Raiders botch first impression in Jon Gruden's NFL return vs. Rams

Ray Ratto
NBC Sports BayArea

OAKLAND -- There is actually no Raider Nation, and really hasn't been since the team left Oakland the first time. It has more resembled a confederation of smaller states bound together by the symbols and the occasional successes, but still clinging to their own separate versions of what Raiderhood in the 21st Century actually means. They unite around the idea of the team and results when warranted, but have any number of separate motivations and philosophies. Raider Nation, essentially, is the Balkans.
 
Thus, while the 33-13 loss to the patently superior Los Angeles Rams in the home opener clearly devastated the audience, they all found different reasons to be dismayed, and different views on just how much worse this team will be than the one that got Jack Del Rio fired in January.
 
Put another way, they didn't even bother to boo Ram cornerback Marcus Peters when he paid his groinal homage to Marshawn Lynch on the pick-six that finished the scoring. Raider fans of old would have never tolerated that, even from one of their own, whom Peters is. The Oakland lifers understood – that's what Oakland does.
 
But everyone else – the ones who stayed – they were just too beaten to boo.
 
They entered the building with some trepidation; the sting of the Khalil Mack trade was still fresh and made fresher by the havoc he rained upon the Green Bay Packers Sunday night. The Rams were one of the game's realest deals. 
 
But the fans believed, as they always have. They roared and remonstrated through an interesting first half in which the much-maligned defense forced Rams coach Sean McVay to avoid using running back Todd Gurley and the offense played a safe but efficient half guided by Marshawn Lynch's indomitability. They didn't boo Jon Gruden for trading Mack, and they didn't snipe at Mark Davis for getting all those change-of-address cards. They weren't ready to cut ties with the good old days, such as they are. They were ready to bestow another dose of BOTD (benefit of the doubt) upon a team that historically hasn't been worth the bother since shortly after the turn of the century.
 
And then it collapsed in a series of sequentially-timed heaps, almost like a controlled demolition. Lynch touched the ball four times in the second half, and Amari Cooper was targeted only three times as part of a wide-receiver-less offense. Carr lost his confidence, his touch and even his gift for spatial recognition; his three interceptions were positively awful judgments.
 
In all, They. Simply. Stopped.
 
The defense, which had held Los Angeles to 98 total yards and only nine first downs, got only one stop in Los Angeles' final five drives. McVay forced Gurley to be the game's defining player, and on the sidelines Gruden managed mostly to offer just a look of lipless consternation.
 
And the fans didn't even boo. They had nothing to give and too many targets splayed out before them. Mack was gone. Carr was awful. Cooper was invisible. Lynch was rendered inert. There was no pass rush to trouble Rams quarterback Jared Goff. And depending on how they chose to prioritize the depth of this failure, Raider Nation splintered into its constituent elements.
 
They could blame Gruden, or Carr by extension, Mark Davis or Reggie McKenzie. They could blame a vanilla-on-mayonnaise offense, a defense that caused no fear, a future being put off yet again, even the growing spectre of Nevada. They could blame them all, or just cherry-pick their favorites. This was a game that offered all the scapegoats, and every province in the Nation, from Oaktown out to the Valley and south on I-5 could choose its own target and not be wrong.
 
They couldn't even find common ground in opposition to Peters, because in the moment he twisted his body in mid-leap and seized his delicates to reprise the famous Lynch touchdown in Super Bowl The 49th, he was still regarded as OOTO – One Of Their Own, a man of the neighbodhood talking truth through an off-color mime that Oakland natives could understand more readily ("I did the Beast Mode. That's what I did," he said) than their own football team.
 
It could get better than this, mind you. Nothing is impossible, and an entire season of Gruden doing postgame pressers that sound like he was imitating Del Rio is almost too much for even neutral observers to bear.
 
But there's only one first impression to be made, and this was it. A barely endurable disaster without any of the fun explosions and rage. Just a sense that the end times really are upon all the parts of Raider Nation, and those times may not be worth watching.

























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