OAKLAND, Calif. — Jon Gruden talked tradition from the beginning, that moment in January when he officially returned to the Raiders as head coach.
In the final opening game of the 2018 NFL season, much of it translated at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
I’m guessing Gruden enjoyed parts of it far more than others.
I’m guessing he didn’t enjoy much of anything after halftime.
He will remember most the final score, because losses stay with folks in this league more than anything, a 33-13 defeat to the Rams before a “Monday Night Football” audience and a silver-and-black faithful of 53,857 that spent much of the fourth quarter booing.
You couldn’t scan many parts of the Coliseum and not see someone wearing a No. 52 jersey, a reminder of what has dominated talk around these parts since Gruden traded star pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Bears on Sept. 1.
Hence, you had one team Monday night who signed and paid their star defensive lineman (the Rams with Aaron Donald) and one that didn’t.
It wasn’t a chief reason Los Angeles walked away with a victory it was favored to earn, but even as well as the Raiders played defensively over nearly three quarters, not applying much pressure on Rams quarterback Jared Goff was eventually going to doom Gruden’s side.
That, and this:
If recent attention centered on Mack and why the Raiders wouldn’t meet his contract demands, a more lengthy preseason discussion was about how Gruden as a play-caller of his offense would translate so many years after leaving the profession.
From analyzing things inside a “Monday Night Football” both since 2009 to tutoring arguably the best quarterback he has had as an NFL coach, Gruden and Derek Carr made their regular-season debut as a tandem.
It didn’t go so bad.
You know, for a half.
Then it was horrible.
The Raiders would gain 254 yards over the opening 30 minutes, but just 141 thereafter, when Carr threw one fourth-quarter interception that denied the Raiders any chance of a comeback and another that merely poured a few bags of salt in an already exposed wound.
The first was as bad a ball as you will find at this level at the worst possible time, picked by Cory Littleton in Rams’ territory and the Raiders driving down by 10 points. The second was returned for a touchdown by Marcus Peters and merely turned what was a resounding win for the Rams into a blowout.
“I thought he did some good things,” Gruden said of Carr. “Obviously, there were some critical errors that we have to eliminate.”
Carr would finish 29 of 40 for 303 yards and three interceptions and totally lost the second half.
If not for Jared Cook (a franchise record 180 receiving yards for a tight end), the Raiders don’t get anything consistently going on offense.
Twitter was merciless afterward, suggesting the Raiders gave the franchise contract to the wrong 2014 draft pick and perhaps they could now swap Carr to the Bears for Mack and a few first-round picks.
You weren’t sure how things might go for the Raiders when, prior to kickoff, Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long was bestowed the role of lighting the Al Davis torch.
It sparked, lit and immediately went dark.
The torch would glow again after another try and Gruden with the Raiders, Part Deux, was off and running in a sea of yellow flags.
Just because something has over time been judged a tradition with your team certainly isn’t a good enough reason to continue repeating it, especially when it comes to penalties.
The Raiders couldn’t get out of the way of themselves in the first half, and a 13-10 lead at intermission might have been more if not for being flagged 10 times for 145 yards.
At that point, they were well on their way to setting an NFL record, which is 222 by the Titans in 1999.
It didn’t get that bad. But it wasn’t very good, either.
So the flags denied them more of a lead and then Carr and the offense denied them any semblance of a chance.
Gruden began the night jogging over to the famed Black Hole, high-fiving all the nutty fans and basking in their approval of him being back.
Jon Gruden is back in the Black Hole. pic.twitter.com/wB3cU8n9Te
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 11, 2018
He ended it shaking the hand of Rams coach Sean McVay, who was a quality control assistant under Gruden with Tampa Bay in 2008.
He ended it 0-1 in his first season back after nine years away from the NFL coaching fraternity.
He ended it with a lot of work to do.
He can begin with the quarterback.
Contact columnist Ed Graney 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 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.