Win and they're in: Raiders allowed to think playoffs

Win and they're in: Raiders allowed to think playoffs

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have kept playoff talk at a stiff arm’s length. Coaches and players prefer the ol’ one-game-at-a-time mantra, especially while working through a long season with the finish line well off in the distance.

Now a footstep separates them from a postseason berth, with math so simple the Raiders can’t avoid playoff talk.

Win and they’re in.

If their focus is always on winning the next game, it’s hard to avoid a Sunday game at San Diego that could provide playoff security.

“We want to be playing in the postseason, so we can give ourselves a chance to play for the big one,” running back Latavius Murray said. “It starts Sunday. We’re excited for that opportunity to continue playing later, into the postseason.”

A win Sunday would guarantee at least the final wild card spot. The Raiders still have the AFC West in their sights. They lost control of the division title on Thursday night in Kansas City, and now they need the Chiefs to trip over the final three games.

The Raiders hope to win out and lock in a top seed, but just getting to the playoff tournament is a monumental step. That’s especially true for a recently downtrodden franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002. This group isn’t battling history. They are firmly grounded, remaining in the present tense as often as possible.

A win on Sunday would accomplish a major mission, one these Raiders have been questing for this season.

“It’s always in your mind because that’s the goal,” edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “We want to reach the playoffs. It’s not easy to get there, and that’s the challenge. We’re trying to clinch a spot by any means. We’re working this week to get a win. That’s the goal for us.”

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.