Monday, Oct. 25, 2021 | 2 a.m.
While the pair of young Raiders’ defensive captains were smiling and celebrating with each other, the Eagles’ veteran offensive captain was shouting and flailing alone.
A third-down stop, featuring an apparent fumble later ruled an incomplete pass, early in the third quarter Sunday afternoon at Allegiant Stadium sent Las Vegas defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby reacting euphorically. The same play caused Philadelphia’s All-Pro guard Jason Kelce to lash out and pick up a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Losing poise and melting down was forecasted as the way the Raiders would respond in the aftermath of the scandal that caused their head coach, Jon Gruden, to resign two weeks ago. Instead, they’ve been the levelheaded team inflicting such lapses and frustration.
For the second straight week under interim coach Rich Bisaccia, Las Vegas overwhelmed an opponent in a game that wasn’t all that close.
The Raiders beat the Eagles 33-22 to vault into first place in the AFC West going into their bye week.
“We’ve got a special group of guys and they understand the mission,” tight end Foster Moreau said. “Unfortunately the lines got a little crossed (with Gruden) but those guys are still special. They absolutely picked it up and we rallied around each other. We’ve been blessed to find ways to win the last couple weeks.”
Las Vegas couldn’t have looked any more different than the last time it was on its home field, a listless 20-6 loss to Chicago a day before Gruden was forced out. Some wondered if last week’s win over Denver was a one-off, emotionally-fueled breakout.
The victory over Philadelphia was eerily similar with a decent start followed by dominant second and third quarters before the outmatched opponent eventually made the final score respectable in garbage time.
“The last note I always write Saturday night is just, ‘Have fun,’ and underline and exclamation point,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “Sometimes you forget that along a lot of the questions, a lot of the things going on. This is still a game. You’ve got to remind yourself to have fun when you hit the field. The last two weeks, I’ve just tried to remind myself of that.”
It must have been easy for the quarterback to have fun considering he had one of the best games of his career. Carr had the second-highest single-game completion percentage in NFL history among those who attempted at least 30 passes by going 31-for-34 for 323 yards and two touchdowns.
And he did it under suboptimal circumstances. The Raiders’ biggest hurdle in Week 7 wasn’t lingering consequences of losing Gruden but rather an offense playing without the player it was built around.
Tight end Darren Waller twisted his ankle late in Friday’s walkthrough practice. He tested it out by running through drills pregame but didn’t feel 100%.
Waller and the coaching staff decided he should sit out and let it heal over the next two weeks with Moreau taking over his role against the Eagles. Waller wore Raiders’ sweats on the sidelines and coached up his teammates.
“He just preached confidence and gave me a lot of wisdom, told me it was going to be a dogfight because he takes 95% of all snaps,” Moreau said. “The guy’s a warrior. He’s as battle-tested as they come so it was a bit of a shock to me like third or fourth drive, like, ‘Oh I need that second wind.’”
Moreau must have found it because he was outstanding both as a pass-catcher and blocker. Left tackle Kolton Miller credited Moreau for a large part of the reason why the Raiders’ once-struggling offensive line was able to extend a streak to six quarters without Carr being sacked.
In the passing game, Moreau led the team with six catches for 60 yards including an 18-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter to give Las Vegas its first points. Moreau said the coverage scheme confused him on the play, but it didn’t matter because of the way Carr was locked in.
“I ran for like five yards like the Tasmanian Devil and had no idea what I was doing,” Moreau said. “Thank God for Derek just giving me a chance and I just kind of blacked out on the catch.”
After the Eagles scored on their opening drive, on an 13-yard pass to Kenneth Gainwell out of the backfield, Carr led the Raiders to the game’s next 30 points. The Miller-led offensive line was giving him ample time to throw, but also creating bigger holes in the running game than at any other point this year.
Las Vegas ran for a season-best 4.1 yards per carry with both Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake scoring on the ground.
“There’s been a lot of weird things going on with a coach change, and really we just doubled down, spent extra time after practice,” Miller said. “We’re making huge strides with these young guys.”
Jacobs scored on an 8-yard run right after the first half’s two-minute warning to give the Raiders their first lead at 14-7, but then didn’t return for the rest of the game with a chest injury.
Las Vegas forced its first of two turnovers after Jacobs’ score when defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson hit the ball out of Gainwell’s hands and safety Johnathan Abram recovered it. Jefferson was the other player, next to Waller, considered a game-time decision.
He missed the whole week of practice while tending to a family matter, but the coaching staff saw enough out of him during a pregame workout to let him play. It was the right decision as Jefferson paired with Ngakoue, who had two sacks, to lead the Raiders’ charge up front defensively.
“For a guy not to practice all week and to force a turnover like that speaks volumes to how much he loves this game,” Ngakoue said of Jefferson. “Obviously when he was away, he was handling his business, watching tape, taking care of the way he was eating. I’m not surprised.”
Bisaccia didn’t have an update on Jacobs’ condition postgame, but Waller’s injury is not considered to be serious. There’s a good chance the Raiders will be significantly healthier by the time their next game, Nov. 7 at the Giants, rolls around.
But even if not, they’ve proven they can get through it. The Raiders are off to their best start since the last year they made the playoffs, 2016, despite so many things conspiring against them.
“We went through a lot of adversity, it was a big shock, but it starts with the coaches first,” Miller said. “They doubled down and we’re running with them. We’re all behind Rich Bisaccia. We’ve got a great team, we know that, and we’ve just got to keep making great strides and have the trust and faith that we’re rolling with right now.”