Nobody gave the Raiders much of a chance to go into New Orleans and beat the Saints back in the 2016 season opener. In fact, everything pointed to Drew Brees and company using the Raiders as a stepping-stone on their way to a big season.
Only that didn’t happen. The Raiders stunned the Saints, defeating them 35-34 in a game that included a stirring 2-point conversion with 47 seconds remaining.
The upset victory became the foundation on which the Raiders built a 12-4 season and their first postseason berth in 14 years. No one saw any of it coming — not the win, the winning season or the playoffs.
Only four Raiders remain on the roster from that group, but among them is quarterback Derek Carr. Looking back on it, he sees quite a few similarities between that situation and the one the Raiders face as they prepare to welcome the Saints to Las Vegas on Monday night.
“There wasn’t one person that thought we could go in there and win that game,” said Carr, who threw for 319 yards and a touchdown in the win, completing 24 of 38 passes without an interception.
That sentiment hasn’t changed much. In spite of the improvements the Raiders have made and the quiet confidence they have after beating the Carolina Panthers in their season opener, they are a decided underdog against the Saints, a team many have pegged to win the NFC South and make a run at the Super Bowl.
“We sit here as just the underdogs,” Carr said. “You’re stuck with me, some second-round pick. You’re stuck with a lot of our guys. We can go on and on. ‘Oh, it’s just the Raiders.’”
But much like 2016, the game offers the Raiders an opportunity to boldly announce themselves as a team on the rise. The big stage of Monday Night Football coupled with a respected opponent can serve as a measuring stick for a team that isn’t buying into the national narrative about it.
Monday night presents an early-season opportunity for the Raiders (1-0) to validate the belief they have in themselves and get a much better sense of where they truly stand.
“We’re excited about the challenge to play one of the best teams in the league,” Carr said. “And really see where we’re at and try to compete and win this game.”
Until then, the belief the Raiders have for what is possible this year remains only words. Intuitively, they understand the opportunity facing them comes with some risk, too.
“We have a lot of confidence in our team,” Carr said. “We see some parallels between that and this. But it doesn’t mean anything unless we go and prove it on the field.”
The Saints weren’t particularly sharp in their season-opening win over Tampa Bay, with Brees completing 18 of 30 passes for just 160 yards and the offense generating only 271 yards. The output was more than 100 yards off their 2019 per-game average.
Nevertheless, they handled a highly regarded Buccaneers team with relative ease. Their adefense sacked Tom Brady three times, intercepted him twice and forced a fumble.
The defensive performance certainly caught the eye of Carr. “You saw what happened in that game, so we have our work cut out for us,” Carr said of the offense.
According to Carr, the Saints are “talented on all levels … they have a great secondary, and not just talking corners. They have multiple safeties that can play football at a high level. Multiple linebackers that can run and hit, and their (defensive) line is disruptive. They can all get to the passer.”
A difficult challenge, no doubt. But also a big stage for the Raiders to make a statement.
“Anytime you play a team like this, you get excited,” Carr said.