NFL Winners and Losers: The Oakland Raiders are finally back
When Oakland Raiders fans wake up on Monday, they’ll feel better about their team than they have since … kickoff of Super Bowl XXXVII?
The Raiders are relevant again. They’re fun. They’re exciting.
The Raiders are 3-1 after their third thrilling road win of the season. This time it was a beautiful 23-yard touchdown by Michael Crabtree with 2:16 left to beat the Baltimore Ravens 28-27. In Week 1, the Raiders got a two-point conversion in the final two minutes to win. Last week they held on with the Tennessee Titans at their 12-yard line trying to tie the game in the final seconds.
Let’s ignore for a moment that the Raiders aren’t going to keep catching these breaks in tight games all season. What matters is that the Raiders have three road wins in their back pocket, are 3-1, and living up to the “sleeper team” tag many people hung on them this offseason.
This has to be fun for Raiders fans, most of whom have kept supporting the team through some incredibly thin years. They haven’t finished better than .500 since that AFC championship season. That’s 13 straight seasons without finishing above 8-8. They lost 10 or more games in 10 of those seasons. The last time the Raiders were two games above .500 was Dec. 11, 2011. That season was the only one since 2002 in which the Raiders reached two games above .500.
That’s right, in 12 of the last 13 seasons the Raiders never got to two games over .500. But they’re there now.
Although the wins have been close, they haven’t been fluky. The Raiders have a good foundation. The defense has been better the past two weeks after some lineup changes. Derek Carr is a legitimate franchise quarterback. He had four touchdowns on Sunday. They have weapons for Carr. Some weeks it’ll be Amari Cooper. This week it was Crabtree, who had three touchdowns including the game-winner.
The Raiders turned a corner quickly with the 2014 draft, which brought them Khalil Mack and Carr. Since then general manager Reggie McKenzie has done much better in free agency and the draft. They have blue-chip players at just about every level of the offense and defense. And not only are the Raiders doing well now, it’s a team with a young core that should keep improving. While they still reside in a tough division that includes the 4-0 defending champion Denver Broncos, that’s a worry for another day.
The Raiders are interesting and among the best teams in the AFC at the quarter mark of the NFL season. It has been a long, long time since Raiders fans could wake up on a Monday feeling this good about their team.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 4:
Jimmy Graham: Graham was probably drafted in your fantasy league long after all the big names were gone. He was probably slotted among the kickers and team defenses.
Nobody expected much from the Seattle Seahawks tight end. He didn’t fit well last season in the Seahawks offense, and was coming off a torn patellar tendon. That injury is one of the toughest to bounce back from. Graham seems all the way back now.
Graham had 100 yards and a touchdown last week, and he followed that up Sunday with six catches for 113 yards in a 27-17 win over the New York Jets. Graham was once one of the best tight ends in football, and he might be again. And if this is what we can expect from Graham going forward, the Seahawks offense will be really tough when it gets fully healthy.
Steve Smith: Like Graham, Smith was coming off a bad injury, and not many people expected a return to form. Unlike Graham, Smith is 37 years old.
Maybe we should have expected a miraculous recovery from a torn Achilles by Smith, one of the NFL’s toughest players. The Baltimore Ravens receiver had eight catches for 111 yards on Sunday, and now has 24 catches for 281 yards this season. His big game came in a loss, but that can’t be pinned on him.
Smith was going to retire after last season, but didn’t want to go out on an injury. He came back for one more year, and is writing a very good ending to what should be a Hall of Fame career.
Kyle Shanahan: The Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator was panned in his first Falcons season last year. Nobody can be critical of him so far this season.
The Falcons look great on offense. They got a 500-yard game from Matt Ryan and a 300-yard game from Julio Jones in a big win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. And the passing game might not be the strength of their offense. The Falcons are a very good running team with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman as a 1-2 punch at tailback. It’s one of the most diverse offenses in the NFL.
The Falcons are a surprising 3-1 and the new favorite in the NFC South. Shanahan deserves a lot of credit for the offense he is running.
