Raiders

Raiders standing by strategy for Mexico City altitude

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AP

Raiders standing by strategy for Mexico City altitude

MEXICO CITY – The Raiders spent all week at sea level preparing to play 1-¼ miles up. They left Oakland around noon on Saturday confident that altitude won’t be an issue in Sunday’s game against New England.

Estadio Azteca sits at 7,200 feet, a comparable elevation to where the Patriots have been practicing in Colorado Springs. That has created a debate of sorts about which philosophy works best. There’s science to support staying in altitude with New England.

There’s plenty more to back head coach Jack Del Rio’s desire to get in and out of altitude as fast as possible. We won’t break down the arguments here. There are plenty of stories written about that.

We’ll simply say the Raiders believe in their approach, and have experience to support it. The Raiders best Houston in Mexico City last year in a dramatic affair that required two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

“I thought we handled our business well last year and we’ve got a similar approach this year,” Del Rio said. “We expect to go down there and play in a great atmosphere. The fans are very engaged. It’s a great atmosphere to be a part of. Just go down there and play good football.”

The Raiders have worked toward this game the past three weeks. They’ve worked on exercise bikes and treadmills using elevation machine, which matches oxygen outputs at specific elevation. Players have done that and have then been able to recover at sea level. They’ve worn popularized oxygen deprivation masks during other activities, though they’ve practiced as usual.

The Raiders know what to expect in terms of logistics, altitude and air pollution. The Raiders have prepared well for this experience, but that doesn’t mean altitude doesn’t impact finely tuned athletes.

“When you get there, you’re going to feel it,” edge rusher Khalil Mack said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s different than anything you’ve ever felt. It’s different than Denver. It was a way tougher challenge. You felt it right away. It hits you getting off the plane.”

Both teams must play in adverse conditions.

“We just have to go play,” Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “You guys aren’t going to say the altitude had an effect on the outcome. You can’t use it as an excuse. You can’t think about that. You have to train and prepare the way they’ve been having us prepare and go out there and execute.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hasn’t talked much about his strategy of staying at elevation after playing in Denver last week. Extended time away from home can be a bonding time, as the Raiders experienced a fortnight past in Sarasota, FL. He didn’t consider the time spent at Air Force Academy to be a significant advantage.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Belichick said. “The way the schedule worked out, this worked out for us. We’re here and we’re just doing the best we can to get ready for the game.”

The Raiders anticipate Estadio Azteca to feel like home away from home. Raider Nation turned out en masse last year in Houston, giving the neutral site a silver and black edge. Fans took it to the extreme at times, pointing a green laser pointer in Texans quarterback Brock Osweiller’s eyes.

The NFL will certainly be looking to quell those disruptions, especially with a marquee Patriots team in town. New England fans will be audible this time, but another pro-Raiders atmosphere is expected. That’s why Derek Carr isn’t worried about distractions from the crowd.

“No, no, no, no, no. I think that going down there is a home field advantage,” Carr said. “I’m not worried about the laser pointers. I think that’s for the other guys.”

Future in question, Raiders need hyphy Marshawn in final home game of 2017

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AP

Future in question, Raiders need hyphy Marshawn in final home game of 2017

OAKLAND – Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington were headed for the field when Marshawn Lynch held them back. The young Raiders running backs weren’t sure why their position group’s elder statesman would do so, especially before starters were announced to the Oakland Coliseum crowd.

Lynch wanted Richard and Washington to run out with him. Questions ran rapid fire through Richard’s mind: Are you sure you want company? This was, after all, the proud Oakland native’s homecoming game. Won’t that mess up your big moment in the sun? Is this even allowed?

Lynch wasn’t worried about any of that. Lynch rolled three deep into the Week 2 home opener against the New York Jets, flanked by young protégés he has advised all year. His big moment was theirs, too.

”That was my first time going through the tunnel,” Richard said. “The first time, I didn’t think they were going to let us do that. But Marshawn said it was fine, and brought us with him. It’s a different feeling running out the tunnel all three of us, through the smoke and onto the field. It lets you know you’re in the league.”

That was a true Marshawn moment. So was a tackle-breaking touchdown run during the game, and when the scoreboard broadcast him getting hyphy on the sideline. The entire stadium partied with him that day, his first regular-season game as a Raider at Oakland Coliseum.

