On a different day and with all hands on deck, maybe the Raiders push a team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers further than they did on Sunday in a 45-20 loss at Allegiant Stadium.
But down to their third-string right tackle, with their right guard in the locker room after getting kicked out of the game and strong safety Johnathan Abram still quarantined in COVID-19 protocol, it wasn’t just understandable the Raiders eventually ran out of gas midway through the fourth quarter but probably inevitable.
On a day that ended with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers leaving Las Vegas as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the Raiders took some solace in extending them as far as they did in spite of navigating one of the most unusual weeks in franchise history.
“It’s 24-20 with seven minutes left,” said Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. “Thoroughly impressed with what we were able to accomplish. Was it enough? No. Just being real it wasn’t enough. But with the film that we watched, and the things we were able to put on tape today, very proud of our guys.”
As they sit 3-3 after going through a six-game gauntlet and peer at a schedule that softens up significantly, the Raiders say they remain confident.
“We have a good football team,” said Carr, who threw for 284 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
With one significant caveat.
As the Raiders showed against Tampa Bay — as well as in their two other losses this season — they simply aren’t equipped to deal with losing multiple starting players and overcoming an offense that doesn’t consistently deliver mistake-free performances.
Nor can they withstand a defense that has yet to figure out a way to create consistent pass-rush pressure and, in turn, puts enormous pressure on a beat-up secondary to cover large portions of the field for far too long periods of time.
Let alone excel with an offensive line that went without four starters during the week leading up to the game after right tackle Kolton Miller, left guard Denzelle Good, right guard Gabe Jackson and center Rodney Hudson were deemed high-risk contacts to right tackle Trent Brown, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and was unavailable on Sunday.
Brown’s four linemates were not allowed at the Raiders’ practice facility between Tuesday and Sunday as they went through mandatory quarantine. Their availability for Sunday became official just a few hours before kickoff — or when their COVID-19 tests from Saturday turned up negative.
“Weird times,” is how Miller described it. “You just show up Sunday and do the best you can.”
A dire situation grew worse as the day went on, though, as Sam Young, the replacement for Brown, went down with a first-half knee injury and Jackson got ejected in the third quarter for unsportsmanlike conduct.
As can be expected, the performance upfront ranged from solid to disjointed.
In spite of the three sacks given up, Carr had sufficient time to throw. But the 72 yards on 24 carries in the run game reflects a line that wasn’t always in sync.
“I want to say how proud I am of that offensive line,” Carr said. “Not just the starters, but the backups also, for the week they had. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.”
Nevertheless, until the Raiders can fix their defensive issues they walk a fine line trying to continually outscore opposing offenses.
Especially against quarterbacks as good as Brady, who picked the Raiders apart with 369 yards and four touchdowns by merely standing unfazed and untouched in the pocket. The Raiders recorded just one quarterback hit on 45 dropbacks by Brady. They never once came close to registering a sack.
“If you let Tom Brady stand back there and survey the field, he’s proven over 21 years that he’s still one of the very best,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said.
That was never more true than on the 11-play, 67-yard touchdown drive Brady orchestrated midway through the fourth quarter after the Raiders drew to within 24-20. They did so by running off 10-straight points on a 1-yard touchdown toss from Derek Carr to Darren Waller and a 36-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson.
With momentum tilted firmly in the Raiders’ direction, Brady answered by stinging the Raiders with a 14-yard throw to Leonard Fournette on third-and- 13, a 15-yard dart to Mike Evans and a 12-yard throw to Scotty Miller on third-and-4. One play later, Brady found Chris Godwin for a 4-yard touchdown to put Tampa Bay up 31-20.
It was the beginning of a very quick end for the Raiders, who surrendered two more touchdowns over the next four minutes to fall into a three-score hole.
Coming off a hectic last few days, the Raiders opted to look at the positives.
“We gotta play better in all phases,” Gruden said. “But it was a tough week, certainly. It will make us better in the long run. Hopefully, deep down, there are benefits to be had here.”