NFL Winners and Losers: Jon Gruden wins Khalil Mack Bowl, is nobody's punch line in second Raiders season

If Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden does a few victory laps on his way back to the United States, they’re well earned.

Last season, making Gruden jokes was a favorite pastime of anyone who followed the NFL. His return to the NFL didn’t go well. Oakland went 4-12. It was mostly ignored, in all the jokes about him getting rid of his best players, that he inherited a terrible roster. He was in a miserable spot. It was easier to make the jokes, especially when it came to the Khalil Mack trade.

Who’s laughing now?

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The Raiders are 3-2 after a big 24-21 win over the Chicago Bears in London. The Raiders took a 17-0 lead against a Bears defense that had shut down everyone else. They made things interesting in the second half, giving up the lead but scored the game-winning touchdown just inside of the two-minute warning.

That score came from rookie running back Josh Jacobs, who had 143 total yards and two touchdowns. He was one of the players the Raiders drafted as a result of the Mack trade. Much was made of how Mack would get revenge on the Raiders this week. He had three tackles and a quiet day. None of that means the Mack trade was the right move, but for at least one week Gruden shouldn’t have to hear much about it.

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Suddenly we can ask, are the Raiders good?

They’re 3-2. The Bears looked good before Sunday. Just like the Indianapolis Colts looked good before losing at home to the Raiders last week. Oakland has a couple of nice consecutive wins during a brutal scheduling stretch. Most people expected the Raiders to fade during these road games. They played their last game in Oakland on Sept. 15, and their next game in Oakland is on Nov. 3.

On Sunday, as they blew a 17-0 lead, it looked like they were the same old Raiders. But Gruden’s team persevered. Even without top receiver Tyrell Williams, the Raiders did a good job moving the ball against a Bears defense that might be the NFL’s best. The game-winning drive was clutch. Given Gruden credit for all of that too.

Gruden’s second stint in the NFL started poorly. But the Raiders had a good offseason, despite the Antonio Brown fiasco. They have a better roster. The results have followed. There might not be so many Gruden jokes anymore.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden has his team out to a 3-2 start. (Getty Images)
Raiders coach Jon Gruden has his team out to a 3-2 start. (Getty Images)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Sunday’s action in Week 5 of the NFL season:

WINNERS

Christian McCaffrey, MVP candidate?: The Panthers lost Cam Newton after two games, and were 0-2. It was too early to say they were dead, but they were in trouble.

And McCaffrey has dragged the Panthers back into the NFC South race.

McCaffrey has been arguably the best player in the NFL this season. He is the best multi-purpose back in the NFL and he was dominant again on Sunday in a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. McCaffrey had 176 yards and two touchdowns rushing, and another 61 yards and a touchdown receiving. McCaffrey wasn’t on the field late in the game with cramps, head coach Ron Rivera said postgame. Hopefully it is indeed nothing serious because he’s Carolina’s best player. He might be the best player in the league now.

The MVP award is a quarterback award. No other positions other than running back have a realistic shot. And even then, a running back needs to have a historic season. Well, McCaffrey looks like he might be in the middle of one. If he keeps up anything near this pace, he should be considered for the NFL’s biggest award.

Teddy Bridgewater: He was along for the ride for the Saints’ first two wins without Drew Brees. Last week, the Saints won without the offense scoring a touchdown.

For the first time since his devastating knee injury, Bridgewater had a big day on an NFL field. Bridgewater was 26-of-34 for 314 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints are 3-0 in Bridgewater’s three starts.

Bridgewater didn’t play bad in his first two starts this season, after Brees suffered a thumb injury that required surgery. He was more of a game manager. The Saints got big plays from special teams and defense to beat the Seahawks and Cowboys. On Sunday, Bridgewater was a key reason they got the win.

Bridgewater might be the easiest story in the NFL to root for. He was a fun story as a first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, then in 2016 he suffered a horrible leg injury in practice and missed all of that season and barely played in 2017. His career was in doubt after he suffered that injury. He had to wonder if he’d ever get another chance to start, much less have a huge day like he did Sunday.

