The 2021 NFL season kicked off in style with an exciting, well-played game between the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Week 1 wrapped up with an equally compelling, if not as crisp, overtime slugfest between Jon Gruden’s Las Vegas Raiders and the Baltimore Ravens.
After all sorts of drama, the Raiders pulled it out in the end. The team is now 1-0 and tied atop the AFC West. However, the game served to illustrate how Gruden’s Las Vegas franchise might be better off if the season goes south and the organization hits the reset button heading into next year.
The Las Vegas Raiders narrowly won an epic ‘Monday Night Football’ game against the Baltimore Ravens
The Raiders opened their new Las Vegas stadium to fans for the first time in a Monday Night Football clash against the Ravens. Like most Vegas attractions, the Raiders didn’t disappoint in the entertainment department.
Baltimore jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead. But, Derek Carr and company came back to tie the game at 14, then 17, then 24, then 27 as regular time expired.
Tight end Darren Waller starred on offense, catching 10 of his 19 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown. On defense, pass rusher Maxx Crosby abused veteran tackle Alejandro Villanueva. He also terrorized Lamar Jackson with six tackles, five QB hits, and two sacks.
After the Ravens went ahead on a Justin Tucker field goal with 37 seconds left, Carr orchestrated an incredible drive with no timeouts to get the team in place for the game-tying field goal.
In overtime, Carr once again took the team down the field. The team thought it walked away with a victory when wide receiver Bryan Edwards dove into the endzone. Upon review, his knee was down before the goal line, though. The refs cleared the field, but the Raiders couldn’t punch it in from the 1-yard line. A terrible false start pushed them back. Then Carr threw a deflected interception.
The Ravens got another shot, but Raiders DE Carl Nassib strip-sacked Jackson to get Las Vegas the ball back.
Gruden called for a field goal one play later, but the team inexplicably drew a delay of game to push kicker Daniel Carlson out of field-goal range.
Carr came back on the field and, during the next play, threw a 31-yard rainbow to a wide-open Zay Jones, who walked into the endzone for the thrilling win.
Jon Gruden was relieved after the game
After the wild finish, Jon Gruden stepped to the podium and shared his feelings about the wild proceedings. He was happy to come away with the win, despite how it all went down, and even invoked late Raiders owner Al Davis’ most famous phrase, “Just win, baby.”
When discussing how he felt after the seesaw ending to the game, Gruden summed it up in perfect Jon Gruden-like fashion, saying:
I felt like I died and woke up … and died again. I was like a cat, I had multiple lives tonight. I don’t like playing like that. It was tough, but we did a lot of really good things to win that football game tonight.Jon Gruden on the Raiders’ OT win over the Ravens
No matter how the team got to this place, the AFC West standings show that the Las Vegas Raiders are 1-0 in 2021. Gruden will take that, but it may not be the best result for the franchise long-term.
Anyone who watched the Kansas City Chiefs casually come back and crush the Cleveland Browns’ spirit on Sunday knows that the Raiders aren’t in the same ballpark as the Chiefs right now. Additionally, Teddy Bridgewater game-managed the Denver Broncos to a victory, and Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert is getting better by the game.
Despite being in the four-way tie for first in the division, the Raiders just aren’t on par with the other three teams in the West.
An epic collapse like the Raiders almost experienced last night would have been devastating for their season but just what they needed for the long run.
Gruden’s not going anywhere, so others have to go
Jon Gruden is in year four of a 10-year, $100 million contract. With $60 million left on his deal, there is no way owner Mark Davis will get rid of the coach in the foreseeable future.
That means to shake up the organization, there need to be other changes. For the Raiders, this means getting rid of two people: general manager Mike Mayock and quarterback Derek Carr.
Much has been made about Mayock’s draft failures in his tenure with the team. The former TV personality has cut or traded high draft picks within a season of drafting them and made some inexplicable top picks.
Of Mayock’s six first-round picks in the last three drafts, four haven’t lived up to expectations (Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram, Damon Arnette, Henry Ruggs III), one has been successful (Josh Jacobs), and the jury is still out on this year’s top selection (Alex Leatherwood).
This last pick was a major reach when it happened, and while Leatherwood is starting for the Silver and Black, the former Alabama lineman had some big penalties. This includes one on the goal line in OT that almost cost the team the game.
Gruden needs to lose the former talking head and get a GM with a proven track record to help build the team.
That team-building should include a new QB.
Carr is an average NFL passer at best. Although he is a passionate and loyal Raider, that’s no longer enough to make up for his shortcomings on the field.
The former Fresno State QB isn’t a “bad” quarterback. He’s fine. Carr is generally in the top half of the NFL in most statistical categories, but when it comes to winning football games, the QB’s career mark stands at 48-63.
Last season, the final four signal-callers left in the NFL playoffs were Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Josh Allen. Teams need a dynamic QB to succeed in the modern NFL unless they have a transcendent defense or running game.
The Raiders have none of these three things, and replacing Carr (Aaron Rodgers in 2022?) could go a long way to helping the team take the next step.
A complete meltdown loss on Monday night may have tanked the Raiders’ season. However, that might have been precisely what they needed to finally move forward and allow Gruden to have success in the back half of his massive contract.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference