Tied for 2nd in AFC West
Last Game: Win vs. Tennessee (1-2) 17-10
Next game: at Baltimore Ravens (3-0), Sunday, October 2nd at 1:00pm EST
Ah, thank you NFL schedule makers. The Raiders have two separate back-to-back 1:00pm start groupings this year, and this game is the second half of one of them. And the third 1:00pm start in their first four games.
Yet the Raiders, previously atrocious in early starts in the East and Central time zones, are 6-4 in such games since Coach Jack Del Rio took over last season. So it’s not the automatic ‘L’ it once was.
They rushed out to a 17-3 halftime lead and looked dominant on both offense and defense against the Titans. But then the Raiders stagnated a bit in both respects in the second half and did just enough to hold on for the victory.
It was nice to see the defense step up and make some plays, even if Khalil Mack is still invisible, at least in the box score. They forced two first-half turnovers and held the Titans to three points before allowing the run game to gash them in the second half.
The Raiders haven’t been consistent on either side of the ball. They have shown flashes of greatness on offense. Carr is a definitely star in the making. His pocket awareness and ability to slide out of pressure are amazing. At one point he danced around three defenders while keeping his eyes downfield and firing a perfect strike downfield. These are natural gifts. He’s such a fiery competitor and leader that he’s rarely satisfied. That leads to greatness.
Coach Ken Norton Jr. recently stepped up and took responsibility for the defense’s poor play. Del Rio called them out. Mack called a players-only meeting. Things were very serious.
They played with more passion and fire on Sunday, and the debut of rookie safety Karl Joseph gave the defense a lift they sorely needed. He was as advertised — an aggressive, heat-seeking missile unafraid to stick his nose in the action and get dirty. He barked orders, and he played with confidence.
Joseph showed some vets what’s up to be frank, and they responded in kind with their best game. Add in rookie MLB Cory James and his speed and quickness to the ball and the youngsters definitely made an impact.
The Titans did march down the field and have multiple chances to win the game, and had that happened it’s likely the narrative would change to the same old defense showed up in the second half. Fortunately the Raiders held on to win another close game, so that narrative can be put away for another week.
The Broncos look downright versatile and scary — the Raiders have the pieces on paper, but need to begin to put performances together to be taken seriously as divisional contenders.
Wild-card contenders? Now that’s another story. The AFC is wide open right now. The Raiders are one of seven AFC teams with a winning record. The other nine have a losing record. The Raiders are in a better position after three games — which is actually 20% of the NFL season — than they have been in years.
It matters. That’s the equivalent of 15 NBA and NHL games, and 30 MLB games. Most teams begin to take shape after that sample size, and those with winning records stand a far better chance at making the playoffs than those that don’t. The Raiders are, thus far, in good shape but must keep it going this weekend.
Note: The Raiders have promoted G Denver Kirkland from the practice squad to fill out the 53-man roster. JBB’s editor Nick Hjeltness breaks it down here.