KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Raiders’ defense lives.
Leaking like a rusty ship for years, limping like a wounded pirate again this season, a side that has been widely criticized found itself in the most unpredictable of places Sunday.
When the sun set at Arrowhead Stadium on a 40-32 Las Vegas victory against the Super Bowl champion Chiefs and their star quarterback, those Raiders entrusted with stopping the opponent had won the day. No, that is not a misprint.
This doesn’t happen to Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes. Not here. Not in what seemed forever. Not against a Raiders side that entered having ranked last or second to last in all major defensive categories across the NFL.
But it did. Over the final 30 minutes of a game the Raiders captured as an 11-point underdog, a banged-up but spirited Las Vegas defense limited one of the league’s most explosive offenses to just eight points.
A defense of the Raiders standing tall?
Like a giraffe munching on an acacia tree.
Staying with it
“Honestly, it was everybody out there,” second-year edge rusher Maxx Crosby said. “Personally, I’ve never been that tired. But we just kept cutting it loose and fighting and fighting and fighting.”
He’s right. They just stayed with it in a game that was tied at 24 after the opening 30-minute stanza. In a place where you know Mahomes is going to, well, eventually Mahomes himself into some big plays, Las Vegas answered him more often than not this time. He didn’t consistently burn the Raiders. He was too busy running from them.
Las Vegas again trotted out a battered and bruised lineup, with the defensive line missing Maurice Hurst (COVID-19 list) and the injured Maliek Collins; with Carl Nassib out except for a few plays Sunday.
With rookie cornerback Damon Arnette on injured reserve and fellow defensive backs Trayvon Mullin and Lamarcus Joyner and Nevin Lawson getting banged up at different times during the game.
How injured is the defense in spots? The first of two Las Vegas sacks was made by defensive end Chris Smith. This is his fifth NFL team since 2014. He was just elevated from the practice squad to the main roster Saturday. Chris. Smith.
And yet it didn’t seem to matter who was applying push up front.
The Raiders owned the line of scrimmage against a Chiefs side that rushed for just 80 yards. It’s not as if Las Vegas spent the entire afternoon blitzing. Not in the least.
But when it came to winning one-on-one battles, the down linemen, a part of a Raiders’ defense that has been nonexistent to open the season, made Mahomes far more uncomfortable than he is accustomed.
His 51.1 percent completion percentage Sunday is the lowest of his career.
“You give them total respect,” said Mahomes, who finished 22 of 43 for 340 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. “They’re going to go out there and make plays.”
How to explain?
Las Vegas did, to this level: Crosby had the other sack of Mahomes and added two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss. According to ESPN Stats, their 17 pressures in the first half set the mark for most since Jon Gruden’s return as head coach.
At one point during the second half, Kansas City went punt, punt, punt.
It’s not easily explainable. Probably not at all. Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther have said for some time Las Vegas was a play to two away from being a better defensive side. It just felt like 100 or so plays, is all.
It’s just one half, after all. But it was against the Chiefs and Mahomes, in a stadium where the Raiders had lost seven straight. A more-than-typical half, for sure.
Gruden afterward listed the quarterbacks his team has already seen this season and one enormous name to come. Mahomes. Drew Brees. Josh Allen. Teddy Bridgewater. Tom Brady after the upcoming bye week.
“I hope we gain confidence,” Gruden said. “We need to get healthy. We need to stay focused and be true to ourselves. We can still get better.”
Of course. It’s one half of one game. But for it, the pirate didn’t limp home to Las Vegas.
He flew — a winner from the most unpredictable of places.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.