The Raiders’ 21-14 victory against the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon verified a couple things. The first is that this team will create its own destiny in 2017.
“Now we sit where we sit, and we know what’s ahead of us,” quarterback Derek Carr said.
Improbably, the 5-6 Raiders can win the AFC West with no outside help. But the second lesson from the win at the Coliseum is this: The ride is going to be bumpy, and there’s no guarantee it will end at the intended destination.
But let the good news sink in for a moment. The Raiders entered Week 12 ranked 20th in the NFL in total offense, 26th in total defense, 27th in rushing yardage and dead last in sacks. They haven’t won consecutive games since Week 2. Head coach Jack Del Rio fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. on Tuesday, and his own job is far from secure.
And yet the Raiders are right in the thick of the race. They’re one game behind the division-leading Kansas City (6-5). Not long ago, the Chiefs were the popular choice to represent in the AFC in the Super Bowl. But they lost for the fifth time in six weeks Sunday, and seem frozen in an endless loop of 4-yard Alex Smith passes. The Raiders beat the Chiefs in Week 7; if they complete the sweep in KC on Dec. 10, they will own the tiebreaker.
The Chargers, once as irrelevant as the Chiefs were celebrated, might be playing the best ball in the division, and they own a victory against the Raiders. But the two teams are tied at 5-6, and they meet again in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve. So Oakland can gain the upper hand in that one, too.
Yes, all the Raiders have to do is keep winning. But can they?
The past month and a half has been a rollercoaster, not a drag strip. The Raiders seemed to have finally righted the ship when they beat the Chiefs in a 31-30 nailbiter here on Oct. 19. Then they laid an egg the next week at Buffalo. They rallied for a close win at Miami on Nov. 5. Then came unglued against the Patriots in Mexico City.
After Sunday’s game, I asked Carr how they can sustain momentum this time.
“Come on, man,” he said, giving me a beseeching look.
“No, I’m just kidding,” Carr continued. “We stick to our process. I’ll start on the next game as soon as I get home. Was actually just talking to our video guy about getting the games on my iPad.”
Carr will have a lot to ponder when he clicks through those games. Sunday was an exciting day for the Raiders, who buried one AFC West foe and gained ground on another. But the red flags are still flying, and I’m not referring to coach’s challenges.
For 45 minutes, the Raiders put together one of their most complete games of the season. Granted, the Broncos are sinking into oblivion, and their quarterback, Paxton Lynch, was making his first start of 2017 and the third of his young career. Still, the Raiders dominated most of the game. Heading into the fourth quarter they had 21 points, 253 yards and 18 first downs; Denver had zero points, 66 yards and three first downs. It was a thrashing.