Raiders searching for 'little glimmers' in otherwise lost season


Raiders searching for 'little glimmers' in otherwise lost season

OAKLAND -- The Raiders weren’t given a chance to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. They were two-touchdown underdogs heading into Sunday’s game; that’s code for the whole world expecting a blowout.

Smart money apparently was on the Raiders. The Silver and Black kept it close until the end, before conceding 40-33 on Sunday at the Coliseum.

Players don’t care about covering the spread. They want to win, especially when nobody expects it.

Football’s a results-based business, and the “L” matters most.

Here in Oakland, however, it’s not the only thing. Can’t be during a total rebuild.

These games have to mean something, even with this season swimming with the fishes.

Mining positives during this season has been tough, like squeezing water from a rock. On Sunday, however, the Raiders put a firm grip on a saturated sponge.

That's a good sign for coach Jon Gruden, proof that his players are still working and fighting for him and this staff. They are taking pride in progress, even when it isn't producing wins.

Losing three fumbles was a death sentence against Kansas City, but silver linings were easily found in an ultimately disappointing result.

Derek Carr showed some scheme mastery in an efficient performance where he showed restraint and a willingness to chuck it deep. The run game was gaining chunk yards when holding onto the ball. The offense was 9 for 12 on third down and 4 for 4 in the red zone, areas where they’ve been terrible all season.

The defense got some solid stops and made some good plays in coverage. They just didn’t make enough against the Chiefs.

Make no mistake. The Raiders weren’t good. They were better.

After a season’s worth of terrible, that’s something.

“You’ve got to find those little glimmers, though couple of plays or drives where we look like the elite offense we’re going to be,” running back Jalen Richard said. “The same thing happens on defense. We look at those moments and think, ‘We can do this.’ Once you put it on film, you can do it again. We have to find things we can build on here.”

The Raiders don’t want to be doing this. They’d prefer to be relevant and alive in the playoff hunt, something officially eliminated with Sunday’s loss.

Sunday’s effort was a far cry from results around midseason, when the Raiders lost five straight by at least 14 points.

“It's disappointing but definitely something we can build on,” safety Karl Joseph said. “We played hard, we didn't give up, we kept fighting the whole time. We just have to be better off this and get ready to play them again (in the season finale)."

[RELATED: Chiefs remain 'distraction-free' without Kareem Hunt]

The Raiders hope to show progress before then. That doesn’t mean momentum will travel between seasons, especially with so much roster turnover expected this spring.

While it is incremental and at times only seen through a magnifying glass, progress has been made these past few weeks, from the Arizona win to the Baltimore loss through Sunday’s result.

The Raiders aren’t talented enough to beat playoff contenders outside a perfect storm. They are playing freer, without the burden of all that’s gone wrong this year, and the results are better as a result.

“When we have fun, we play better,” Carr said. “When we’re all uptight, worried about what Coach is going to say, getting cussed out or yelled at — nobody is going to play well doing that. It’s been an emphasis in practice.

“I’m glad you said that because it’s translating to the games. Obviously it’s no moral victory, but we should play like that no matter what the score is, what our record is. You want it to always look the same. Hopefully, we can continue to grow that and instill that in our young guys.”

NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC


NFL preview 2019: Derek Carr, three other possible MVP sleepers in AFC

With training camps getting started, hope once again springs eternal in the NFL.

Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are primed to defend their crown, but a pack of worthy challengers is frothing at the mouth for the chance to take down the king.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sits atop the NFL's other throne as The Shield's reigning league MVP. The dynamic signal-caller once again is viewed as the favorite to take home the hardware, and while the like of Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers are viewed as the most likely to take the crown from Mahomes, the AFC has a few other young passers who are lying in wait.

When looking at possible MVP sleepers in the AFC, I made sure to look only at players that had odds at 80-to-1 or higher, as listed by Westgate Las Vegas. With the framework set, here are four potential MVP sleepers who reside in the AFC.

