Raiders protect Coliseum, set playoff course after sweeping homestand

Raiders protect Coliseum, set playoff course after sweeping homestand

OAKLAND -- The Raiders returned home at the beginning of November tired, frustrated and beaten up, but still with a pulse.

A whirlwind five-game road trip saw the Silver and Black go just about everywhere -- from Minnesota to London to Houston with a few stops in between. They survived the season-defining road trip, coming home at 3-4 and with just enough of a heartbeat to make the next three games the most important of the 2019 season. 

Three games in a row at the Coliseum. All winnable. Since it's the NFL, all losable.

Jon Gruden's gritty club opened the homestand with a thrilling Week 9 win over Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. Derek Carr engineered a game-winning drive, safety Karl Joseph broke up Stafford's last-second pass to tie the game and the Raiders were 4-4. 

The heartbeat grew stronger. The Coliseum grew louder.

Next, a Thursday night showdown against the rival Chargers, a team desperate to find a win. The final night game in Oakland saw the Coliseum roar and shake as it did during the glory years of the Silver and Black, with the crowd exploding when Joseph picked off Philip Rivers to seal another nail-biting victory

At 5-4, the heartbeat was steady and still growing stronger. The Raiders had one more game in front of them to win to complete a goal set when they disembarked the plane after a disappointing road loss to the Texans to cap their road trip. 

There the winless Bengals stood Sunday at the Coliseum, 0-9 but ready to scratch and claw for win No. 1. The Raiders left the door open, playing sloppy, uninspired ball at times. But the Bengals, without a threat at quarterback or a defense capable of making a timely stop, lacked the mobility to walk through it, and Trayvon Mullen's game-sealing interception of Ryan Finley gave the Raiders a 17-10 win and a 3-0 homestand. 

Giving the Coliseum crowd meaningful football to watch in the team's final season in Oakland has energized a home crowd frothing at the mouth for a playoff run. Their energy, in turn, has injected life into the Raiders as the team exited Sunday's win in a virtual tie for first place in the AFC West, with the Chiefs still to play Monday night.

Defending the Coliseum was of paramount importance to Carr and the Raiders. That came pouring out when the veteran signal-caller juked an oncoming defender Sunday and sprinted for the end zone, leaping across the goal line to give the Raiders a 14-7 lead over the Bengals.

Carr let out a primal scream toward the fans in the corner of the end zone, echoing Maximus Decimus Meridus' iconic scene from "Gladiator." Raiders Nation, going berserk as the Silver and Black crept toward a 3-0 homestand, was indeed entertained.

"When we were on that 11-month road trip across the globe," Carr said laughing, "we talked leading into the Lions at home, I said, 'We have set ourselves up to have a homestand at home with games that matter.' November is the games they remember, right? Every coach has said that I've ever been with. We asked our fans to be loud for us, they were loud for us.

"We demanded that we won every one of those games here at home. We protected this place because this is a special place. And we did that.

"Now we have to go on the road again. But when we get back home, hopefully, there's still some things that we need to be playing for. I hope that our fans are excited when we come back. But I hope they also make a couple trips with us and turn those stadiums into silver and black."

In the final season in Oakland, the Raiders now are 4-1 at home, with their only loss coming at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Week 2.

They've shown tremendous resolve, grit and toughness each week, doing what is necessary to force the Coliseum faithful to explode in celebration and send Gruden down to the Black Hole to be mobbed by those that have more silver and black than hemoglobin coursing through their bodies.

Protecting the Coliseum was necessary in order for Gruden and the Raiders to capitalize on surviving an unprecedented road trip against playoff-caliber teams.

"We came off one of the most incredible road trips ever in the history of the NFL," Gruden said after the win over the Bengals. "We played not only on the road, we played in foreign countries and across the world it seemed like every week. We came back and did what we had to do if we wanted to get in this thing."

[RELATED: Crosby-Mullen bond creates winning plays for Raiders]

With just December home games against the Titans and Jaguars remaining, Gruden is relishing each win he can celebrate with the Raiders fans that closely resemble their head coach.

"I can say I've been fortunate to be in some great places, great traditional places," Gruden said Sunday. "Notre Dame, I grew up in South Bend. Had the opportunity to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, 49ers, they all have great fans. Something about these people. They are nuts. They are the closest thing to me that I've ever seen."

Road dates with the Jets and Chiefs await the Raiders over the next two weeks. Both games are losable, and both winnable, as has been the case with the 2019 Raiders.

Returning to the hallowed ground in Oakland with the playoffs in sight will have the Coliseum primed to ratchet it up to 11 as their final mosh in silver and black comes in December games to remember. A fitting parting gift to those who have made the Coliseum so special.

Gruden and the Raiders plan to give it to them.

Why Bill Belichick will miss Oakland Coliseum after Raiders' finale

Why Bill Belichick will miss Oakland Coliseum after Raiders' finale

It’s no secret that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t a man of many words.

When it comes to his press conferences, answers don’t tend to extend longer than a sentence or two.

But when the six-time Super Bowl champion coach was asked about the Raiders playing their final game at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday, the famously tight-lipped coach opined on the soon-to-be-former home of the Silver and Black.

“Pretty intense fans. It’s like Halloween every Sunday there,” Belichick said to reporters Friday. “So, yeah. I mean, it’s a great environment.

“When I was with the Broncos, of course we played out there, so that was – especially at that time in ’78, if I get that right – I’m pretty sure the Broncos won the division that year. We were right there with the Raiders. It was the Raiders-Broncos. It was a very intense rivalry, so there was a lot of – there was the game, and then there was all the other aspects of the game.

