Raiders' resilient attitude on display as surprising season continues

Raiders' resilient attitude on display as surprising season continues

OAKLAND – Quarterback Derek Carr entered the Raiders huddle with a simple message for his massive offensive line.

"Keep me upright and we’ll win this game."

The Raiders had four minutes to score a touchdown. Failure would mean losing to the Chargers on Thursday night. Protect the passer and win. Allow pressure, and lose. 

If the heat was on, these Raiders never felt it. Not even an offensive line Carr had charged with a massive responsibility.

“I said, ‘I got you,’ and gave him a little wink,” star right tackle Trent Brown said. “That was it.”

The Raiders were certain they’d score and win. After all, they beat Detroit five days ago the exact same way. They could certainly do it again. 

“It was fun,” Brown said. “We had to drive the ball and score. It was on us. The game was on our back. We had to come through.”

The Raiders marched 75 yards on 10 plays, cashing in on Josh Jacobs’ 18-yard touchdown run.

Carr was awesome.

The offensive line held strong.

Oakland's defense made a tenuous 26-24 lead stand by forcing seven straight Philip Rivers incompletions – a penalty extended the series – before Karl Joseph’s interception formally secured victory.

The Raiders jumped out to an early lead and held it until late in the fourth quarter before the Chargers surged ahead.

No matter. The Raiders didn’t blink.

“That’s resilience,” Brown said. “We don’t quit. I’m sure that, coming into this, everybody was counting us out like they always do. We rose above the noise and played our game. We played Raiders football.”

They certainly did. The Silver and Black were forged in fire, weathering countless setbacks due to injury, Antonio Brown’s implosion and Vontaze Burfict’s suspension. Now they’re galvanized, ready to take on anything.

That’s resilience. Brown’s term is this team’s defining characteristic, one that has it playing better than the sum of its parts. Let’s not forget this team remains in the midst of a rebuild, with another productive offseason at least away from fleshing out a depth chart deficient at certain positions.

Those in house aren’t always the best at their position, but they scratch and claw and never back down.

“We have more dogs on this team than any other year,” said running back Jalen Richard, who has seen good times and bad since joining the team in 2016. “We have the mentality that, if you hit me, I’m going to hit you harder. We have a lot of guys with that mindset. We are not going to lie down.”

That mindset comes from the veteran leadership core. It also comes from the coaching staff. Jon Gruden’s tireless work ethic and drive have rubbed off on this group, with a commitment to the process validated by positive results.

“I mean it’s a testament to our team and what we believe in,” Jacobs said. “We believe in this program. We believe in this program. We believe in the coaches.

“This team is a lot better than what we get credit for, and I think you see that now. I mean we’re just starting to put the pieces together. So, it’s going to be fun and interesting to see how we go on this little stretch and see how we do next week.”

These Raiders are in the playoff hunt after believing they were counted out early. That wasn’t the case, at least not in this sector of cyberspace. It was fair to question how the Raiders would fare due to so much adversity right out of the gate.

A never-say-die response to all that was impressive. They have shown resilience through individual setbacks, between games and within them.

[RELATED: Raiders-Chargers Coliseum finale was fitting final chapter]

The Raiders won’t win every game. They could struggle against the NFL’s best, but they can’t be counted out of anything. That’s a high compliment to Gruden, his staff and the players they coach.

“You may beat us, but we’re going to be a hard out to get,” Gruden said. “We’re going to battle. That’s all I can say about this team. We’re very happy with our foundation, our process.”

Ex-Bucs claim Barrett Robbins' absence just excuse for Raiders' loss

Ex-Bucs claim Barrett Robbins' absence just excuse for Raiders' loss

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

A number of factors went into the Raiders' demoralizing defeat at the hands of Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. The story behind the mysterious disappearance of Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins is revealed in NBC Sports' latest Sports Uncovered podcast, which was released Thursday.

Robbins missing the biggest game of his life no doubt played a role in the 48-21 thrashing the Raiders suffered. As did coach Bill Callahan's puzzling decision to alter the game plan at the last minute. But some Raiders believe Gruden and the Bucs knew their plays and formations, making the rout all but a certainty, blaming Callahan for giving the game to his former boss.

To a few former Buccaneers, though, all of that is just a bunch of excuses.

"The fact that your center went to Tijuana and got lost, and all of a sudden, um, he's not the quarterback," said Booger McFarland, who was a defensive tackle for the Bucs. "He's not the star wideout. He's not the star defensive player. He's the center."

"I've seen [Bill] Romanowski at a couple different events," Shelton Quarles said. "I've seen Rich [Gannon] at a couple of different events. And we've had conversations, and they're like, 'Oh, well you guys got lucky because Barret Robbins was out. We had a backup center, and our game plan was to run the ball down your throat.' OK, well, then just run your game plan. If that's something you practiced all week then run that."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

As for the charge that Gruden and the Bucs knew the Raiders' plays, Tampa Bay had seen the scheme before. Every day.

