ALAMEDA -- After back-to-back wins over the Lions and the Chargers, everything is in front of the Raiders.
The hard part of their schedule is behind them, and they sit just a half-game back of the Chiefs in the AFC West with just the 0-9 Bengals and the hapless Jets standing between them and a marquee Dec. 1 showdown with Kansas City.
The Bengals, who appear to be in full tank mode, look to provide little resistance against a Raiders team that has been securing wins through grit, resiliency and toughness.
But many believed the same thing about the Saints before the Falcons rolled them in Week 10. And no one gave the Evansville Purple Aces a shot at beating No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night. So, the Raiders are giving the Bengals their full attention.
“No, we’ve had a tough season," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday when asked if he had to remind the team not to overlook Cincinnati. "We’ve had tough moments around here, so we’re familiar with tough moments. We’ve got a lot of respect for the Bengals. You ever heard of the Evansville basketball team? They just went into Lexington and beat the No. 1 team last night now.
"So, this is pro sports. This is the National Football League. I don’t really care about anybody’s record. We’ve got a lot to prove. We’ve got to keep getting better and keep working hard, and hopefully, we can find a way to win another game.”
This is a young Raiders team, relying on heavy contributions from a number of rookies. After two straight wins over Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers, it would be normal for young guys to start strutting, looking ahead to bigger games than what awaits the Raiders on Sunday.
Gruden is all over it, though.
"You’ve just got to remind some of the young people that you can’t believe everything you read and you can’t believe everything you hear these days," Gruden said. "If you don’t respect Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, if you don’t think Will Jackson and Joe Mixon are great players, then you better get some film and look at it.”
Derek Carr knows what it's like to be in the Bengals' position. As a rookie, he was part of a Raiders team that started 0-10 in 2014 before picking up their first win of the season in Week 12.
Carr is aware that anything can happen in professional sports. He doesn't want to hear about numbers or perceived plans to tank. The Bengals are a real threat as far as he and the Raiders are concerned.
"Oh, yeah. You know, I never look at stats or records. I just turn the film on and see what I have to see," the quarterback said. "This team that we are playing is talented everywhere. They got a great football team, they got great coaches that have come from great places. They are in the middle of installing their system. They are in the middle of trying to figure out what offense and defense with their personnel that they are trying to do and all those kinds of things, they are in the middle of that.
"So, who says it wouldn’t click this week, right? And so, I don’t care about records, man. I prepare every game as if this is the game, and so there is no, ‘They haven’t won a game.' I don’t care how many games they have or haven’t won. They got Pro Bowlers all over their football team, and they are going to bring it, that’s for sure."
The Raiders are banged up. While they exited their miniature bye relatively healthy, they likely will be without slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner on Sunday. Safety Karl Joseph was placed on injured reserve after the win over the Chargers. D.J. Swearinger was brought in to provide aid to the secondary, and Dion Jordan was signed to bolster an ailing pass rush.
Carr is accustomed to being picked to lose, so he's not taking any stock in the public's perceptions of the Bengals. After all, "on any given Sunday" -- you know the rest of the saying.
"We look at just last night, young Kentucky, No. 1 team in the nation lost to someone no one thought they’d lose to, right?" Carr said, echoing Gruden's early example. "You watched the Saints, who were 7-1, they lose to the Falcons, who everyone has written off. This is the NFL. This is not high school football, it’s not even college football. It doesn’t matter what the spread is or who’s picked to win. I think we’ve been picked to lose every game since I’ve been here.
"Like, it doesn’t matter at all. You just got to show up and you got to play. And I don’t expect Cincinnati to come out here and just roll over. Those guys are professional athletes, and they are really good professional athletes. They don’t get enough credit. I think people sometimes look at an 0-9 team and they play Madden and see that their ratings are going down, but when they turn the film on, people that play football know how good the Bengals are.”
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So, did Carr and Gruden rehearse their "take no team lightly" spiel?
“No," Carr said when asked if Gruden had been using those examples to keep the Raiders focused. "Those are the same ones? I promise it wasn’t. I tell you, he’s rubbing off on me.”