Raiders’ seventh win signals return to national relevance
The divisional ramifications are large, the impact on the league even larger.
Perhaps the largest element of the Raiders win over Denver on Sunday Night Football, though, is that the Silver and Black are finally relevant again, and may be even here to stay.
After years of being the team with the cool logo and hot merchandise, the Raiders are 7-2, leading the AFC West, and riding the momentum of a major win that the nation viewed with no other competition.
And what they did, blowing the Broncos out, scoring 13 unanswered points on the first three drives, while not allowing their offense a single first down, implies that the Raiders are more serious contenders than they have been in decades.
When Latavius Murray hurdled his offensive line from the one-yard line, it wasn’t just a touchdown. It was the seal of bigger things, better things, and most importantly, more evidence that Oakland will be playing playoff football in two months.
Denver just won a Super Bowl 20 miles south of the Oakland Coliseum in February, and though Peyton Manning retired and their world-class defensive unit was pillaged in free agency, the Broncos are still a very good football team.
The fourth straight 3-and-out that the Raiders defense served up was the torch to a soufflé. The final basting of a turkey. Or to keep it Oaklandish, the butter to the box of mac and cheese.
Gone are those who said the Raiders would return to the basement, fall into the gutter and wash down the storm drain. Their schedule has been favorable, said some naysayers. The defense is a liability, said others, and no team can win consistently with on offense alone.
But Sunday night, Oakland sunk their dagger into the haters, took their belongings, and sent them packing.
It’s just one game, and that’s still a fact which can’t be ignored. It’s also their seventh win, and history has shown that getting to a 10th win usually means getting into the postseason. And the Raiders have lost only one division game this year, having played all three teams in their home group one time each.
Playoff tie-breaking procedures dictate that the team with the better head to head record gets first nod. Which is one major reason that the Broncos aren’t just another opponent, and why this isn’t necessarily just one game.
This game was for the division. Even if it wasn’t.
Jack Del Rio and his faculty were keenly aware of this, though nobody would say so, evidenced by their more conservative approach to handling the nuances. Not going for it on fourth and a foot, for instance, showed just how methodical the Raiders were going to be.
Oakland takes their chances against anyone else, in the red zone and with a real chance to score four extra points. It’s why Del Rio appeared concerned when the Raiders were flagged for delay of game halfway through the second quarter.
It’s why there was an extra layer of emotion after the final whistle, with the Raiders on the right side of the scoreboard and a couple of extra high-fives were being slung around.
And what the Raiders felt inside their own locker room, confident and hopeful for a playoff spot, the rest of the country is beginning to feel for real. Which is what relevance is, something Raiders fans and employees have been feeling for years now, though delusions of grandeur is what the outside world would generally call it.
Those days are gone — when Oakland drop a game and a catch during the same play, when the final kick return included five laterals and eyes towards the ground when a whistle was blown, and when the Raiders allowed a quarterback to tie for most touchdown passes ever, in their first career game.
The organization can wipe away the memory of Nick Foles being pulled early in the fourth quarter in 2013, when he probably would have thrown and eighth touchdown and broken the record, while D.J. Hayden work with trainers in the locker room to address a sports hernia.
They can forget about a blowout handed to them by the Rams, just as bad of a team as they are now in Los Angeles, that took place in London.
Or, perhaps they continue to remember these things and use it as fuel. Either way, the Raiders are here to stay. There’s little that can knock them off their self-built pedestal, their lounge chair made for the head of a household.
Because that’s exactly what the Raiders became on Sunday Night Football: head of the household that NFL fans call the AFC West, which happens to be the best division in football right now.
The Raiders have gone big time.
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 Raiders football.