Lynch has brought Washington and Richard with him each time he comes out of the tunnel, a moment when the hometown crowd praises their favorite son.

“You definitely feel the energy,” Washington said. “He’s a hometown guy. Marshawn wears this city on his back. There’s a roar when they announce his name. It’s been a fun experience throughout the year.”

Sunday night's clash with the Dallas Cowboys is the final home game this season, unless, of course, the AFC West completely and shockingly turns on its ear and the Raiders host a playoff game.

That fact begs this question: Will Sunday be the last time Marshawn plays in Oakland?

The answer remains uncertain, with several factors at play.

Lynch remains under contract next season, with a $4 million base salary and incentives and bonuses that could pay an additional $2 million. None of that money is guaranteed, so the Raiders could cut him without dead money attached.

Lynch could also retire like he did right after Super Bowl 50. He didn’t miss the game in a year away from it, and the enigmatic personality may decide one season in Oakland was enough. He came back to show kids in the community he champions firsthand that someone from their neighborhood could bring attention to Oakland before the Raiders leave. Will an encore season further that goal?

The Raiders signed Lynch for two reasons: to boost their backfield and offer an olive branch to Oakland after being approved to relocate to Las Vegas. The Raiders won’t move until 2020, and having Oakland’s most popular person in Silver and Black helps keep butts in the seats.

He has practiced all year save a few rest days and has been a quality locker room presence, though he rubbed some the wrong way getting ejected and then suspended for defending good friend and rival Kansas City Chief Marcus Peters in an on-field scuffle. Coach Jack Del Rio said he practiced and played with extra zest after serving a one-game suspension. Stats bear that out.

His production lulled before midseason – he struggled to meld with the Raiders scheme and offensive line – but has picked up that pace significantly in the second half.

Lynch had 100-plus yards from scrimmage in two home games preceding last week’s loss in Kansas City, where he had 64 yards on eight touches.

He has averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and his 2.68 yards per carry after contact ranks sixth in the league. Lynch still has it at age 31, and might hit the ground running next season behind a familiar line.

That’s then. The Raiders still need him now, against a No. 11-ranked Cowboys run defense. Local fans would love to see him succeed in person one more time this year, which might mark the end or the halfway point of his tenure playing for the Raiders in Oakland Coliseum.

Secondary takes another hit; injury updates for two key Raiders

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AP

Secondary takes another hit; injury updates for two key Raiders

ALAMEDA – The Raiders secondary has been beset by injuries this season. An already shaky crew never really had first-round pick Gareon Conley, who played two games due to a shin injury and is on injured reserve.

Even he did more than Obi Melifonwu. The second-round safety was active for five games but played just 34 defensive snaps. He won’t play another this season.

Melifonwu had surgery to repair an injured hip on Thursday, and was placed on season-ending injured reserve Friday afternoon. Cornerback Antonio Hamilton was called up in a corresponding move.

This is Melifonwu’s second IR stint this season. He spent the season’s first half on IR following knee surgery, but was designated to return. Melifonwu never played his natural position. The Raiders used him at cornerback, a desperate experiment that failed in a Week 11 loss to New England and barely played after that.

Injury may have played a part in that.

“I can’t tell you exactly when that occurred,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think it’s been a little bit that he’s been working with. It required surgery and he had it, so he’ll be out.”

Injuries ran deeper than the draft class.

Top cover man David Amerson has missed six straight games with a foot sprain, and remains doubtful for Sunday night’s clash against the Dallas Cowboys. That absence stings, especially with the secondary working without the young bucks.

Expect Sean Smith, TJ Carrie and Dexter McDonald to maintain their posts at cornerback.

“Those guys have done a good job in a tough spot,” Hamilton said. “They’ve stayed healthy and available for us. That has been key.”

Hamilton tore the meniscus in his knee in a Week 4 loss at Denver and is healthy and ready to contribute.

The NFL’s No. 25-ranked pass defense must make do with what they’ve got down the stretch. There’s some hope Amerson will return, even after being removed from practice the past few days. He performed side work with a trainer Friday right next to the media area, and continues to work on a return despite having so few games left.

Cooper could come back: Raiders receiver Amari Cooper re-injured his sprained ankle in a loss at Kansas City and was ruled out for the Cowboys game. It might not, however, keep him out the rest of the season.

“I think he’s better than he was, but he’s going to be out this week,” Del Rio said. “I think we have a chance to get him back.”