Brady once again stands between Gruden, Raiders and legitimacy

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Almost 19 years ago, Jon Gruden and the Raiders faced a young, unknown quarterback and the New England Patriots in a Massachusetts blizzard.

There was a fumble. Gruden swears by it but the officials saw it differently. The Tuck Rule Game sparked Tom Brady's historic career and sent the Raiders spiraling into the NFL abyss from which they still are trying to dig themselves out of.

So, of course, it's Brady and his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will arrive at Allegiant Stadium on Sunday night in Las Vegas to face Gruden's latest iteration of the Silver and Black -- a young team fresh off an upset win over the Kansas City Chiefs looking to make a statement against one of the top teams in the NFC.

Of course, it's Brady, 19 years later, who still is the measuring stick for greatness and can send the Raiders right back into NFL purgatory with a resounding win Sunday night.

The Raiders sit at 3-2. Not world beaters but dreamers, wanting to see how they measure up the NFL's elite. So far the Raiders are 2-2 against expected or potential playoff teams. They stunned the New Orleans Saints and sprung a trap on the Chiefs. They were rolled, rather easily, by the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.

Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have been building something. Slowly and methodically. The defense still is a work in progress that will need many more facelifts to be considered contender-worthy. Quarterback Derek Carr is putting together his best season flanked by a bevy of dynamic offensive weapons. When fully healthy, the Raiders' offense has looked explosive. When missing parts, it has struggled. Sometimes mightily.


Now enters Brady at 43 years old and fresh off a beatdown win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The Packers were 4-0 and looked like the NFC favorites while trashing basement critter NFC teams early on. Aaron Rodgers and Co. took a 10-0 lead and it looked like a statement was about to be penned.

It was -- just not by Rodgers. The Bucs' defense took the reins from there. They picked off Rodgers twice and returned one for a touchdown. They dropped two more interceptions, pressured him 12 times, sacked him four times and hit him another eight.

The Bucs' front seven, led by linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White has been arguably the best in the NFL. The Bucs' defense ranks first in the NFL in yards per game, yards per play and run defense. They are second in sack percentage, fifth in pass defense and seventh in scoring defense.

RELATED: Schrock's Week 6 takeaways: Raiders' playoff path takes shape

All eyes will be focused on Tom Brady against a Raiders defense that has been sliced and diced like a horny teenager at Camp Crystal Lake.

But the real matchup comes on the other side when Gruden's offense will try to solve Todd Bowles' defense. Brady and the Bucs are going to score. When fully operational, Brady has too many weapons for a struggling Raiders defense to stop.

Gruden, Carr and the offense will be tasked with doing what they did in Kansas City -- go on long, soul-sucking drives to bleed the clock and keep a star quarterback on the sideline for as long as possible.

The Raiders' win over the Chiefs was an important moment, especially for Carr. But it means little in the long run. Upsets happen and even star players like Patrick Mahomes have off days.

If the Raiders want to show they can truly take the next step into playoff contention, they'll have to do it Sunday night. This isn't a playoff game, but it's a playoff-caliber test for the Raiders against a team that looks like it will be in Tampa come February.

It's only fitting that Brady is the one standing in their way, looking to once again send him and Gruden on divergent paths.

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