Thirty-seven games into Jon Gruden’s second tenure as head coach, the Las Vegas Raiders have a signature win.
Las Vegas beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, 40-32, at Arrowhead Stadium. The game was tied 24-24 at the start of the fourth quarter, the time when Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense have been thrilling time and again. But there would be no comeback on this Sunday.
Vegas’ win ended a nearly eight-year losing streak at Arrowhead, dating to Oct. 28, 2012, and in their past two trips there, the Raiders had posted 12 total points. It also ended a streak of five straight losses to their AFC West cohort, with Las Vegas losing 10 of its last 11 meetings overall to Kansas City. The Chiefs lost for the first time in 336 days, dating to Nov. 10 when they fell to the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s about time,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr told CBS’ Evan Washburn after the game. “I’ve had a lot of painful memories in this place. A lot of pain. Not this time. It feels good. The defending world champs, they’re the best team in football and we were able to battle with them. It was a heck of a game for us. I’ve had a few kids since we won here. It’s a good feeling.”
Carr was a junior at Fresno State the last time the Raiders won in Kansas City.
Assuming the wobbly wheels of the NFL season don’t fall off entirely due to COVID-19, there’s still a ways to go, and this in no way means the Chiefs’ hold on the division is gone. But they certainly did not look invincible, as they had two weeks ago in Baltimore.
Credit to the Raiders: They’ve known they had to build an offense that could go touchdown-for-touchdown with the Chiefs if they wanted to battle for the AFC West, and on Sunday at least, it looked like they have.
Las Vegas had just under 500 total yards of offense on 67 plays. Against Mahomes, the most important thing is not letting him have the ball, and by converting half of 14 third-down attempts and both fourth-down tries, including a crucial fourth-and-inches with two minutes to play, it did that. That led to a critical 10-minute advantage in time of possession for the Raiders.
Carr completed 21 of 32 passes for 347 yards with three touchdowns and a first-quarter interception, his first multi-touchdown game at Arrowhead. He came into the day with four TDs and seven picks in six career games there.
A big reason for his big day: rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III. After missing the past two games to leg injuries, the first-round draft pick had two catches for 118 yards and his first career touchdown.
Facing third-and-2 from their own 28, Gruden and Carr didn’t go conservative. Carr threw deep for Ruggs, who had a healthy step on corner Charvarius Ward when he caught the ball and then pulled away for a 72-yard score.
Ruggs’ first catch was a 46-yarder on third-and-10 in the opening quarter, which led to the Raiders’ first points, a field goal.
But just as important as their offensive output was the Raiders’ defense in the second half. The group was 5-and-0 shutting down Kansas City on third downs after allowing conversions on 6-of-9 in the first half.
Veteran safety Jeff Heath essentially sealed the win, intercepting Mahomes on a fourth-down pass for Travis Kelce with 5:44 to play. Mahomes brought Heath down just short of the goal line, leaving second-year back Josh Jacobs to run it in from the 2 and putting Vegas up 40-24.
The defense allowed a big gain on fourth-and-5 when the Chiefs got the ball back, leading to a touchdown that kept Kansas City in it, but the Raiders switched to a 4-minute offense, got that fourth-down pickup, and with the Chiefs out of timeouts, were able to kill the clock.
There was never a thought to punting, “Not with ‘15’ [Mahomes] over there,” Gruden said after the win.
Gruden has been criticized again and again, at times by this writer, since team owner Mark Davis lured him out of the comfy confines of the ESPN broadcast booth with a massive contract and basically carte blanche to run the franchise as he wanted. From the Khalil Mack trade to the disaster that was Antonio Brown’s time with the team, his return to coaching hasn’t been storybook or textbook.
There will still be debate over the Mack trade — though with four sacks in five games, second-year rusher Maxx Crosby could be a budding star — but the players drafted with the picks received in that deal have panned out in the early going. Jacobs, a first-rounder in 2019, rushed for 1,150 yards in 13 games last season, and this year’s first-rounder, cornerback Damon Arnette, started the first three games of the season before an injury in Week 3. Ditto for 2020 third-round pick Bryan Edwards, who had five catches in his first three games before an ankle injury two weeks ago.
If the Raiders can keep getting tough wins as they did on Sunday, the critiques of Gruden will be a thing of the past.
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