The Raiders showed the country that their record isn’t a true indicator of who they truly are.
The 15-12 victory over the AFC West leading Denver Broncos Sunday proved that their defense has enough to be relevant, and that their offense can overcome big obstacles.
Let me preface this by stating an important qualifier: I have been a fan of what general manager Reggie McKenzie‘s ambitious rebuild. He is doing something that has never been done in the NFL before, and certainly not in the salary cap era.
Tearing down the roster was the right move, even the good players from 2012 wouldn’t have made a difference when the time to contend rolled around.
Losing was winning come April, with the Raiders adding key players in the last two drafts, and some talent is there from a rough 2013 draft class which hasn’t been nearly as promising as the ones that brought in Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper.
McKenzie’s draft acumen, and the confidence displayed by owner Mark Davis in his plan, is showing up. Sure, the playoffs are still a long shot this year after dropping a road game in Pittsburgh a month and a half ago, and another during week 13 hosting the Chiefs.
There have been mental lapses, and the coaching staff needed to tinker in order to find the winning formulas. They have, though, and this Sunday proved the Raiders have the mettle to take on just about any group of 22 men.
Oakland entered the second half being dealt a near-knockout right hook from an opponent as dangerous as George Foreman in his prime, the Raiders had recorded only 12 yards of offense.
Actually, the Raiders recorded negative-12 yards worth of offense.
The defense kept the score tight though, and never allowed a touchdown, nor any second half points. And Mack recorded five sacks through the day, good enough to lead the league right now with 14, and tying a franchise record set by Howie Long for sacks in a single game.
The day also catapults the Raiders into the upper-echelon of sacks dealt by a team, entering the day tied for 14th, and ending the day in the top 10.
The Raiders are for real.
There is still work to be done. They need another solid offseason before they are ready to take on the NFL’s elite, such as the Carolina Panthers or duel with Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
They still have questions outside on defense, and another premier or above average linebacker would be a major plus. But the holes aren’t nearly as prevalent as before, like when McKenzie discussed needing to upgrade every position, not just a few.
A few impact free agents and another solid draft, and the Raiders will be ready to compete for a super bowl.
What’s more, the Raiders have said it for the better part of two seasons, that they’re better than the record indicates and that they can compete with anyone.
The roster isn’t a whole lot different from 2014, when they went 3-13. The receiving corps was overhauled, and some depth was added. But, in general, the core of the team is the same.
This is a group that has developed. Men who have learned how to study film and become consummate professionals. A group benefiting from the experience of head coach Jack Del Rio.
The team proved that Sunday as they took down the type of team they would face in a January push to solidify their mark on football.
The rebuild that McKenzie started a few years ago is complete now. The house is built. Foundation and framing was completed in 2014, and the electrical and paint was finished in 2015.
It was Corian and budget sinks, though, as the realities of time and money restrained forward progress. Now, though, with Oakland’s road win at Denver, the time for Marble and crown moulding is here.
Maybe even walnut inlay and a jetted tub is called for.
Del Rio was the finish carpenter that made all of it possible, with McKenzie providing vision and Davis checking his self at the door, letting the pros do what they do. Everyone has a part in this, the bad and good.
Now the good is coming at a rate that swallows the bad whole. And the win over Denver, starting the second half with negative yardage and no promise in sight, was the perfect in-game metaphor for the Oakland Raiders under McKenzie.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.