ALAMEDA – The Raiders fell down with roughly four minutes remaining in Sunday’s game against host Tampa Bay. They had blown a fourth-quarter lead and were in the red allowing 14 unanswered points.
There was no panic on the sideline featuring Silver and Black. These Raiders had been down and seemingly out several times before, then came roaring back.
It happened extremely late at New Orleans and Baltimore. They had to weather late storms from Tennessee and San Diego.
Sunday’s adverse circumstances gave no cause to fret.
“You heard guys on the sidelines saying, ‘We’ve been here before,’ and it’s true,” receiver Amari Cooper said. “Every time we’ve been in that situation we seem to come out on top.”
The Raiders took a strange path to an expected outcome. There were bumps in the road, but they tied it near the end of regulation and won with Seth Roberts’ 41-yard catch-and-run-like-hell late in overtime to notch this year’s third comeback win.
Clutch performances aren’t the only reason the Raiders are 6-2 heading into the season’s second half. There’s a lot of talent showing up in all circumstances.
They have an MVP candidate in quarterback Derek Carr. They have two excellent receivers in Cooper and Michael Crabtree and one of the league’s best offensive lines. They feature an excellent punter, a dynamic return man and solid coverage teams.
There are some glaring issues. There’s talent along the defensive front and in the secondary, but the yards allowed are off the charts. They’re first in penalties by a long shot.
Those deficiencies, however, have been countered by a third-down defense that is tied fourth best in the NFL and plus-7 turnover margin stands alone in the fourth spot.
That fits with the defining characteristic of these first eight games: The Raiders have played well under extreme pressure.
“I feel great about that,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Last year, I think we learned how to compete for 60 minutes. I think this year, we’ve learned how to continue to compete for 60 minutes and look for and expect to make the plays that need to be made to win.”
The belief has always been there, but the tone was set in New Orleans. The Raiders were down two scores heading into that fourth quarter at the SuperDome, but crawled back into it and were a point back after Seth Roberts' clutch touchdown with 47 seconds left.
Del Rio didn’t play for a tie. He went for two points instead – with was a gamble with logic behind it – and Carr to Crabtree was etched into Raiders lore.
It gave the Raiders confidence under difficult circumstances in Baltimore, when Carr found Crabtree for a go-ahead touchdown from 23 yards out, and the defense sealed victory with some big hits.
“It’s not the first time we’ve done that,” Crabtree said at the time. “I’m not surprised at all. I have confidence in my team. We don’t blink at all.”
That was clear again Sunday, when the Raiders found a way to win despite 200 penalty yards, plus a game-winning field goal and overtime kick sent wide.
That got the Raiders through the halfway point with a 6-2 record, including an excellent 5-0 on the road. It also sets up an epic showdown with AFC West rival Denver in Oakland on Sunday night -- that Raiders coaches are already playing down.
That’s what should happen. It won’t make or break a season, but it would mark the first win over a team that is currently over .500 and quiet detractions. The Raiders want to win the AFC West, and have four division games – three are on the road -- to help achieve that end.
There’s a home-away-from-home game against Houston in Mexico City, and games against Carolina, Indianapolis and Buffalo slated for afternoons in the East Bay.
Oakland, Denver and Kansas City all have two in the loss column. The Raiders and Broncos currently stand atop the division and two games up in the wild card race.
It’s far too early to worry about playoffs or whether Carr could win an MVP. The next eight games will decide those things, and a continuation of this success would make them playoff bound.
And, there might/will likely be a time (or two) where a close game doesn’t fall the Raiders’ way. That won’t swipe their swagger.
They believe in Del Rio’s process and his leadership thanks to early dividends paid. Coaches and players know they can’t rely on dramatics to finish the season strong. They have to peak and play better, more consistent football to break a 13-year playoff drought.
“We have such a long way to go as a team,” Carr said. “We see the end goal in sight, what we want the team to look like, we’re just not there yet but we have a long way to go and we’ll keep working until we get there.”