The Raiders haven’t been in this position for a long time. The marquee game of the week, nationally televised, for first place in the AFC West. Instead of folding at home against the defending champions and falling to third place, they won in a way many didn’t think was possible.
They beat the Broncos 30-20, but it wasn’t that close and Oakland’s defense was much better than that score would indicate. The Raiders allowed just 33 rushing yards, and pounded Denver into submission with 218 yards of their own on the ground. Perhaps most impressive of all (unless you’re Chip Kelly and you think this stat is meaningless), they possessed the ball for 41:28!
This wasn’t a crazy, back-and-forth game won eventually by Derek Carr’s heroics. It was a statement from the Raiders that they’re a complete team, and quite possibly the second-best team in the AFC.
The top team in the conference, and the NFL until further notice, is New England. And wouldn’t that be an interesting playoff battle if that’s where this is headed? The Patriots’ offense is in another stratosphere compared to Denver’s, but New England’s defense isn’t impenetrable. The possibility of a shootout would be on the table …
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, as the Raiders still have to keep winning to earn a bye and they still have to face all three divisional opponents on the road. But the message this game sent still resonates.
They’ve gone from terrible to promising. From promising to relevant. From relevant to entertaining. And now, from entertaining to good. Or, to choose another word to describe this team, contenders.
And they caused a whole lot of doubt in Denver tonight, which is more than just a side benefit.
The top of Mt. Davis is still tarped, but there didn’t appear to be an empty seat everywhere else throughout the contest. The fans — some toting “STAY IN OAKLAND” signage — saw the Raiders regain a starting running back … in a sense. Thanks to incredible work by the offensive line, Latavius Murray rushed for 114 yards and THREE touchdowns. It was his first 100-yard game since 11/1/15, and his second multi-score game in the last three weeks. And, while he never really left, a two-sack night for Khalil Mack (giving him seven on the season) let the world know that he’s still one of the league’s best players.
The Raiders weren’t perfect tonight. They got lucky when Carr lobbed a floater that was initially ruled an interception, but was reversed via replay. That they were even passing in that situation after recovering a Trevor Siemian fumble was curious, since they had a 10-point lead with seven minutes remaining. The 69-yard touchdown reception by Kapri Bibbs featured several gaffes by Oakland defenders as Bibbs darted back and forth across the field. And eight penalties for 72 yards seems like nothing after last week, and the Broncos were sloppier with 12 flags equaling 104 yards, but the Raiders still need to clean things up in that area.
Yet, no team in the NFL is close to perfect — especially in this era — and if the Raiders can boast an improved defense along with what looks like a balanced offensive attack, that puts them in the top tier of the league. Yes, the Raiders are one of the best teams in the NFL. Their uniforms have always looked fantastic, but don’t they look a little better when they’re playing like this?
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