It’s taken coach Jon Gruden and his Las Vegas Raiders 14 quarters of football to do it, but the team is undefeated after three games. Two overtime thrillers (and a business-like beat down of the Pittsburgh Steelers), have the Raiders tied atop the AFC West. The squad is winning these games through total team efforts. Nobody exemplifies that better than one of the MVPs of Sunday’s win, who Gruden says he barely knows because he wasn’t on the team in training camp.
The Las Vegas Raiders pulled out another dramatic late win to stay undefeated
After almost winning (then almost giving away) then finally winning a wild Week 1 game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Las Vegas Raiders were at it again in Allegiant Stadium in Week 3 vs. the Miami Dolphins.
The Raiders spotted the Dolphins 14 points in the first quarter. Miami got a quick pick-six then a 24-yard touchdown run following a failed fourth-down conversion from Las Vegas.
Gruden’s bunch then scored the next 25 points to take a comfortable lead into the fourth quarter. A Dolphins field goal put them within one score, though. Then, an end zone pass-interference call got Jacoby Brissett and company down to the 1-yard line and the QB snuck in for the score with two seconds left. The team completed the ensuing conversion to tie the game.
After trading field goals in overtime, the Raiders drove down the field for a game-winning kick by Daniel Carlson. Key to the drive was running back Peyton Barber. The former undrafted free agent only signed with the team on September 4 to add depth to the backfield.
Jon Gruden praised recent signing RB Peyton Barber for his great game
Peyton Barber was on the Washington Football Team practice squad at the conclusion of training camp in 2021. After an injury to third-string running back Jalen Richard put him of Injured Reserve, the Raiders signed Barber.
The RB didn’t play in Week 1, but Josh Jacob’s ankle injury got him off the bench in Week 2. He led the team in carries against the Steelers with 13 but only produced 32 yards.
Barber broke out in Week 3 for the Raiders with Jacobs out again. He had 23 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown. He also broke a 27-yard run in overtime to help set up the game-winner. This performance led to his new coach Jon Gruden heaping praise on the back, even if the two aren’t that familiar yet:
We had a need there, I think, to get [Barber’s] hands on the ball at the end of the game. He caught a pass out of the backfield, he picked up some blitzes, he was helpful in protection, he didn’t blow any assignments, he ran hard. And, when you meet him, he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t even smile. I don’t know how he’s feeling. I don’t hardly know this guy but I gave him a big hug and a game ball, I’ll tell you that. If you get a chance to see Peyton, you’ll see he’s a great kid, and today was a big moment for him. I’m really happy for him.Jon Gruden on Peyton Barber
Barber’s emergence gives the Raiders’ already-potent offense even more punch. When Jacobs comes back, the trio of these two, along with Kenyan Drake, will give Las Vegas one of the deeper backfields in the league.
This is good news for the Raiders, who, at 3-0, have an inside track for the playoffs. However, this certainly doesn’t guarantee them a postseason spot yet.
The Raiders started fast in 2020 as well but missed the playoffs
While there is joy in the Black Hole after the Las Vegas Raiders’ fast start in 2021, it isn’t time to start booking playoff tickets in Sin City just yet.
Teams that start the season 3-0 usually make the playoffs. Since the move to the current eight-division alignment in 2002, 71.9% of teams with an undefeated record after Week 3 made the postseason. This season is uncharted territory with a 17-game schedule. That said, 3-0 gives teams a great shot at the playoffs.
The Raiders looked good at the start of the 2020 season as well but couldn’t close the deal and make the playoffs for the first time under Jon Gruden.
Last season, the team started 2-0 and jumped out to a commendable 6-3 record that included an impressive Week 5 win in Kansas City. The team collapsed down the stretch, though. Gruden’s Raiders finished the season 2-5 to end up with a .500 record, three games out of a Wild Card spot.
Gruden and Derek Carr are desperately in need of a playoff appearance. Through three games, this Raiders team looks like it could be the vehicle to get them there. It’s no sure thing yet, though, and if the team doesn’t figure out how to put teams away earlier to avoid these heart-stopping finishes, it could again be a difficult back half of the season for the Silver and Black.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference