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Road challenges ahead could determine fate for Raiders

Updated September 22, 2019 - 7:16 am

MINNEAPOLIS

It begins here, the road stretch from hell, among super malls and courteous strangers, sculpture gardens and a historic downtown park, a Midwestern land where the giant that was Prince took his first and final breaths.

“Let’s Go Crazy,” says the song.

Let’s Get Nuts.

It’s how Jon Gruden must have felt when

first assessing his team’s 2019 schedule.

The Raiders play at Minnesota on Sunday, to be followed by games against the Colts, Bears (in London), Packers and Texans.

Not a Miami in the bunch.

There is an off week between Chicago and Green Bay, if nothing else for trainers to ensure the Raiders reset their body clocks to a manageable level.

Oakland next hosts an opponent in the Bay Area on Nov. 3 against Detroit.

It didn’t take long for the NFL to admit its mistake in regard to how things shook out for the Raiders — along with Tampa Bay — when it came to where and when games would be played this year.

The issue centered on international games, of which the Raiders and Buccaneers will be designated as the home team in separate London matchups.

Each have stretches of 49 days between true home games.

“It’s certainly not unusual for an NFL team to have one home game over a six-week stretch,” NFL vice president of broadcasting Michael North told USA Today. “But when that one home (game) isn’t actually home, this is likely something that the NFL would seek to avoid in the future. I’d like a redo on that one.”

Across the pond

There was no such thing when the slate became official in April, which in the case of the Raiders means five straight games away from home over the next six weeks, including a trip to London for the second straight season.

You have to believe Gruden was rooting for another close-up of Buckingham Palace like he might more questions about Antonio Brown.

“We are still trying to understand how (this) happened,” Gruden said. “We just have to showcase our mental toughness and deal with it. It’s uncommon, maybe unprecedented, maybe unrealistic that this should ever happen in pro football.

“I’m not excited about it, but we’ll adapt and do it the best we can.”

That’s not an unrealistic goal. Teams have faced similar challenges before.

The Raiders know the deal well.

Last season, they traveled 31,732 miles, more than the Panthers, Falcons and Bengals combined. The Chargers also had three flights of at least 2,000 miles in 2018, but still managed to win 12 games and make the playoffs.

Tampa Bay has it bad this season and Jacksonville won’t play a home game in November, meaning the Raiders are again not solo passengers on this taxing journey, even though their seven 1 p.m. ET start times are the most for a West Coast team since 2002.

But you can be sure the 21,367 air miles logged over the next several weeks will aptly define just how the season plays out for the 1-1 Raiders. It’s a stretch in which they likely won’t be favored in any game.

They went 4-12 under Gruden in 2018 and such a mark was expected to be improved upon — perhaps not incredibly so, but at least by three or four games — this year. These next five could have everything to do with whether they meet those expectations.

“It’s funny, man, but it is what it is,” said Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. “I don’t know who makes these things or whatever, but that’s just the cards we were dealt. At least we don’t have to play on any dirt. That’ll be nice. We’ll miss our fans, but Raider Nation, they travel everywhere. Hopefully, we can take over a couple of stadiums.

“You just have to take care of your body. There’s things that go with that and little tricks you learn over the years. Things you learn from people a lot smarter than me. I think almost every year I’ve been here we almost lead the league in travel miles. Shout out NFL if you guys want to hook us up next time.”

Magical Cruiser

Longer-than-usual road trips in sports are hardly a foreign concept. In 1991, the then-Montreal Expos played their final 26 games away from Canada after a beam collapsed at Olympic Stadium. In hockey, the New York Rangers began the 2010-11 season in Sweden and traveled 16,000 miles before finally playing at home. The Astros once played 26 straight games on the road to make room for Republican National Convention at the Astrodome.

Of course, no sports road trip could ever top the extraordinary adventures of Emil and Liliana Schmid, a Swiss couple whose travels began in 1984 in a Toyota Land Cruiser. As recently as 2017, reports say they were still going, the couple and Cruiser, having spent over 30 years visiting 186 countries and tallying over 460,000 miles.

Long ago, Guinness credited them with the world record for longest driven journey.

The Raiders own a more basic goal: Emerge from the next five games not totally buried in the standings.

“We knew what the schedule was,” said safety Lamarcus Joyner. “We’ve prepared for it. We made up our minds to be a great on-the-road team. It’s a great challenge to us and what this organization is trying to do moving forward, and that’s build a great franchise.

“It’s all mindset. It’s almost like when you’re young and you want to be an NFL player — how do you train for that? You work toward that goal. And we’re working toward being a great on-the-road football team.”

They have certainly been presented such an opportunity.

More Raiders: Follow at vegasnation.com and @VegasNation on Twitter.

Contact Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com 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.

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