Ezekiel Elliott: While Dak Prescott has gotten most of the attention for the Dallas Cowboys, and rightfully so, Elliott has been as great as Jerry Jones could have dreamed when he drafted the Ohio State back fourth overall.
Elliott has put together two huge games in a row. Last week he had 140 yards. On Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, Elliott rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown in a 24-17 win. A rookie quarterback’s job gets a lot easier with a running game like that.
Elliott leads the NFL with 412 rushing yards. He’ll have tough competition from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, or maybe his teammate Prescott, for offensive rookie of the year. But he has been everything the 3-1 Cowboys wanted.
NaVorro Bowman: This offseason the San Francisco 49ers gave Bowman a long contract extension with $42 million in new money, $20 million of which was guaranteed. He is signed through 2022. It made sense, because Bowman looked completely recovered from a devastating knee injury that cost him all of 2015. He was back to being one of the best inside linebackers in football.
Then he suffered another devastating injury.
Bowman went down Sunday with what is feared to be a torn Achilles tendon. Bowman confirmed the initial diagnosis to CSN Bay Area. This injury is to his left Achilles, in the same leg as the torn ACL he suffered in the NFC championship game at the end of the 2013 season.
Assuming the injury is actually a torn Achilles, it’s rough news for Bowman. He’ll be 29 next season and coming off his second major lower-body injury. He’ll likely return for the start of next season, but the NFL probably will be without another of its best players for the rest of this season.
Jeff Fisher’s critics: Fisher has been criticized in this space before, and it’s hard to rule out more criticism in the future. But right now Fisher is having the last laugh.
After a terrible Week 1 showing against the San Francisco 49ers, the Los Angeles Rams have won three in a row. They have beaten the Seattle Seahawks, and on Sunday put the Arizona Cardinals in a big hole by beating them 17-13. The Cardinals are now 1-3.
We saw the Minnesota Vikings turn things around after looking horrendous in the late “Monday Night Football” game in Week 1, and the Rams seem to be doing the same.
The Rams are also doing it without No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff having played yet. Quarterback Case Keenum is nobody’s idea of a long-term starter, but the Rams are winning with him. Fisher deserves a lot of credit for the 3-1 start. Nobody expected that turnaround after how they played Week 1.
Melvin Gordon: With 6:50 left, the Chargers got the ball back leading 34-21. The Saints needed a total meltdown from the Chargers to have any chance.
And Gordon provided the first part of that meltdown.
On the first play of their possession, Gordon fumbled and the Saints recovered at San Diego’s 13-yard line. Four plays later the Saints scored.
The Chargers then fumbled on their next offensive play, and that wasn’t Gordon’s fault. Travis Benjamin coughed up the second one. But Gordon has had fumble issues before, and his fumble Sunday was the worst of them all. It got the ball rolling for a brutal loss.
The 2015 first-round pick had a horrible rookie season. It turned around a bit this season, and he has six touchdowns to his name. But many of those were short runs, and his 3.2-yard average isn’t impressive. Sunday’s fumble is just another mark against him in his Chargers career.
Carolina Panthers fans who defended dumping Josh Norman: Norman was asked about Julio Jones’ 300-yard game against his old team, the Panthers.
“I’m just gonna sip my tea on that one,” Norman, a 2015 first-team All-Pro, said via the Charlotte Observer.
Cue the tea lizard meme, with CSN’s custom take on it:
I feel like Kermit when I drink my tea every night.. pic.twitter.com/9bRcRUwISE
— Alexa Boggs (@alexaboggs) September 28, 2016
Question: What do you think about Julio Jones racking up 300 yards vs. Carolina?
Josh Norman: ???? ☕️ #RedskinsTalk https://t.co/MJbVXJDpuZ
— CSN Redskins (@CSNRedskins) October 2, 2016
The Falcons are legit, the Broncos are on track: NFL Week 4 wrapup
Subscribe to Grandstanding • iTunes • Stitcher • Soundcloud
– – – – – – –
Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter!