A season of promise for the Raiders turns into one marred by turmoil and tragedy
This had the makings of a landmark season for the Las Vegas Raiders. Instead, it’s a franchise awash in turmoil and tragedy as the team heads into the second half of the NFL schedule.
Still unfolding are the horrific details of the car accident Tuesday morning in which Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III slammed his sports car into the rear of an SUV driven by a 23-year-old woman who died in the ensuing fire.
Authorities say Ruggs was driving his Corvette at 156 mph and had a blood-alcohol content twice Nevada’s legal limit. The accident happened at 3:40 a.m. Tina O. Tintor of Las Vegas, along with her dog, died in her demolished Toyota RAV4.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is unvaccinated and unable to play Sunday because he is in the NFL’s COVID protocol, explains his situation.
Ruggs, 22, the team’s first-round pick in 2020, was released by the Raiders later that day and faces four felony charges — driving under the influence of alcohol resulting in death, DUI resulting in substantial bodily harm, and two for reckless driving. He also faces a misdemeanor charge for possessing a gun while under the influence of alcohol.
The situation is unspeakably sad and gruesome, and devastating in every direction. It’s also the latest and most gut-wrenching in a series of incidents this season for a promising team that was opening its glistening new stadium to fans for the first time. There was the COVID-19 season, but this year was the true debut of the Raiders in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, Raiders cornerback Damon Arnette is facing accusations involving a hit-and-run car accident last year, according to reports that surfaced Friday. A lawsuit filed last month claims Arnette was driving 65 mph in order to attend a morning meeting at team headquarters, and made a hard turn that led to a crash that allegedly injured a woman.
Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia told reporters the team is aware of the lawsuit but declined to comment further.
There were uplifting stories on this team over the summer, including the inspiring success of players Darren Waller and Maxx Crosby, both working hard to maintain their sobriety, and the courage of Carl Nassib, who became the first active NFL player to publicly declare that he is gay.
But a series of off-the-field situations has jolted the franchise to its foundation. From the abrupt and murky resignation of team president Marc Badain — along with the team’s chief financial officer and controller — just before the start of training camp, to coach Jon Gruden stepping down amid an email scandal, the Raiders have been reeling.
Even for the Raiders, no strangers to turmoil, this season has been a mess.
“We’re dealing with a lot of things this year, that’s for sure,” said quarterback Derek Carr, who clearly had been crying before he sat down with reporters for his weekly news conference. “A lot of guys, what a crazy year. I heard that a couple times. I heard, ‘Goodness, man, can we please? Nothing more.’ Not for our own sake, but for the sake of everyone else, for everyone involved.”
Carr, who spoke with heartfelt candor about the sadness of the accident for all involved, also acknowledged the somewhat uncomfortable reality that the season is moving along, and that he and his teammates have to attend to football.
In that regard, the Raiders find themselves in pretty good shape. They’re 5-2, atop the AFC West, and are three-point favorites at the New York Giants on Sunday.
It’s strange to think that Carr outlasted Gruden, seeing as the widespread belief early on was that coach was looking to upgrade at quarterback from the start. But, as he did last season, Carr continually has proven himself an outstanding quarterback and reliable leader for the franchise.
What’s more, these Raiders are leaning on their defense, a notion that would have been absurd in prior years, when that unit would have toppled in a stiff breeze.
Gruden is the epitome of how the game is played in a multibillion-dollar industry in which the leaders don’t expect anyone to hold them accountable.
The Raiders are ranked 11th in defense so far this season, the first under coordinator Gus Bradley, after finishing 30th last season, 26th in 2019 and 32nd in 2018.
There’s a measure of irony that these Raiders are relying on two entities — quarterback and defense — that have long been considered weaknesses.
Of course, the true on-field test for this team lies ahead, especially in light of the Raiders’ pattern of collapses in the second half of the schedule. Last season’s team, for instance, got off to a 6-3 start before losing five of seven to finish 8-8.
The Raiders lost five of their final six in 2019, dropped games throughout their 4-12 season in 2018, and lost four in a row to end the tenure of coach Jack Del Rio in 2017.
The current Raiders got off to a 3-0 start with victories over Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Miami — beating both the Ravens and Dolphins in overtime — followed by losses to the Chargers and Chicago.
Las Vegas bounced back with wins over Denver and Philadelphia, and, after a week off, plays the last-place Giants, who are 1-3 at home.
The NFL came across Jon Gruden emails that contained racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments. How much more is there? What else will be revealed?
A more formidable challenge for Las Vegas comes in the rest of November with games against Kansas City, Cincinnati and Dallas.
“We have a game this week and I have a job to do, and so do the guys in that locker room,” Carr said. “We had to come out and practice. We had film study Monday and Tuesday. We have all these things we still have to do.
“I don’t know the right way to handle it, but I’m doing my best.”
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