Bridgewater could have left for Miami and been the Dolphins’ starter this season. Instead, he took a one-year deal to remain in New Orleans as a backup, albeit the highest paid backup in the NFL. That decision is paying off now.

Kirk Cousins: The Vikings QB presumably won’t hear about his receivers being unhappy this week.

Cousins had a big day in a win over the New York Giants, and he needed it. After a bad game against the Bears last week, Adam Thielen complained about the offense (and seemed to be criticizing Cousins too) and Stefon Diggs reportedly was hoping to get traded. Cousins was 22-of-27 for 306 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-10 win over the Giants. Thielen and Diggs combined for 13 catches and 216 yards.

Sunday’s game, while very good, continues a pattern for Cousins that has emerged over his two Vikings seasons. Cousins plays well against bad teams like the Giants and has been bad against the best teams. He will have the same criticism if he struggles in his next opportunity against a good team.

For one week at least, things should quiet down.

LOSERS

The Chargers, doing Chargers things: The Chargers can’t stay out of their own way. This has been the case for years.

It was almost predictable for the Chargers to lose 20-13 at home to an 0-4 Broncos team that just lost outside linebacker Bradley Chubb to a torn ACL. Denver came in without much to be excited about. They took their second last-second loss of the season to Jacksonville last week. Their offense isn’t good and their defense is worse than expected.

But everyone has a chance against the Chargers. When Los Angeles gave up an early long touchdown to Courtland Sutton on a bad display of tackling, it was a sign. The Chargers ran a terrible play on fourth down at the end of the second quarter, a misdirection that was stopped cold near the goal line. When Los Angeles got an interception deep in Broncos territory in the second half, Philip Rivers immediately threw an interception right back to Denver.

The Chargers seem to have more inexplicable losses than the rest of the NFL combined. It should be a surprise they lost at home to an 0-4 team on Sunday, but it really wasn’t.

Mike Vrabel’s terrible fourth-down call: The Titans were stuck on seven points, trailing 14-7 with less than seven minutes left, had a manageable fourth-and-4 at the Buffalo 35 and kicker Cairo Santos was having a terrible day. It’s not like there was a decision to make; the Titans had to go for it.

Somehow, Vrabel screwed it up. He sent out Santos for a 53-yard attempt that everyone knew was going to miss. Santos missed by a mile. Tennessee went on to lose 14-7 to the Bills.

Santos will get a lot of heat for missing four field goals. The game might have been different if he was better. But it doesn’t excuse Vrabel’s horrific decision in the fourth quarter. Coaches have mostly figured out that going for it on fourth down is the smart move in many situations. Vrabel just made a mistake on a choice that shouldn’t have been much of a choice at all.

Zac Taylor and the winless Bengals: Taylor might be waiting a while for his first win as an NFL head coach.

If you can’t beat the Arizona Cardinals at home, there aren’t many teams you’ll beat. Not only did the Bengals get beat, Taylor’s offense had an awful start against a horrible Cardinals defense. Cincinnati rallied late to tie but doing almost nothing for the first three quarters haunted them. Kyler Murray had a great scramble in the final minute to set up a game-winning field goal as Arizona got a 26-23 victory. That’s Kliff Kingsbury’s first NFL win.

Taylor was a questionable hire. He had a thin resume. He was hired mostly because of his association with Sean McVay. The Bengals are 0-5, Taylor’s offense isn’t impressive and it’s already looking like a long season in Cincinnati.

Dan Quinn and Jay Gruden: Another week, and the two coaches leading the race to be fired first had miserable games.

Quinn’s Falcons couldn’t even slow down the Texans in a 53-32 loss. That’s a bad look for Quinn, who fired all of his coordinators after last season and is running the defense. The Falcons have top-end talent yet are 1-4 and last in the NFC South.

Gruden’s Redskins are even worse. This is the sad state of affairs for Washington: The Redskins were competitive for a while against the Patriots and still got blown out 33-7. Gruden made the odd decision to start Colt McCoy at quarterback over rookie Dwayne Haskins, and McCoy did almost nothing. He had 119 passing yards. The defense got ripped apart by Tom Brady. Washington is 0-5 and there’s no hope.

Coaches usually don’t get fired this early in a season. But there are two possibilities this season.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

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