ALAMEDA – The Raiders enter their bye week at 7-2, considered a true contender in the AFC West. No team has more wins through nine weeks, as the Raiders have emerged among the class of their conference.
This is a major step towards the team’s first playoff berth and winning season since 2002. That following season started a long, hard winter. A particularly deep freeze struck in 2014, when the Raiders started 0-10 and finished 3-13.
That was quarterback Derek Carr’s rookie season, and it certainly left a mark. That group wasn’t good but never quit, and eventually dragged itself out of the muck.
“A lot of mental toughness (was required), with a lot of hard days where you still had to come into work as the same person,” Carr said. “I think that when you do those things, there’s a lot of character that goes into where we’re at today. Not just myself, but I’m saying the whole team.
“It was tough to come in 0-10. It was tough to come in 0-8, 0-9 and keep doing it. We kept our heads down, and we knew that there was an end goal in mind.”
There was a vision shared by Carr, edge rusher Khalil Mack and rest of the 2014 draft class. They wanted to be part of a turnaround, and were willing to work to get there. They still needed a leader, and one came in 2015 when head coach Jack Del Rio was hired.
“Coach Del Rio has done a great job of giving us a vision and a format of how that looks, because he’s been there,” Carr said. “He’s done those things. It’s also us making it up in our mind, obviously, as players, but it takes a vision and a plan laid out by our leader. I think it’s just a perfect mesh of both.”
This turnaround has worked with a proper mesh of talent, coaching and character. Things started to swing during a 7-9 campaign in 2015.
“It started happening last year,” said left tackle Donald Penn, who signed with the Raiders during the 2014 offseason. “Our season got cut a little short with a few losses, but we had good momentum heading into the offseason. Then, with a couple moves (general manager) Reggie McKenzie made some smart moves and, when we all got together, it was time to compete. The coaches did a great job of helping us improve through competition.”
The Raiders are thankful for an improved lot, with full knowledge they can be better by season’s end.
“Things are coming together,” Penn said. “I can’t wait to see where it’s going to go next. I’m excited about the future, because we’re building something special here. There’s a lot of work ahead of us, and when we come together, that’s what I’m excited to see.”