Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 27-24 victory over Dolphins


Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 27-24 victory over Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday night:

1. Stayin’ alive
The Raiders season could fall apart at any moment. Another loss (or two) would put them out of playoff contention, and they know it. They simply had to beat Miami. Had to. And did.

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Raiders found a way to stay on the tightrope. This delicate balancing act will carry forth into a bye and a Week 11 showdown with New England in Mexico City.

They got lucky today, with Kansas City and Denver losing. They vaulted right back into the wild-card hunt and remain alive in a packed AFC West. The Raiders aren’t scoreboard watching just yet. They have business to attend to. Nothing matters if the Raiders don’t go on a winning streak, with precious little margin for error.

They understand the circumstances, and remain committed to clawing their way back after a disastrous start to the season.

“It’s beating a dead horse to say we never thought we’d be here, even at 4-5,” tight end Lee Smith said. “That’s still one heck of a lot better than 3-6. We still have a long way to go but, if we lost in Miami, we wouldn’t stand a chance. If we win out, it still doesn’t guarantee us anything.

“I don’t think we need to focus on winning seven straight. We just have to keep ourselves in it. Every game’s a must win now. We dug ourselves a hole but, if there’s any team in the National Football League that I would want to climb out of that hole, this would be it. “

2. Cook becoming Carr’s best friend
Derek Carr didn’t have a dominant receiving tight end in his first three seasons. That’s why he pushed so hard to get Jared Cook. We’re seeing why that was an important move, because Carr and Cook are now in sync.

That was clear on Sunday night, when Cook hauled in eight receptions for 125 yards, and did it on nine targets. Cook’s in the midst of a productive stretch, with 18 catches for 290 yards in his last three games combined.

He leads the team in receptions and receiving yards. A total of his 26 receptions have gone for a first down.

“He’s a matchup problem,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’ve had our issues defending other guys like that around the league, the last couple of years. This year we set out to get one of our own, I feel like we have acquired one of our own. Tonight was an example of it. He can be a real factor, he can be a matchup problem for people, and I thought he did a great job tonight.”

The Raiders are getting a big return on investment, and Carr is taking advantage of his new guy in the middle.

“It’s just time and hard work,” Cook said. “I don’t think you can have too good a rapport with your quarterback. The chemistry is strong, and it’ll get better the more we play together.”

3. Marshawn goes Beast Mode:
The Raiders wanted to get the run game going on Sunday night, and Marshawn Lynch helped them do that. He had 14 carries for 57 yards and two touchdowns, with some tough, efficient runs mixed with some highlight-reel runs. His best was a 22-yard touchdown jaunt in the first half, and he scored from three yards out later in the fourth quarter.

He’s had an uneven start to his Raiders tenure, but the Silver and Black need his physicality in the backfield. They missed it last week in Buffalo, when he served a one-game suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“It’s important to get him going,” Cook said. “He’s so good when he gets involved, and he was pretty productive with the runs he had. We need Marshawn going strong to thrive as an offense.”

How Guy Fieri became friends with his childhood idol Ken Stabler


How Guy Fieri became friends with his childhood idol Ken Stabler

Guy Fieri has long been a gregarious sort, a risk taker to be sure. That was the case well before he became one of the planet’s most popular celebrity chefs. The Food Network star and restaurant mogul owned a few spots around the North Bay, only starting to build what has become a vast empire.

He heard legendary Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler had an endorsement with a local Chevrolet car dealership. That was Fieri’s hero growing up a diehard Raiders fan, when the Silver and Black mystique reached its zenith.

Fieri thought he’d take a shot in the dark. If Stabler was interested, Fieri told the car dealer, the quarterback could have a meal at his place, on the house.

One Saturday night shortly after, Fieri got a call he’ll never forget.

“They said, ‘Someone who looks a lot like Kenny Stabler just walked in the restaurant,” Fieri said on this week’s episode of NBC Sports Bay Area's Raiders Insider Podcast. “I had a bunch of people over for a dinner party, but I left right away and rushed to the restaurant. There was Kenny having dinner. I introduced myself, and we just started talking football and food, and became fast friends.”

That was the start of a long-lasting friendship with the Raiders. Fieri is as die-hard as they come, and has bled Silver and Black his entire life. He’s become an honorary Raider of sorts, and remains incredibly active in the Raiders community. He has hosted tailgate shows from the Raiders parking lot. He has cooked for John Madden’s birthday parties, and hosts a special cookout each year at Raiders training camp. He participates in Raiders charitable endeavors, and even participated in Jack Del Rio’s charity bocce tournament last week.

