Meet the Oakland Roaders.
That’s right, the Raiders are 5-0 away from home for the first time since 1977, when coach John Madden led the franchise to the AFC title game.
It’s a little odd that this team is 1-2 at home, but the losses came against solid opponents, Atlanta and Kansas City, so it’s not shocking. What matters most is the present, and Oakland is tied with Denver atop the AFC West at 6-2.
The Raiders play host to the Broncos on Sunday night in a rivalry that at long last is relevant again. More than bragging rights are at stake, as this is the only Week 9 matchup pitting division leaders.
Whereas Denver is coming off a Super Bowl victory, the Raiders haven’t finished with a winning record since 2002, the season they lost the Lombardi Trophy to Tampa Bay.
“It’s really exciting,” Hall of Fame receiver Tim Brown said of Oakland’s success. “It’s nerve-wracking watching the games because you want it so bad for them. But it’s always great when the Raiders are playing good football.”
There are similarities, too, between this team and the AFC champions of 14 years ago. Derek Carr is the best quarterback Oakland has had since those days, when Rich Gannon was under center, and the current team’s strong receiving corps echoes that of its predecessor. This season’s collection includes Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts, who won Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay with a 41-yard touchdown catch in overtime. Back in 2002, the receiving stars were Brown, Jerry Rice and Jerry Porter.
The 626 total yards for the Raiders tied a club record set in 1964 against Denver. But Oakland also set a cover-your-eyes league record Sunday with 23 penalties, for 200 yards. To put that in perspective, San Diego has only 41 flags all season, fewest in the league. (Of course, the 3-5 Chargers would happily swap records with the Raiders.)
Raiders Coach Jack Del Rio didn’t seem overly concerned Monday when asked about the downpour of yellow flags. But he did address it with his players during the game.
“I actually went over to the offense,” said Del Rio, a defensive coach. “I felt like we were growing a little bit frustrated and I said, ‘Let’s not do that. Let’s not feed into that negative energy and act frustrated. Let’s rectify it. Let’s just clean it up. It’s self-inflicted.’ I thought we did that.
“I thought we had strong segments of the game where there were no issues and we were moving the ball very well . . . focusing our positive energy there rather than getting caught up the other way.”
As for the unusual situation of having an undefeated record on the road and an upside-down one at home, Brown said it’s often easy to be too relaxed playing in your own stadium.
“When I got home from practice, she wouldn’t be there. There were no chores on Saturdays. I had a very serious job to do on Sunday, and if something went bad, I couldn’t be saying, `Man, I can’t believe my wife had me doing X, Y and Z.’ You’re always going to look for an excuse when things go bad. . . . You’ve got to get yourself ready to play the game.”
Players and coaches move around so much in the NFL that it isn’t unusual for them to square off against their former teams. That said, there are some interesting reunions this week.
San Diego, with Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator, plays host Sunday to Tennessee, where he was head coach in 2014 and ’15.
Tampa Bay plays host to Atlanta on Thursday night. The Buccaneers are coached by Dirk Koetter, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator from 2012-14.
Oakland’s Del Rio was defensive coordinator in Denver from 2012-14.
And when Buffalo plays at Seattle on Monday night, former USC fixtures Pete Carroll and Reggie Bush will be reunited, although it won’t be their first meeting in the NFL. Bush, nearing the end of his career, is only a bit player with the Bills, who are looking for a sweep of the NFC West, having already beaten Arizona, San Francisco and the Rams.