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With most difficult games behind it, Raiders in good shape in playoff pursuit

Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders hands the ball off to Josh Jacobs #28 against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first quarter at Arrowhead Stadium on October 11, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Las Vegas Raiders are almost one-third of the way through the 2020 season and sits at 3-2 on the year following a statement win against the defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said he liked where his team was despite playing one of the NFL's toughest schedules. He complimented his team's competitiveness and said Las Vegas was playing a lot of different players at critical positions. After the 40-32 road victory Sunday snapped a five-game losing streak to the Chiefs, Gruden said he was proud they beat a good football team but knows there's a lot of improvement required.

“We think we have been playing pretty good honestly,” Gruden said this week. “We played well in the opener. We played well against the Saints. Hell, we played pretty good at spurts in New England on a short week, and I thought we played pretty good against Buffalo outside of some critical errors. We are getting better. We are finding ways to move the ball, and we got some stops when we needed them.”

The team is on its lone bye of the season, which comes with pros and cons after a big win. Gruden said he typically isn’t a fan of bye weeks, joking he likes to play doubleheaders sometimes. But this time of year, he’ll take the bye week to help get his guys some rest. Heading into last week's game, the Raiders had 19 players on the injury report, a big chunk of their 53-man roster.

Right tackle Trent Brown played his first game since starting in the season opener at Carolina and leaving after the first quarter. Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst is on the COVID-19 reserve list. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins was out with a shoulder injury. Wide receiver Bryan Edwards was out with a foot/ankle injury. The list goes on as guys are banged up, offensively and defensively, but the Raiders are still finding a way to prevail, as young guys are stepping up, and did so against the toughest opponent on their schedule last week.

“I know we didn’t do a great job of getting (Patrick Mahomes) on the ground, but this is as hard as it gets,” Gruden said. “You don’t have many substitutes available. All we had was five or six guys left, and Mahomes is a great scrambler. He made us pay several times, but it was enough in the end. I am really proud of our guys finishing the game. Chris Smith, Datone Jones came up off the practice squad. It was their debut today, and thank God we had them.”

Through the first five weeks of the season, the Raiders offense, behind seventh-year quarterback Derek Carr, has been the team's strength. Running back Josh Jacobs has rushed for 377 yards and five touchdowns; tight end Darren Waller has caught 34 receptions for 295 yards; and rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III looks had the biggest game of his brief career in the win over the Chiefs after missing two games with a knee/hamstring injury.

“We knew the game plan coming into it; we knew what we were capable of,” Carr said. “I think at one point it was 14-3, and in past years, it’s like, ‘Jeez, we’re in a big hole.’ But now it’s like, 'We can do this in just a few plays.’ The confidence. We’ve got to see these guys again at our place and again, it’s going to be a brutal battle like it always is. We’re looking forward to that.”

The Raiders host the Chiefs on Nov. 22 on Sunday Night Football, but the next challenge is six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which plays at Las Vegas on Oct. 25.

“I hope we gain confidence,” Gruden said. “We got to get some players back healthy. We got Tom Brady coming in here next week. We have seen Drew Brees. We have seen Cam Newton. We have seen one of the hottest quarterbacks in (Josh) Allen. Now we have seen Mahomes. We have already seen (Teddy) Bridgewater. We need to get healthy. We need to stay focused and be true to ourselves. We can still get better. We are going to have to get better if we are going to stay in the hunt.”

SportsCenter producer Jason McCallum noted earlier this week Las Vegas has played the fifth-toughest schedule this season and has the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL based off winning percentages. Las Vegas still has to face Tampa Bay (3-2), Indianapolis (3-2), Cleveland (4-1) and Kansas City (4-1) again, but get two games each against Denver (1-3) and the Chargers (1-4), who are sitting at the bottom of the AFC West, along with it the Falcons and Jets, both still looking for their first win, as well as Miami (2-3). It may look like an easy schedule, but earning the franchise's first playoff berth since 2016 won't be. After all, the team has just one postseason appearance and one winning record in the last 17 seasons.

The Silver and Black played in front of fans for the first time this season against Kansas City, and maybe Raider Nation helped give them the extra push to come out on top.

“I started hearing Raider chants throughout the game for the first time in this stadium,” Carr said. “It was awesome. First time playing with fans and obviously, we miss our fans. I miss our fans. There’s nothing like a Raider home game, I know some of you know that. It’s different. The rowdiness, the college atmosphere we have. For some of our fans to travel out here, the knowledge and wisdom to know that this would be our first game with fans, they showed up. They showed up, man. It was awesome to hear those Raider chants going on in Arrowhead. It was pretty cool.”

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