"It's the same offense that Jon Gruden ran when he was there," McFarland said. "So, we practiced against the same offense for a year. So, if you're not going to change any of the same audibles that Gruden uses in Tampa, then that's on you."

In the end, Robbins' absence didn't play a huge role in the Bucs' romp. Gruden and the Buccaneers were ready for anything and everything the Raiders were going to throw at them, and Callahan was outmatched from the opening kick-off.

The Raiders approached the matchup as if they had already won the Super Bowl. Owning the league's No. 1 offense and facing a Bucs team no one expected to be there, some members of the Silver and Black were ready for the parade.

"I was like, 's--t, I'm about to get my second ring,'" defensive tackle Sam Adams said. "We about to drag these jokers. They ain't doing nothing against us. Nothing. We about to whoop these jokers."

But once Callahan made the last-minute game plan switch, Tim Brown and the rest of the Raiders entered Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego knowing they weren't bringing home the Lombardi Trophy.

"We go into the Super Bowl knowing that we don't have a chance to win," Brown said.

[RELATED: How Davis told Trask of Robbins' Super Bowl disappearance]

The Raiders' defeat at the hands of Gruden and the Bucs can be laid at the feet of many people.

Barret Robbins was an easy scapegoat at the time. The center went out and partied too hard and missed the game, so it's his fault. Years later we know better. The Raiders knew better in the moment.

Even if he had suited up, the Bucs were prepared to slow down Callahan's offensive attack. Almost like they knew what was coming.

How Raiders' Al Davis told Amy Trask of Barret Robbins' Super Bowl absence

How Raiders' Al Davis told Amy Trask of Barret Robbins' Super Bowl absence

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

Amy Trask had a conversation with Barret Robbins on the morning of Super Bowl XXXVII. The brief exchange between the then-Raiders CEO and Pro Bowl center didn’t raise any red flags.

A phone call with owner Al Davis a short while later, however, indicated that something was very wrong.

“Quite early that morning, I had gone out on a run and saw Barret in the lobby,” Trask said. “I ran into him, went up to my room and not long thereafter, Al called me and said, ‘Barrett’s not playing.' I said, ‘I just saw him in the lobby. He can play. I just had a conversation with him. He can play.’ And Al shared with me that others had made the decision to send Barret home. I hung up the phone, looked at my husband and I said, ‘We just lost the game.’ ”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

The Raiders ended up getting trounced by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that night at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, and losing their top-notch center just before the game didn’t help. The distraction of Robbins' disappearance the night before, while on a bender that carried from Friday through Saturday evening, certainly didn’t help.

Neither did the fact that coach Bill Callahan changed the game plan at the last minute, or that Jon Gruden was on the other sideline and used his knowledge of the Raiders’ scheme and personnel against the team that traded him to Tampa Bay during the 2002 offseason.

All of those topics are discussed during Thursday’s episode of NBC’s “Sports Uncovered” documentary podcast, which delves deep into Robbins’ sudden disappearance and the root causes of it, exploring the role his mental health played in that period and over his entire life.

Robbins admitted that he wouldn’t have been able to play in the game. He was not mentally able to do so after a night of partying and a mental-health episode that put him in a bad state. The Raiders evaluated Robbins after he returned to the team hotel Saturday evening and decided he wasn’t able to play.

Team doctors concluded that he wasn’t in a proper mental state to play in the biggest game of his life.

“On [Sunday] morning, I woke up and stretched and walked with Willie Brown and saw the doctors and everything,” Robbins said in an archived interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa. “And, if they would have told me I could have played, I don’t know if I could’ve at that point. To be honest with you, I was sick.”

The Raiders sent him away and checked him into the Betty Ford Clinic in Riverside. It was only there, for the first time in his life, that Robbins was accurately diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He wasn’t properly treated for the condition before then, which led to problems off the field with substances of abuse.

Robbins was transported to a hospital on Sunday and barely watched any of the game.

“I saw a couple of plays on TV,” Robbins said. “They were watching it when I got there, but I didn’t sit up and watch it. I was there while I was, you know, on suicide watch. … It was a bad situation, obviously, and to recover from that, I don’t know if I have.”

[RELATED: The real reason why Barret Robbins missed Super Bowl XXXVII]

The Raiders haven’t gotten over that loss, either. It ended a short but dominant run and ushered in an era of futility unlike any in Raiders history. The Raiders have made the postseason only once since losing the Super Bowl.

The loss was difficult for those heavily invested in it. Among others, Trask took it particularly hard.

“When we lost, I cried myself to sleep that night wearing the same clothes I wore to the game,” Trask said. “I put my head on my husband’s shoulders and cried myself to sleep. But I never, ever lost sight of the fact that Barret Robbins is a human being. As badly as I felt, and as miserable as I was, and as hurt as our fans were and our organization was, I can only imagine Barret’s pain.”