Raiders

Edwards Jr. 'believing in myself again' after rough stretch

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AP

Edwards Jr. 'believing in myself again' after rough stretch

ALAMEDA – Mario Edwards Jr. has always been a big kid. He stood 6-foot-1, 215 as a freshman in high school, but could bench 315 and run like a receiver. Freak size and athleticism made him a dominant football player.

Edwards Jr. was a five-star recruit at Billy Ryan High in Denton, Texas, rated the nation’s best defensive tackle and the No. 3 overall recruit. Not in the district or the state. In the country.

Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Alabama, Notre Dame and LSU, among others, were knocking on the door, but Edwards Jr. ultimately followed his father’s footsteps with an early commitment to Florida State.

Have all that going for you and a driver’s license and you can be a prince of Texas.

“It was kind of cool,” Edwards Jr. said on the Raiders Insider Podcast. “At 16 and 17 years old, I was doing magazine cover shoots and things like that. It sped up the process of dealing with where I’m at now. It got me prepped for this in a sense. And having my dad there, giving me the blueprint also helped as well.”

Mario Edwards Sr. blazed a trail from Florida State to the NFL as a defensive back. Junior knew exactly what it would to live his dream in professional football. As a prep and early in college, it didn’t require much work. His father instilled an improved work ethic later in college that got him ready for the pre-draft process and the pros.

“It was like I had all the answers to the test,” Edwards said. “He’s been everywhere that I’ve tried to go. He’s played at the highest level. He has been hurt. He has been to a top college and the pros. Having him there to filter out all the bad thoughts and help me to stay positive and continuing to work was great.”

That sounding board was a luxury during good times. It was a necessity during a recently rough stretch.

Edwards Jr. burst onto the scene in 2015, shortly after the Raiders took him No. 35 overall. Then he suffered a neck injury in Week 15 that year – Mario explains that situation in the podcast -- and didn’t return until June. He was back and rocking again in 2016’s training camp, but suffered a hip injury in the preseason opener and missed 14 weeks.

He wasn’t himself upon return, but another full offseason brought his explosiveness back. That’s clear watching Edwards Jr. play this season. He’s on a tear to start the year with two sacks – a full sack and two half sacks – and four quarterback pressures. He’s an effective part of the line rotation inside and out, with versatility to play multiple techniques.

The Raiders have been waiting to pair Edwards Jr. with edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. They can do that now, with impact rookie Eddie Vanderdoes added to the mix. Edwards Jr. is happy, healthy and playing well, free and clear of questions about his health. His dad helped him get through the down times, and continue improving during this productive period.

“I was talking to him the other day, and saying how much I have prayed and trusted the process and am believing in myself again,” Edwards Jr. said. “I’m finally getting my mojo back, and feeling like myself.”

Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 31-30 victory over Chiefs

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USATSI

Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 31-30 victory over Chiefs

OAKLAND – Three things you need to know about the Raiders’ 31-30 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night:

1. Back from the brink

The Raiders are still under .500. They face an uphill climb getting back into playoff consideration following a crippling four-game losing streak.

Still. 3-4 is a whole heck of a lot better than the alternative.

“Yeah, 2-5 did not sound good,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That made our stomach hurt. We wanted to come out here and get a big win. This is a big win. For our team, especially with the adversity we’ve gone through.”

The Raiders looked lost during their downturn, when a loaded offense averaged 13.1 points per game. They fell to 14th in the AFC and last in their division. Perceived strengths proved suspect. Everything was called into question.

If the Raiders were drowning, Thursday was that point in the movie where the hero reappears taking a huge, dramatic breath.

The Raiders are alive again, especially in beating the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs. There’s work ahead to make it more than a really fun night, but Thursday proved their survival instincts are still keen.

“It felt good,” left tackle Donald Penn said. “I wish it would have happened a few weeks ago. We wouldn’t be sitting here like that. You all would have been talking like ‘OK, we’re on a run.' I’m glad to get things going.

“I told them today I was going to go out there and let it rip. I told some other guys to go out there and let it rip. This offense was trying to be too perfect. We had high hopes going into the season when we started, then we hit adversity. We couldn’t find a way to get out of there fast enough. Now we’re getting out of this, but we have to keep it going. One thing we have been doing is we’ve been working as hard as we do every week. It’s starting to pay off.”

2. Dormant volcano erupts

The Raiders offense was horrible four straight games. The season’s first two games proved what a loaded unit can do when functioning well, but those efforts got lost in a wash of bad play.

An MVP-caliber quarterback’s play was openly questioned for the first time. So was a bright young coordinator taking shrapnel for the team’s misgivings. Averaging 13 points per game will make a fan base an angry mob. The offense grossly underperformed, but raw talent didn’t diminish.

Production was hot lava, bubbling underneath the surface. It erupted on Thursday night, with the previously cautious Raiders offense opened up and consistently took yards in chunks.

In doing so, a lost offense may have found an identity, a fallback: The Raiders can flat out sling it.

