win in his first game as interim head coach against a division opponent in their house. Crazy indeed.