ALAMEDA (AP) — Surviving a five-game worldwide odyssey made sure the Raiders’ final season in Oakland wouldn’t get derailed early. Sweeping a three-game homestand in Oakland for the first time in 39 years has put the Raiders in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
The Raiders handled business at home by beating the Cincinnati Bengals 17-10 on Sunday, are tied for the final wild-card spot in the AFC and in position to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for the division title.
“We don’t have many games here left in this stadium that are promised,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “We have a lot of work to do before we can hope for anything else. ... Now we have to go on the road, again, but when we get back home, hopefully there’s still some things that we need to be playing for.”
Contending for the playoffs seemed far-fetched for Oakland after an 18-point loss at Minnesota dropped the team to 1-2 on the first game of a 48-day stretch without a game in Oakland.
But the Raiders managed to pull out wins at Indianapolis and in London against the Bears to survive that trip, and then swept the homestand against Detroit, the Chargers and Bengals behind strong play from quarterback Derek Carr and an impressive rookie class.
Led by running back Josh Jacobs, defensive ends Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, the Raiders lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,676), touchdowns (14), yards rushing (937), receptions (73) and sacks (10) from the rookie class.
“Success is a great confidence builder and when you can have success and win as a rookie in this league it goes a long way,” coach Jon Gruden said. “Sometimes it takes two or three years for that to happen for a young player in particular. Some guys don’t get to play until their second or third season, but we are getting a lot of production.”
WHAT’S WORKING: Defense. That unit was much-maligned earlier in the season when it was getting picked apart by Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson. But it’s been better of late against easier competition. The defense has made late game-sealing plays during the three-game winning streak, with Karl Joseph breaking up a pass in the end zone against Detroit and intercepting a pass against the Chargers. Rookie Trayvon Mullen had an interception to seal the win against the Bengals. Oakland has 12 sacks the past three weeks and allowed only 74 net yards passing to Ryan Finley and the Bengals, their fewest in a game in 11 years.
WHAT NEEDS HELP: Red-zone offense. The Raiders were held to 17 points by the winless Bengals in part because of two missed opportunities in the red zone. Jacobs fumbled at the 10 in the first quarter for Oakland’s fifth red-zone turnover of the season, tied for the most in the NFL. The Raiders then had first-and-goal at the 1 in the fourth quarter, but Richie Incognito committed a false start and the Raiders eventually settled for a field goal.
STOCK UP: Crosby. The fourth-round defensive end from Eastern Michigan had been making an impact all season by creating pressure and batting down passes. But he delivered by far his most prolific game as a pro against the Bengals. He had four sacks, tying for the second most ever by a rookie to the five Leslie O’Neal had for the Chargers in 1986. His 6 1/2 sacks on the season are the fourth most ever for a Raiders rookie.
STOCK DOWN: Offensive line. The line had kept Carr well protected all season with his pressure rate of 16% ranking lowest in the NFL coming into the game, according to SportRadar. But Carr faced more pressure than usual, getting sacked three times and being hit a season-high six times. Carr has been sacked six times the past two weeks after going down only twice the previous five weeks.
INJURED: Return specialist Dwayne Harris was placed on injured reserve after dealing with injuries to his foot and ankle most of the season. Oakland signed linebacker Preston Brown, who was released last week by the Bengals.
KEY NUMBER: 10: The Raiders are the first team to have at least 10 sacks and 10 touchdowns from rookies in the first 10 games of the season since sacks became an official stat in 1982.
NEXT STEPS: The Raiders travel cross-country to take on the New York Jets (3-7) on Sunday. New York has won two straight.