The rebuilt defense needs some work, and the offensive line lost its second starter to injury in as many weeks. But when it counted Monday night, the Raiders played just enough complementary football to defeat the New Orleans Saints 34-24 in their first game at Allegiant Stadium.
The Raiders won by overcoming two early 10-point deficits and running off 24 consecutive points to improve to 2-0.
A turning point came after the Saints recovered Jalen Richards’ fumble late in the third quarter trailing 24-17. The Raiders turned away the Saints on the ensuing drive, and Richards then redeemed himself, running 20 yards for a touchdown to give the Raiders a 31-17 lead.
Quarterback Derek Carr had a second consecutive strong start, outperforming Saints quarterback Drew Brees, connecting with tight end Darren Waller on 12 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Third downs critical
The Raiders converted 10 of 17 third-down plays for first downs and were 1-for-1 converting a fourth-down play. The efficiency on those money downs was a critical component, leading to key points while also making sure Drew Brees and the Saints’ powerful offense remained on the sideline.
In fact, in the third quarter, the Saints had just four offensive snaps. The result was the Raiders taking a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter and their defense getting time to rest.
“Since coach Gruden got here, it’s been an emphasis. 10 of 17 is not easy to do, let’s just say that,” Carr said. “Going for it on fourth down, getting it, that’s not easy to do. This defense is one of the best I’ve ever played against.”
Said Gruden: “For the last couple of weeks we’ve been pretty good taking care of the ball, no turnovers, winning the time of possession, and when you can win the time of possession and keep Drew Brees and Sean Payton over there together on the sideline, you have a chance.”
The Raiders dominated time of possession, 36:18 to 23:42, and total plays, 76-57.
Carr, in particular, was in total command, completing 28 of 38 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with a quarterback rating of 120.7 while thoroughly outplaying Brees, the future Hall of Famer. The Raiders also rushed for 116 yards, with Josh Jacobs finishing with 88 yards on 27 carries.
Much like last week, Carr sprayed the ball around, connecting with 11 receivers. His touchdown tosses went to Waller, Alec Ingold and Zay Jones.
“Outside of the stat sheet, Derek Carr was (great) tonight,” Gruden said. “He made some plays that very few guys I’ve coached can make. I tip my cap to him.”
Defense needs work
Although the Saints ran 19 fewer plays, they still outgained the Raiders 424-375 and averaged 7.4 yards to the Raiders 4.9 and took leads of 10-0 and 17-7 in the first half.
The issues are pressure and penetration up front, as the Raiders did not register a sack or record a tackle for loss. While they did manage to hit Brees five times — the Raiders registered seven quarterback hits altogether — and forced him into some off-balance throws, he was still in position to make them pay far too often. Inexplicably, Brees simply didn’t rise to the challenge.
Brees’ struggles, and some improvements over the course of the game, allowed the defense to limit the Saints to seven points in the second half.
That enabled Carr and the offense to built a 31-17 lead in the fourth quarter, with the defense making a critical stand after Richard mishandled a pitch from Carr to turn the ball over to the Saints at the New Orleans 42 with 14:14 left. The Raiders led 24-17 at the time.
The defense, though, forced the Saints to punt after five plays to avert disaster.
Carlson on a roll
Kicker Daniel Carlson struggled so badly over the last part of 2019 there was some concern he might have lost his job. The Raiders stuck with him, even opting against bringing in another kicker to push him in training camp.
Carlson has made good on that confidence with a perfect start, including the key 54-yard-field goal with 1:05 remaining to put the Raiders up 34-24.
A miss there, and the Raiders turn the ball over to Brees and the Saints with more than enough time to mount a game-tying touchdown drive.
Instead, Carlson kicked the Raiders to victory. It was his second field goal of 54 yards to start the season.
“He made a big one on Charlotte last week about the same distance, ” Gruden said. “We’re playing in a beautiful new stadium, the footing is great, there’s no wind, and he had the look in his eye like he wanted to end the football game. And that’s what we did. Really happy for him.”