LONDON – The Raiders spent their week in London hearing all about the greatness of Khalil Mack. They heard all about how the Chicago Bears defense was borderline invincible. They heard all about how their beloved teammate Vontaze Burfict was a dirty player who earned a 12-game suspension for an illegal hit.
That didn’t fracture or distract.
It pissed the Raiders off.
As we’re learning, angry Raiders are good Raiders. Angry Raiders are fun to watch.
Head coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther concocted excellent game plans while holed up in a tony golf resort just north of London. Their players executed them well in front of a massive crowd at the shiny, new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
It wasn’t pretty at every step, but it was never dull. In the end, the Raiders did what was required to win. They jumped out to a 17-point halftime lead, weather Chicago’s third-quarter storm and then sealed a 24-21 victory with a 97-yard comeback drive in the fourth.
“We could’ve folded up right there after the third, and taken an ‘L’ back to California,” left guard Richie Incognito said. “We were resilient and came away with the win.”
That sums it up well. The Raiders hung tough in an awful third quarter where most everything went against them and found a way to thrive when it mattered most.
Anger may have fueled them at the start, but that dissipates some as fatigue sets in. Their resolve never waned. All the early-season adversity, from Antonio Brown’s exit to Burfict’s suspension to injuries at key positions to an insane five-game road trip, has galvanized this unit into something better than the sum of its parts.
Past Raiders squad would wilt under such stress. In this instance, intense pressure’s producing diamonds.
“We’re learning a lot about each other, and how hard we play for one another,” Incognito said. “There are a bunch of new guys and we’re really coming together. These are statement wins. When you get further down the line, these are the victories you hang your hat on.”
The Raiders will hang helmets up for the bye. Gruden gave them the whole week off after an improbable 3-2 start to the season that includes two straight wins away from home, against solid Colts and Bears clubs.
They have transitioned well from an offense built around Antonio Brown to one focused on Josh Jacobs and a powerful run game. The No. 24 overall draft pick has been awesome thus far, and was his best Sunday, racking up 26 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns.
The Raiders got what they needed from quarterback Derek Carr, who played mistake-free football, was pinpoint accurate and gave players room to turn short passes into longer gains in the 17th fourth-quarter comeback of his NFL career. He did all that with rookies and reserve receivers operating without Tyrell Williams. Impressive stuff, to be sure.
“He did a great job,” Gruden said. “I thought we had a couple of special plays and short-yardage that were very effective. Probably the biggest plays of the game. It takes a quality quarterback to pull some of those off. He made great some pinpoint throws.”
And, right near the goal line, he let Jacobs soar up and over the Bears defense for the game-winning score. The Raiders were raucous in celebration, making a strong statement about a group overcoming so much to secure seemingly unlikely wins.
This team’s bond was strengthened during this week spent together in London, hearing all about what they were working against.
“The relationships that this team has, it really shows me what kind of team that Mr. Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have tried to build,” Carr said. “We’re super close, we’re getting super results and we’re super tough. I knew we had a close team, but we have been a close team because of our [extended] road trip.”
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The Raiders have dealt with a ton and handled it well. They stood tall, played well and demanded your respect.
“This was good,” Gruden said. “We got a key road win against a good football team. It was in the playoffs last year. So we're making progress. We've got some injuries to deal with. And really, really proud of our coaches and players and everybody affiliated with us right now. We're working hard.”