Derek Carr, QB, Raiders

The Case For: Carr has the arm talent and the leadership qualities to be an MVP. We saw that in 2016 when he led the Raiders to a 12-3 record before fracturing his fibula in Week 16. With a wealth of offensive talent around -- including Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, -- and a full year of Jon Gruden's system under his belt, it wouldn't be hard to see Carr returning to his MVP-caliber form in 2019. If he puts up big numbers while helping the Raiders navigate a tough early-season schedule, he should be in the mix.

The Case Against: There was little about the Raiders' offense in 2018 that would tell you a turn around is coming. The offensive line struggled and the running game was relatively non-existent. This is a make or break year for the Carr-Gruden relationship and there's a chance it just won't work.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans

The Case For: Despite a shaky offensive line, Watson completed 68.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 551 yards and five scores. If the Clemson product can get some protection, he could put up big numbers and lead the Texans to another AFC West title. The recipe for an MVP campaign is there for Watson.

The Case Against: The offensive line is atrocious. Watson might spend more time running for his life than looking downfield for the streaking DeAndre Hopkins. If the Texans can't keep Watson off his back, there will be no MVP delusions in Houston.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans

The Case For: When he's been healthy, Mariota has put up good numbers. That was with an offense designed for the 1940s with one offensive weapon. Mariota enters a make-or-break year for him with the Titans with two new wide receivers in rookie A.J. Brown and former Buccaneers Adam Humphries. If new offensive coordinator Arthur Humphries can tailor the offense to Mariota's strengths, the possibility for a breakout season is there.

The Case Against: Look, he hasn't been able to stay healthy. If Mariota can't stay on the field, then his chance at winning the MVP and the Titans' playoff hopes go in the trash can.

[RELATED: How Raiders' defense stacks up against AFC West rivals]

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens

The Case For: Jackson rushed for 556 yards in the seven games he started last season. If you extrapolate that over a 16-game season, it amounts to 1,271 yards. That would be more than the 1,039 yards Michael Vick rushed for in 2006. If Jackson has improved his passing and leads the Ravens to the playoffs, he could very well be an MVP sleeper.

The Case Against: As the Los Angeles Chargers showed in the AFC Wild Card Game, it's easy to stop Jackson if he's only able to move the chains with his legs. If the Louisville product hasn't made big strides with his accuracy and pocket presence then he won't be in the MVP conversation.

Raiders' Jon Gruden ranked as 15th-best veteran head coach by


Raiders' Jon Gruden ranked as 15th-best veteran head coach by

Just win, baby.

Twice in his career, Jon Gruden has been given that directive as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. He was considerably more successful the first time around.

Gruden never finished below .500 in his first go-around with the Raiders, but in making his return to the franchise last year, he led Oakland to a 4-12 record -- tied for the worst record in the AFC.

Right after Gruden signed a 10-year, $100 million contract to move out of the Monday Night Football booth and back to the sidelines, many questioned whether his time away from coaching would put him behind the eight-ball. Given how the Raiders performed last season, it didn't exactly silence that noise.

And yet, at least one analyst believes Gruden is still an above-average coach.'s Elliot Harrison ranked the 32 NFL head coaches Monday, and Gruden came in at No. 15.

Here's what Harrison had to say about Chucky:

"As [Gruden] shipped out star players and cut ties with front office execs he didn't want in Oakland last year, the Raiders managed just four wins. That's why '19 should be the tell on what kind of coach he is going forward. New GM Mike Mayock helped Gruden begin to rebuild the roster after stockpiling picks, providing an infusion of talent that should at least make this team more competitive. Given the strength of the division-rival Chargers and Chiefs, simply leading Oakland to the playoffs should be a ringing endorsement for the coach."

[RELATED: Raiders given 20th best outlook in future power rankings]

Indeed, if they make the playoffs this coming season, that's an undeniable success for Gruden and the Raiders in their final season in Oakland -- one that would be worthy of Gruden ascending on next year's coaching rankings. But, as Harrison suggests, it's not going to be easy.