“But, yeah, the Oakland crowd was a lot more intense than the L.A. crowd, and we’ll miss it. We’ll miss it.”

One thing the legendary coach won’t miss is the iconic Black Hole.

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Davis discusses end of Raiders' Oakland era]

“I think we kind of warmed up down there, so it’s not really where you want to be as a visiting coach,” Belichick said. “Tell the players not to stand too close to them in case they throw something and miss.”

The Raiders will host the Jacksonville Jaguars in their finale in front of the Oakland crowd on Sunday, as the team will officially move its operations to Las Vegas before the 2020 season.

Derek Carr among five Raiders who must play well to win Oakland Coliseum finale

Derek Carr among five Raiders who must play well to win Oakland Coliseum finale

OAKLAND -- The Raiders will play their last game at Oakland Coliseum on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It will be an emotional day for everyone involved.

That includes Jon Gruden, as attached to this East Bay fan base as anyone. The Raiders coach has shut off his emotions all week, driving focus into preparation for this game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That’s the last Oakland moment he can control, and Gruden plans to take advantage.

Gruden desperately wants this win, and a victory might finally provide the opportunity to be emotional about the team’s scheduled move to Las Vegas.

“I wish I had time to stand up here and thank all the fans," Gruden said earlier this week. "I wish I had more time to really sit down and make that the big story here, and thank the fans for their support over the years, and what this franchise has accomplished, and what it means and what Oakland means to the Raiders. So, I’d like to thank everyone that welcomed us back when we came back and I know that they are going to stay with us when we go, but I appreciate all the fans and their loyalty and their support. We’ll try to give you one hell of a show.”

In order to put on a showstopper, the Raiders will need good performances from these five guys.

QB Derek Carr

I generally try to leave the franchise quarterback off these lists, but we’ll make an exception for the last Raiders game in Oakland. He got booed off the field after last week’s first half and again at the end, but this fan base still has a great affinity for the signal-caller who started virtually every game since 2014.

Carr owes them his best on Sunday, and odds are great he’ll put on a show for the faithful. He must improve upon recent performances to execute his plan. Carr will need help from a so-so receiver corps and an offensive line -- Trent Brown’s questionable with a pectoral strain -- that haven’t been at full strength all season.

Emotional Derek Carr is generally the best Derek Carr -- the season opener is a great example -- so we should anticipate him being on top of his game. The Jaguars have struggled mightily this season. but they’re sure to put up a fight during the final game in Oakland.

Carr is capable of putting a team on his shoulders, and he might have to with the Raiders defense playing as it is.

RB Josh Jacobs

The Raiders don’t have much to play for. Their playoff hopes are essentially dead, with the path to the postseason now complicated calculus when it was simple math not long ago. Jacobs is this team’s offensive engine, the player who matters most in what the Raiders do moving the football.

They know that. They believe his fractured shoulder can’t get worse and are hoping to trot him out there Sunday to help win the last game in Oakland. Jacobs' play exponentially increases their chances to win, and Jacobs knows that. He desperately wants to win this game.

The rookie is expected to be active, though it’s unclear exactly how much he will play. A 20-plus carry dose should do the Jaguars in. If he can provide that, the Raiders are in great shape if the defense holds up even a little bit. If not, Sunday could well be a struggle.

CB Isaiah Johnson

There’s no telling how much the fourth-round draft pick will play Sunday. Heck, he might not play at all.

Johnson hasn’t done much since returning off injured reserve, at times a healthy scratch since being activated around midseason. He has sat behind other guys during a playoff push and that made sense, but now it doesn’t. The Raiders are essentially out of the postseason running, with cornerback Daryl Worley either out with a neck injury or moving to strong safety in the base package.

That provides an opportunity to see what Johnson’s got. He won’t be his absolute best, not after missing most of training camp and half the regular season with a facial fracture suffered in the first regular-season game. Rookies can’t make up for that lost time until the following offseason, and Johnson clearly would’ve played earlier had he not been behind.

But it’s time to throw him out there as a test, to see what you’ve got in a talented young player. If he gives up a massive play, so what? The guy has to learn on the job. That’s how Trayvon Mullen has done it, and the Clemson product has thrived despite making some rookie mistakes. It’s time to let Johnson do the same.

DE Maxx Crosby

A devout Raiders follower made a flag to hang over the Oakland Coliseum railing -- enjoy that while you can Raider Nation, the tradition isn’t following you to Las Vegas -- to honor the departing club. He featured a skull and swords as crossbones, with a name filling out the remaining fabric. It said Mad Maxx.

That honors the rookie pass rusher who has already adhered himself to the fan base with one sack and pressure after another. He has proven a better run defender than people have expected. The Silver and Black need him to step up Sunday and generate heat largely missing from recent games.

Crosby currently has 7.5 sacks and would certainly like to reach 10 in his rookie year, needing at least a sack on Sunday to make that happen and give him a chance to compete for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

WR Tyrell Williams

The veteran receiver just isn’t right. Coaches volunteered that Williams' plantar fasciitis has plagued him all season despite it keeping him out just two games in the early going.

Williams simply hasn’t produced at a No. 1 receiver level, which has hurt the offense as a whole. Drops have been a real issue, and his lack of consistent separation can be attributed to his ailing foot.

He is not even on the injury report and is expected to play, and Williams has to produce if that’s the case. He remains the team’s best receiver and has to act like in the final game played in the spot where his grandparents live, in the town where he spent so much time as a kid.