Las Vegas is going to love the Raiders regardless of whether they can go to the games. They support UNLV basketball in a big way. They rallied behind the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. It’s a good sports town.
But it’s a lot easier to get behind a winner. Maybe the Las Vegas Raiders are finally turning that corner.
The Raiders had a historic win on Monday night. It was their first game ever in Las Vegas, the first one at new $2 billion Allegiant Stadium, and they upset the New Orleans Saints 34-24. The Raiders fell behind 10-0 early, then completely outplayed the Saints the rest of the way.
For all the jokes about Jon Gruden and his big contract since he came out of the “Monday Night Football” booth, this was his crowning moment of his second stint with the Raiders.
Jon Gruden, Raiders get huge win in Las Vegas debut
This whole season was a challenge for Gruden. A relocation is hard enough. Doing a first season in a new market in the middle of a pandemic is something completely different. There’s no playbook for it.
The Raiders have been accumulating young, talented players with some good draft picks. It didn’t hurt to hit on tight end Darren Waller when they took a chance on him. Waller was the best player on the field Monday night, and that’s saying something. The Saints have a lot of stars.
Las Vegas started its season going to the Carolina Panthers and winning 34-30. The Panthers aren’t very good, but that’s not a game the Raiders have won too often the past couple decades, going east to play an early game. They got it done though.
Even more rare for the Raiders since Gruden’s first stint as coach is beating a team as good as the Saints. The Saints are Super Bowl contenders. They were 1-0 with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1.
And even though there wasn’t a fan in the Raiders’ new stadium, Gruden had his team ready for the moment.
Can Raiders keep it going?
The Raiders had a good stretch last season, too, then ran out of gas and finished 7-9.
For Gruden to really get over the hump, he’ll have to keep the momentum going. This Raiders team might be able to do that. Derek Carr isn’t as bad as his detractors say. He had a very good night on Monday, outplaying Drew Brees. Carr threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions. Waller was remarkable, Josh Jacobs is an exciting running back who should be an immediate fan favorite in Las Vegas, and young wideouts Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards will get better. The defense has some high picks and while it needs to improve, at least it’s doing so as the offense puts up points.
The Saints made a run. They scored late in the fourth quarter to cut the Raiders’ lead to 31-24. The Raiders had a critical third down right before the two-minute warning. They took a shot, sending Ruggs deep. Saints cornerback Janoris Jenkins grabbed Ruggs’ arm after he was beat, pass interference called and the Raiders had a huge first down. Then with a little more than a minute to go, Gruden rolled the dice — Vegas pun intended — and sent Daniel Carlson out for a 54-yard field goal. Carlson drilled it to ice the game.
The Raiders could have hung their heads early on, or folded late. When New Orleans took that 10-0 lead early, it looked like a familiar Raiders story. But this might be a new era in more than one way.
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