In a sudden shift of fortune, all appears very, very well with the Las Vegas Raiders.
After a week of turmoil due to the surprise resignation of coach Jon Gruden, the Raiders traveled to Denver and beat the Broncos soundly, 34-24. The offense gained yardage in large chunks early and often, and the Las Vegas defense produced a pass rush that kept the Broncos on edge all afternoon, resulting in four turnovers along the way.
Interim coach Rich Bisaccia clearly prepared Las Vegas well, with every player on the Raiders seeming to distill their emotions into turbo fuel for the football field.
As always, some players fared better than others. But looking at the various performances from the Raiders this week, there are no losers (well, almost none) to choose from. Here are this week’s standout players, divided into offense and defense, with due respect to the Bisaccia’s special teams.
Winners on offense
Derek Carr/Greg Olson
The Raiders offense used to be Gruden’s baby. Now, quarterback Derek Carr is fully behind the wheel. His co-piot? Offensive coordinator, Greg Olson. Together, they produced 34 points, Las Vegas’ highest point total this season, including its two overtime wins.
It started early, when the Raiders broke their streak of scoreless first drives, cashing in on a 48-yard touchdown toss from Carr to wide receiver Henry Ruggs III to take a 7-0 lead. And the offense kept churning out big plays and steady gains all game long, ending up with 426 yards on an incredible 8.2 yards per play.
Carr had 341 yards through the air with two touchdowns, earning a 134.4 QB rating. He spread the ball around nicely and apparently didn’t miss Gruden one bit. He even threw a touchdown to one player that was an afterthought heading into Sunday’s game.
Running back Kenyan Drake was supposed to be one of Gruden’s new weapons this season. Instead, Drake waited until Gruden’s departure to put on a show.
After receiving very few touches during the Raiders’ previous two games, Drake scored two touchdowns Sunday, one on a skillful 31-yard connection with Carr near the end of the first half. The play gave the Raiders a 17-7 edge at the break.
He also had an 18-yard run in the second half that handed Las Vegas a 24-7 edge.
Drake’s second score was set up by a nice catch and run by RB Josh Jacobs, and the two finally formed a formidable pair, just as Gruden envisioned. All it took, ironically, was Gruden’s resignation.
Henry Ruggs III
Ruggs’ 48-yard touchdown grab to start the game set the tone. But he didn’t stop there. He also hauled in a 40-yard catch in the second half — on a crucial third-down, with Carr facing intense pressure in the pocket — that set up a Jacobs rushing TD, giving the Raiders a 31-10 lead. On the day, Ruggs had three catches for 97 yards and his one touchdown.
Ruggs’ fellow young starter at WR, Bryan Edwards, also gets a nod this week. He had his own 51-yard catch (with one hand) late in the fourth quarter, leading to a Daniel Carlson field goal and a 34-17 Raiders advantage.
But this was one of Ruggs’ finest games. He is the playmaker that general manager Mike Mayock — and Gruden, of course — said he was.
Winners on defense
Every week, I want to put defensive end Maxx Crosby on the winners’ list. His ferocity, especially with his pass rush, makes the Raiders defense as potent as it is.
But there’s limited space on these pages, and Crosby hadn’t registered a sack in weeks. Against the Broncos, however, Crosby found his way to the QB often, finishing with three sacks, five QB hits, a batted pass and a tackle for loss.
Following Crosby’s lead, the defense bothered Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater consistently, finishing with an astonishing 17 QB hits as a team. In total, the defense held Denver to a very respectable 5.5 yards per play, with much of that damage coming after Las Vegas held a 31-10 lead.
Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas tied for the team lead in QB hits with three, and one of his hits on Bridgewater produced a fumble, recovered by linebacker Denzel Perryman. The second-half turnover led to Ruggs’ 40-yard catch from Carr.
Thomas continues to impress on his road to redemption. He was labeled a “bust” as the No. 3 overall pick by the 49ers in the 2017 NFL Draft. Now, he’s helping the Raiders win ballgames. And if that wasn’t enough, his new teammates had three more turnovers to go with his forced fumble in this big win in Denver.
Brandon Facyson/Damion Square
Cornerback Brandon Facyson and defensive tackle Damion Square are paired together on this week’s list because each player seemingly came out of nowhere to impact the game in a major way.
On the fringe of the roster all season long after going undrafted, Square got the call after an injury to DT Johnathan Hankins and took full advantage, finishing with three QB hits and 0.5 QB sacks.
Facyson, signed by the Raiders just weeks ago, entered the game after CB Amik Robertson was picked on early and struggled. Robertson likely lost his spot in the pecking order (and is our unofficial lonesome loser this week), with Facyson grabbing an early interception on a 4th-and-1 pass from Bridgewater. He also had two pass break-ups. Safeties Johnathan Abram and Tre’von Moehrig got into the turnover act, too, with a late interception apiece.
It all added up to a memorable win for the Raiders, who are now tied for the AFC West lead at 4-2. One more shoutout, too: the offensive line blocked well enough for Carr and Olson to operate after it seemed they were incapable of blocking anyone during the last two weeks.
The most credit, however, goes to Bisaccia. Gruden’s influence used to loom over everything the Raiders did. Now, he’s gone. And the Raiders have rarely looked better.