Updated September 27, 2021 - 7:33 am
To start a season with three straight wins for the first time since 2002, which just so happens to be the last time the Raiders reached a Super Bowl, they had to overcome a familiar opponent on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.
Themselves, to be perfectly blunt.
Their ability to survive a shaky start offensively, a momentary, fourth-quarter lapse defensively, and a handful of back-breaking penalties to beat the Dolphins 31-28 in overtime revealed just how different this Raiders team is from most of its recent predecessors.
It’s a combination of talent and resiliency that has been sorely lacking in the Raiders for far too long.
“In a lot of losses, I would stand up here and try and describe how just so many little things matter,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “And it got kind of old. I was tired of doing it. So I just started giving short answers because I was tired of talking about it. I was tired of losing.”
Three straight wins into a season that has already challenged the Raiders’ physical will and mental toughness, Carr can now talk about actually accomplishing those things that make the difference between winning and losing.
“That’s the headline today to me, really,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “We had some penalties that really went against us. We fell behind. Gave up a fourth-and-20. Missed an extra point. But you just finish.”
When calamity hit on Sunday, the Raiders calmly settled down and dealt with it. In the past, it would have been their demise. They survived.
“That’s what you want early on in the season,” wide receiver Hunter Renfrow said.
In need of big-time players to make big-time plays, the Raiders found them across all corners of the field. Far too often over the last two decades, similar searches came up empty.
It was cornerback Casey Hayward guessing right at the Dolphins’ goal line to bum rush a screen pass and come up with a safety. The Raiders trailed 14-0 when Hayward dropped Jaylen Waddle in the end zone. The two points he created redirected momentum and resulted in a 25-point Raiders run to take a 25-14 lead.
“I think it was a momentum shifter,” Hayward said.
It was young wide receivers Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards coming up with huge catches on must-have scoring drives, with Ruggs leaping high into the air to come up with one ball and then brilliantly working the sidelines to come up with another while finishing with four catches for 78 yards. Edwards had three catches for 89 yards, two of 32 and 34 yards on drives that helped set up two Raiders field goals. The second of which won the game when Daniel Carlson was good from 22 yards.
It’s been decades since the Raiders had a pair of young weapons like Ruggs and Edwards. Let alone planted them alongside players like tight end Darren Waller and Renfrow, both of whom came up with clutch plays of their own on Sunday.
“I’m just so proud of their work ethic,” Carr said. “Because it’s showing up in games.”
It was third-year cornerback Trayvon Mullen shaking off a disastrous pass interference call in the end zone to come up with two huge game-saving plays in overtime.
The pass interference call set up the Dolphins at the Raiders’ 1-yard line with one minute left in regulation and resulted in quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s 1-yard touchdown run with two seconds left, followed by his 2-point conversion throw to Will Fuller to send the game to overtime.
Mullen bounced back in the extra period to come up with breakups on deep pass attempts to Fuller and DeVante Parker. Failure to do so could have easily changed the outcome.
“We’ve got some young players that are getting better,” Gruden said. “We’ve seen (Maxx) Crosby. Now we’re seeing Mullen. Ruggs, Edwards. Some of these young guys are really improving. And I think Trayvon has backed up everything he’s done all summer.”
The Raiders are doing a lot of that so far this season.