McKenzie believes Raiders will win late, despite several 'heart attacks'


McKenzie believes Raiders will win late, despite several 'heart attacks'

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have put fans through the wringer this season, with dramatic games throughout the 2016 season. They’re 9-2 heading into Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, with five fourth-quarter comebacks to their credit and seven wins in eight games decided by a touchdown or less.

That’s a lot of stress on fans. Now imagine how that feels for the Raiders architect. General manager Reggie McKenzie would prefer to dominate games from the outset, but that hasn’t always worked out.

Late-game heroics have been the norm, mostly generated by quarterback Derek Carr’s high-octane offense.

McKenzie sits in the press box on road games, and always remains stoic. Inside, however, he’s as anxious as ever. Though the experience isn’t always pleasant, McKenzie has great confidence the Raiders can find ways to win.

“As many heart attacks as I’ve had, I absolutely do,” he said. “It goes without saying that you can feel it. They have an air about them, that they know they’re going to win. That’s good to be around.”

The Raiders have learned how to win in pressure-packed moments, a trend McKenzie believes began in the season-opener. That’s when head coach Jack Del Rio called for a last-second 2-point conversion when an extra point would’ve tied the New Orleans Saints, and Carr came through on a fade to Michael Crabtree.

“It set a tone for the confidence the coaching staff had in the players and that the players had in each other,” McKenzie said.

Despite the Raiders’ successful track record, escaping a tight spot is not guaranteed. That’s especially true against the quality competition they face late in the season and would spar should they make the playoffs.

“You want to dominate, and domination starts with physicality and defense,” McKenzie said. “We have to get to that point, but winning close ones builds confidence that they’ll find a way to win. That’s what is positive about those close ones.”

McKenzie would like the Raiders to consistently exert control, but he doesn’t mind the method as long as they win.

“I’m a bottom-line guy,” McKenzie said. “Just give me a safety and I’m good. It’s all about winning football games. The good thing about postgame is that you can find something to practice for the next week.”

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.