Quarterback Derek Carr was throwing darts all over the field, completing 29-of-52 passes for 417 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 8.0 yards per pass play and, at times, threw people open or allowed receivers to make a play in tight coverage.

Pass catchers certainly did that. Amari Cooper had 11 catches for 210 and two scores. Tight end Jared Cook had six receptions for 107 yards. Michael Crabtree only had 24 yards, but snagged the game-deciding touchdown.

It felt and looked like the Raiders offense everyone expected each week, finally back on track. That was clear after Carr threw Amari Cooper a touchdown pass the first two drives.

“We struggled to do a lot of things over the last month,” Carr said. “To start fast, again I think that gives life to a team. That’s a sense of hope, which we always have and belief and those kind of things, but to start fast, it always just gives your team a little boost at the beginning that you have to have.”

In previous weeks, the Raiders were wound too tight. They strived for perfection and failed to attain anything close. They just let loose, and went for it. An offense with no TNT blew up, to the tune of six explosive plays.

“We got so many weapons, we got so many explosive athletes on our offense but just in these last four games that we loss we were just so out of whack,” running back Jalen Richard said. “It was little stuff here and there, technical, maybe a missed assignment here and there. Guys were doing their thing, guys were playing hard. We believed the whole game even when we got down a little bit. We pulled through and got the win.”

3. Return of the 2016 Raiders

Last season’s Raiders owned the fourth quarter. They generated seven come-from-behind victories last season thanks to offensive magic and timely defense.

That’s how they erased a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit against Kansas City. They never wavered, even in tough times. The defense provided opportunity. With two minutes remaining, the offense got it done.

Derek Carr orchestrated an 11-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Crabtree on the second straight untimed down brought on by defensive penalty.

That moment produced great emotion. It should’ve after completing one of the wildest comebacks in franchise history. The drive itself, however, was clinical.

The Raiders believed they would score. They expected it.

"There was no panic, or anxiety or anything like that,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “We were going to get the job done. There was never, ever any doubt.”

That’s exactly what last year’s Raiders did. On the regular. They couldn’t respond well to adversity in recent games. They found their magic on Thursday night.

Mark your calendars right now for Raiders-Chiefs 2.0 in December

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USATSI

Mark your calendars right now for Raiders-Chiefs 2.0 in December

In case you were asking, and you shouldn’t have been because this game deserves to be savored a bit longer, it’s December 10.
 
That’s when the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders play each other again, in case Thursday night wasn’t good enough for you.

You philistines.

And while there are some folks who won’t be happy (those who like the Chiefs or bet the Chiefs), there won’t be a more magnificently bizarre game this NFL season – because these two teams are exactly that.
 
Bizarre.
 
The Chiefs, who two weeks ago were the best team in football as voted on by the instant punditocracy, made enough mistakes in the last two minutes of Thursday’s 31-30 defeat to lose 47-10.
 
And the Raiders did the same, capped off by Marshawn Lynch’s gloriously Oaklandish reaction to fellow citizen Marcus Peters’ late hit on Derek Carr – namely, “I got your rules and your respect for officials right here!”
 
But in the end – the glorious, bizarre, untimed end – the Raiders saved themselves from pre-Halloween doom, the Chiefs reverted to the team you can never fully trust, and the rest of the NFL can only shake its collective neckless head in wonderment at the power of the old American Football League.
 
Because that, ultimately, is what this was – a game out of time. This was a throwback game, all the way back to the mid- to late-60s, when the Raiders and Chiefs hated each other not out of historical duty but out of genuine solar-generated animosity. When they both played as though their cars were being looted in the parking lot, and when 750-yard combined passing nights were actually not that unusual. They were hell-bent then, and Thursday showed that they still have that bent in their DNA even now.
 
This was that era, played out in a way that old Raider and Chiefs fans can tell their grandchildren, “Now you’re sitting there scratching your head and all, but I’m telling you that used to happen all the time. You think Marcus Peters was bad? Google Ben Davidson on Len Dawson, little Tad.”
 
And it ended the only way it could for the good of the rivalry – with Oakland winning, and in the most staggeringly improbable way.
 
Not because the Raiders are more noble human beings or a superior life form from a time long ago, but because that December 10 game needs to mean something. The Raiders needed to win Thursday because losing meant their playoff hopes would be deservedly dead, and their remaining nine games would be reduced to competitive afterthoughts, and the year would be reduced to wondering why what should have been never came close to happening.
 
And the Chiefs needed to lose because running away with a division this difficult just seems wrong. There is nothing that says Kansas City isn’t better than Denver, or Oakland or the Fightin’ StubHubs, but it shouldn’t be this easy. The Patriots may have eaten the AFC East and spit the bones into a dumpster long ago, but the AFC West clung harder to its AFL roots than the East ever did.
 
And Thursday was the evidence required to show that, at least for the Chiefs and Raiders, the old days can be recreated with a keen eye for the most malevolent details and the most bizarre turns of fortune.
 
Call it nostalgia on crank – seemingly the only thing we have left that can bond the generations in these otherwise mean-spirited days.