OK, the fun is over. Or maybe it’s just beginning.
We (and by “we” I mean the entire internet) have treated the Raiders and Jon Gruden like a meme for nearly two years. But it looks like it’s time to take Oakland seriously now. Gruden’s Raiders dispatched the Bears, 24-21, in London to move to 3-2 on the season; they’ll be in second place at the end of today (or tied for it, if the Chargers win), and have legitimate playoff hopes in an AFC that gets pretty thin below the Patriots and Chiefs.
No one saw this coming. The Raiders came to London as 6.5-point underdogs against the 3-1 Bears. To make things worse, Oakland was missing two starting wideouts in Tyrell Williams and JJ Nelson. The matchup at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium looked like it would contribute to Chicago’s ascendance in the NFC and knock the Raiders back below .500. That’s not what happened.
The Raiders netted 17 points on four first-half drives (not including a kneel-down to end the half), rushing to a 17-0 halftime lead. Oakland’s offensive line mauled the Bears’ defensive front, opening up holes for Josh Jacobs like this one:
The blocking. The run. The touchdown.— Oakland Raiders (@Raiders) October 6, 2019
Simply beautiful. #CHIvsOAK pic.twitter.com/ouGLcr70Vu
Once more for the people in the back: The Raiders’ offensive line mauled the Bears’ defensive front. Jacobs ran circles around the Bears. Coming into the game, Chicago’s fearsome defense hadn’t allowed a back to finish with 40-plus rush yards and a touchdown since Week 15 of 2018. Jacobs eclipsed both of those marks in the first half. He finished with 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
What’s even more impressive is that the Raiders did all this without a very impressive day from quarterback Derek Carr. Carr’s forgettable statline—25-of-32 for 229 yards, zero touchdowns, and zero interceptions—doesn’t sufficiently demonstrate the overwhelming blandness of his play.
Carr didn’t push the ball downfield at all. Only two of his pass attempts went beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and he never attempted a pass of 20 or more yards. Carr had an average intended air yards of 3.1 yards in this game, the lowest in the league (so far) in Week 5, per Next Gen Stats. That was certainly due in part to the receiving corps’ injuries, but Carr rarely goes deep anyway: This game brought his season-long average intended air yards to 5.6, which ties him for last in the league (with Sam Darnold). The only good things that can be said about Carr’s performance are that he spread the ball around (eight different Raiders recorded multiple receptions); didn’t make massive mistakes; and helmed a crucial 13-play, 97-yard drive that resulted in the go-ahead touchdown just after the two-minute warning.
Carr played like the embodiment of an old NFL axiom: take what the defense gives you. That approach would typically be a mistake against the Bears defense, which usually gives away absolutely nothing. But Gruden did a great job of designing plays that got the most out of his offense. This play-action pass out of a heavy set on a critical third-and-1 in the fourth quarter (on the aforementioned game-winning drive) completely fooled the Bears’ linebackers:
Wide open spaces for @fhmoreau.#CHIvsOAK pic.twitter.com/khZ5dxSeah— Oakland Raiders (@Raiders) October 6, 2019
A few plays earlier, Gruden called a fake punt on fourth-and-1 that kept that drive alive. It was a masterful offensive game plan from the league’s most eccentric head coach. Oh, and to make it all better for the Raiders: Khalil Mack recorded zero sacks.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and call the Raiders championship contenders—or even a competent franchise—just yet. Oakland had its fair share of “lol Raiders” moments in this game, including a fourth-quarter fumble at the goal line that looked like it would cost them the game, and also whatever this was:
Em seu reencontro com os @Raiders, Khalil Mack recupera o fumble e coloca os Bears numa ótima posição de campo! #NFLBrasil #NFL100— NFL Brasil (@NFLBrasil) October 6, 2019
Você acompanha TODOS os lances importantes da rodada AO VIVO e DE GRAÇA através do NFL Redzone! pic.twitter.com/fLgA5uzIZY
The Raiders are still a meme; the weird Gruden faces aren’t going anywhere. But after dispatching the Bears on Sunday, we now have to pay attention to what they do on the football field, too.