Nothing however, compares to becoming friends with Stabler. The relationship started as fan and favorite athlete, but they bonded over common interests and stayed in contact for a long time before Stabler died from complications of colon cancer in 2015.

“Kenny and I became great friends, and getting to meet and get to know him in the last 10 years of his life was a great opportunity for me,” Fieri said. “He could tell you a story about a play or moment in history like he was there. He had such a great memory. I remember talking to him one night and asking, ‘Do you know why I am the way I am? You had such an influence on me.’ I mean, he made his own rules. He had his own style, and he wasn’t going to be put in a corner. He was going to play the way he played and live the way he lived. I always admired him so much.”

Fieri has strong relationships with modern Raiders as well, from ownership down to the players.

Before he got on the inside, he was a fan who owned the Oakland Coliseum parking lot. He would come to Raiders games ready to cook.

“I used to bring an arsenal of cooking gear,” Fieri said. “I would bring a jambalaya pot. I used to smoke meats the night before and all that stuff. I would never have to buy a ticket. If I would cook, my friends would find a way to get me to the game. Some of my best Raiders buddies came through those tailgate events. People would just have a great time and take care of one another.”

Fieri is best known for hosting Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," "Guy's Grocery Games" and many other Food Network Specials. His new show, "Guy's Big Project," airs on Food Network on Sundays at 9 p.m.

Raiders might have the perfect player to slow down Rob Gronkowski


Raiders might have the perfect player to slow down Rob Gronkowski

ALAMEDA – The Raiders, like every other team, use scout teams designed to preview the next opponent and looks they might give. Practice-squaders often don the jersey of certain stars, skill players especially, while imitating key threats.

Someone might wear New England’s No. 87 this week, but there’s no replicating Rob Gronkowski. The dude stands 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. He’s built like an ox, with a badger’s on-field disposition.

“There’s nobody really, not with his size and the way he can block and run,” rookie defensive back Obi Melifonwu said. “It’s hard, but you have to do what you have to do.”

The Raiders haven’t done well with tight ends. That position has notoriously plagued them in years past, especially the good ones. Gronkowksi’s the absolute best when healthy.

Tight ends have 45 receptions for 492 yards and four touchdowns against this years Raiders, with Tennessee’s Delanie Walker, Washington’s Vernon Davis L.A. Chargers’ Hunter Henry and Miami’s Julius Thomas causing the biggest problems.

In other words, size and receiving skill equals trouble for the Silver and Black.

Kansas City’s Travis Kelce has long been a Raider killer, but had just four catches for 33 yards and a touchdown in a victory over the Chiefs. That’s considered a good day at the office versus Kelce. They’d certainly take that Sunday against New England at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.

The Raiders beat Kelce up pretty good in Week 7, with linebacker Bruce Irvin chipping him wherever possible. It’s less about knocking him down than rhythm and timing disruption. That tactic could be employed again, especially with emphasis being placed on avoiding explosive plays to speedster Brandin Cooks.

Slowing Gronkowski isn’t easy. Few, if any, do it well. Gronkowski has 60 catches for 583 yards and five touchdowns. He’s second in the league with 2.16 yards per route run, and has 15.3 yards per reception. The University of Arizona alum’s also an excellent run blocker, providing the versatility to trap a defense in sub personnel and run physical or pass deep with him against a defensive back.

He’s a matchup nightmare, a tag liberally applied to tight ends that fits perfectly in this case.

This would be a great time for Melifonwu to shine. He was drafted as a Raiders tight end eraser. That was the original goal, before a knee injury cost Melifonwu the season’s first half. His role is limited somewhat – he played seven defensive snaps in his NFL debut at Miami -- though playing the Dolphins and getting two more weeks practice leaves him better prepared for some one-on-one coverage.

Melifonwu has the size and speed to keep up with Gronkowski, but none of the veteran savvy. The key, in the UConn alums mind, is not playing into Gronkowski’s hands.

“A lot of people try to out-physical him,” Melifonwu said. “You have to play to your strengths. He’s a big, physical guy with strong hands. It’s definitely going to be tough, but it’s a matchup that’s going to be fun.”