KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Any questions about the Las Vegas Raiders’ revival under head coach Jon Gruden officially ended midway through Sunday afternoon inside Arrowhead Stadium. All the chuckles about his massive contract, the trade that sent Khalil Mack to Chicago and the willingness to stick with quarterback Derek Carr suddenly felt incredibly irrelevant. Gruden returned to the Raiders with a mandate to turn around a floundering franchise. It’s now safe to say he’s put this team on the right path to redemption.
Las Vegas didn’t merely beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 40-32. The Raiders let the entire NFL know that they are serious playoff contenders this season and potential rivals for the Chiefs in the foreseeable future. This was a victory over the defending Super Bowl champion, a team that had been riding a 13-game winning streak, including the postseason. This wasn’t something that could be explained by the Chiefs taking this game lightly or simply not being ready to play.
This was about a Raiders team that was tired of being bullied, laughed at and written off. It was about a franchise finding itself in the toughest possible environment, right after losing its two previous games.
“The thing I love about this team is that it doesn’t matter (what happens),” Carr said. “We had a game plan coming in. We knew what we were capable of. We were [trailing] 14-3 at one point and a few years ago we would’ve been down about that. Now we say we can make that up in a few plays.”
There were plenty of reasons to imagine the Raiders losing this game, aside from how quickly they fell behind in the first half. They had only two wins against Kansas City since Andy Reid became the Chiefs’ head coach in 2013, and neither was in Arrowhead Stadium. They were taking on the league’s most dangerous offense with a roster plagued by injuries and a defense that had amassed all of four sacks this season. In short, this contest had blowout written all over it.
It’s better for the Raiders that they faced such dire circumstances. It says even more about what Gruden has built over the last three years, how tough this team has become and the amount of talent that has turned up inside that locker room. The Raiders didn’t come to Kansas City hoping for a miracle. They came with a serious game plan and a belief that it could be executed successfully.
Arrowhead Stadium had previously been a house of horrors for Carr, as he’d lost all six games he’d play inside that venue. He wound up outplaying Patrick Mahomes in this win, finishing with 347 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The defense did its part as well, harassing Mahomes in the second half, blanketing his receivers and even forcing his first interception of the year. It’s important to note here that Kansas City only scored eight points in the final two quarters.
Most people knew the Raiders would have to run the ball with Josh Jacobs and find some way to slow down the Chiefs’ offense. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who thought both could or would happen. As Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby said, “We stayed together. We played with confidence. And we cut it loose from start to finish.”
It’s not hard to miss the significance of this win for the evolution of the Raiders. When Las Vegas owner Mark Davis hired Gruden in 2018 — and gave the coach a 10-year, $100 million contract — it all seemed like folly. Sure, Gruden had turned around the Raiders in his first head-coaching job, and he also had a Super Bowl ring from his seven seasons with Tampa Bay. He’d also spent nine years doing Monday Night Football games at ESPN before returning to Oakland, which made his second stint feel like a money grab for the ages.
Gruden just proved how dangerous he still is as a head coach. People were laughing when he and general manager Mike Mayock traded Mack to the Chicago Bears prior to the 2018 season, but those two first-round picks he acquired look a lot better today. The decision to dump wide receiver Antonio Brown after the situation turned into a dumpster fire prior to the 2019 season was just as pivotal. It meant Gruden and Mayock knew how important it was to not waste too much time on their own mistakes.
Let’s also not underestimate the players the Raiders added. A lot of experts wondered why they chose wide receiver Henry Ruggs III with their first-round pick in this year’s draft — instead of more acclaimed prospects like Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb — and now we know. Ruggs killed the Chiefs with his speed, as he finished with two receptions for 118 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown catch. He’s looking a lot like the Las Vegas equivalent to Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill.
The Raiders now have a more complete offense that includes Jacobs, Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller and an offensive line that was bolstered by the return of right tackle Trent Brown from injury on Sunday. They have a defense that surely gained plenty of confidence after containing Mahomes. Las Vegas also has given the Chiefs something to think about down the road. Kansas City has owned the AFC West lately, winning four straight titles and going 28-3 against division foes (prior to Sunday) since 2015. This game easily could’ve been one more example of that. Instead, it became a showcase for what Gruden has been building.
“It speaks to the kind of guys we have on this team,” Gruden said. “We’ve brought in guys who have an edge and who want to compete.”
The Raiders provided some evidence of that earlier this year, when they beat the New Orleans Saints in their first game in Las Vegas. The last two defeats — at the hands of the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills — revealed the kind of flaws that are expected from a young team finding its way in the NFL. However, Gruden is exactly right about the type of identity he’s cultivating within that franchise. He had a pretty clear idea of what he wanted this team to become when he arrived, and the defending champs just got a firsthand look at how well it’s actually going.
Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @jeffrichadiha
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