The Las Vegas Raiders had a week like no other in the history of the NFL. The Jon Gruden scandal engulfed the franchise and briefly made football an unimportant afterthought. The team then had to refocus for a crucial division showdown with the Denver Broncos. Before the game, Raiders great Howie Long sent a powerful message to the team and its fans, and then the players went out and delivered for their “Raider family.”
The Jon Gruden scandal was an unprecedented distraction
In Week 5, the Las Vegas Raiders played with a cloud over their head following the revelations that their head coach, Jon Gruden, sent an email in 2011 using a racist trope to describe NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith. The team played poorly and lost to the Chicago Bears 20-9.
Following that game, a trove of emails came out showing a pattern of Gruden using racist, misogynistic, and homophobic language in emails dating from 2011 to at least 2018. During Monday Night Football, a show Gruden co-hosted for nine seasons, news came out that the Super Bowl winner had stepped down as head coach of the Raiders.
It was one of the fastest downfalls in sports history and, from a football perspective, left Las Vegas in an unprecedented situation.
Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia became interim head coach, and the team rallied around each other to prepare for an all-important Week 6 divisional rivalry game against the Denver Broncos.
The entire saga gripped the NFL, and seemingly everyone had a reaction.
Pundits universally condemned Gruden’s words and sentiments. However, the internal reaction from the Raiders was more nuanced.
The people who’ve had a personal relationship with the coach over the years didn’t endorse anything he said but did express care for the man. Tight end Darren Waller said he understood the impulse to “cancel” Gruden but said, “I want to offer grace and allow [Gruden] to learn from what they may have done,” per The Athletic.
Quarterback Derek Carr summed up his feelings by saying, “I love the man; I hate the sin.”
All around, it was a complicated and challenging week for everyone in Raider Nation.
Former Raiders great Howie Long send a message to his ‘Raiders family’
One of the most high-profile members of Raider Nation is FOX NFL Sunday host Howie Long. The defensive end played 13 years for the organization. He made eight Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams as an Oakland/Los Angeles Raider and won a Super Bowl in 1983.
Long also sacked the quarterback 91.5 times for the Raiders and made the Hall of Fame because of that.
Now, as a prominent Sunday pregame show co-host, Long delivered a powerful message to his “Raider family” ahead of Sunday’s game. He started by talking about the situation and what it means for the only NFL franchise he ever played for:
It was a brutal week for the Raider family. Disgusting, hateful, disappointing, choose any word you like to describe Jon Gruden’s emails, and you wouldn’t be wrong. His actions hurt not only a number of people, but he left a football team scrambling to salvage their season. Having been drafted there and playing there for 13 years, I’ve always known the Raiders to stand for diversity, inclusion, and progress — all those things evidenced by people like Tom Flores, Art Shell, Amy Trask, and Carl Nassib — things that I believe the organization to this day still believes in and that starts with [owner] Mark Davis. And I believe that.Howie Long on the Jon Gruden scandal
Long continued by discussing what the situation means for the current Raiders who were about to take the field in Denver:
But for right now, the task for [GM] Mike Mayock and Rich Bisaccia and the players in that locker room — and yes, Mark Davis — is to move on from the toxic mess that Jon Gruden left behind and rally around one another.Howie Long on the Raiders
It was a perfect summation of the extraordinarily difficult week that was for Raider Nation. After the monologue, the only thing left was to see how the Raiders responded on the field.
The Las Vegas Raiders went out and torched the Denver Broncos
When Coach Bisaccia walked off Empower Field at Mile High, the scoreboard read 34-24. That 10-point spread didn’t properly illustrate just how thoroughly the Raiders dominated the Broncos Sunday afternoon.
The game was deadlocked at seven midway through the first quarter when the Raiders went on a 24-3 run to put their opponents away.
Carr, the team’s offensive leader, had a phenomenal day. He was 18-of-27 for 341 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Raiders D sacked Teddy Bridgewater five times on the other side of the ball. They also picked him off three times and recovered a Denver fumble.
The Broncos got two garbage-time scores to get the game within 10 late, but it was never truly that close.
Maxx Crosby summed it up best after the game.
“In this business, there’s always crazy things going on, especially with the Raiders,” the star defensive end said, per ESPN. “There’s no mistake about it. Ever since I got here, there’s always things going on. But these guys that we have in this building are resilient.”
Like Long surely hoped in the hour leading up to the game, the Raiders showed that resiliency and delivered a feel-good win for the “Raider family.”
Whether that win was the product of pure adrenaline from a wild week or a building block to reclaiming their playoff hopes remains to be seen. The answer will start to become clearer when the team hosts the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference
[Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Derek Carr as David Carr.]