Raiders protect Coliseum, set playoff course after sweeping homestand

Josh Schrock

OAKLAND -- The Raiders returned home at the beginning of November tired, frustrated and beaten up, but still with a pulse.

A whirlwind five-game road trip saw the Silver and Black go just about everywhere -- from Minnesota to London to Houston with a few stops in between. They survived the season-defining road trip, coming home at 3-4 and with just enough of a heartbeat to make the next three games the most important of the 2019 season. 

Three games in a row at the Coliseum. All winnable. Since it's the NFL, all losable.

Jon Gruden's gritty club opened the homestand with a thrilling Week 9 win over Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions. Derek Carr engineered a game-winning drive, safety Karl Joseph broke up Stafford's last-second pass to tie the game and the Raiders were 4-4. 

The heartbeat grew stronger. The Coliseum grew louder.

Next, a Thursday night showdown against the rival Chargers, a team desperate to find a win. The final night game in Oakland saw the Coliseum roar and shake as it did during the glory years of the Silver and Black, with the crowd exploding when Joseph picked off Philip Rivers to seal another nail-biting victory

At 5-4, the heartbeat was steady and still growing stronger. The Raiders had one more game in front of them to win to complete a goal set when they disembarked the plane after a disappointing road loss to the Texans to cap their road trip. 

There the winless Bengals stood Sunday at the Coliseum, 0-9 but ready to scratch and claw for win No. 1. The Raiders left the door open, playing sloppy, uninspired ball at times. But the Bengals, without a threat at quarterback or a defense capable of making a timely stop, lacked the mobility to walk through it, and Trayvon Mullen's game-sealing interception of Ryan Finley gave the Raiders a 17-10 win and a 3-0 homestand. 

Giving the Coliseum crowd meaningful football to watch in the team's final season in Oakland has energized a home crowd frothing at the mouth for a playoff run. Their energy, in turn, has injected life into the Raiders as the team exited Sunday's win in a virtual tie for first place in the AFC West, with the Chiefs still to play Monday night.

Defending the Coliseum was of paramount importance to Carr and the Raiders. That came pouring out when the veteran signal-caller juked an oncoming defender Sunday and sprinted for the end zone, leaping across the goal line to give the Raiders a 14-7 lead over the Bengals.

Carr let out a primal scream toward the fans in the corner of the end zone, echoing Maximus Decimus Meridus' iconic scene from "Gladiator." Raiders Nation, going berserk as the Silver and Black crept toward a 3-0 homestand, was indeed entertained.

"When we were on that 11-month road trip across the globe," Carr said laughing, "we talked leading into the Lions at home, I said, 'We have set ourselves up to have a homestand at home with games that matter.' November is the games they remember, right? Every coach has said that I've ever been with. We asked our fans to be loud for us, they were loud for us.

"We demanded that we won every one of those games here at home. We protected this place because this is a special place. And we did that.

"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. I hope that our fans are excited when we come back. But I hope they also make a couple trips with us and turn those stadiums into silver and black."

In the final season in Oakland, the Raiders now are 4-1 at home, with their only loss coming at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Week 2.

They've shown tremendous resolve, grit and toughness each week, doing what is necessary to force the Coliseum faithful to explode in celebration and send Gruden down to the Black Hole to be mobbed by those that have more silver and black than hemoglobin coursing through their bodies.

Protecting the Coliseum was necessary in order for Gruden and the Raiders to capitalize on surviving an unprecedented road trip against playoff-caliber teams.

"We came off one of the most incredible road trips ever in the history of the NFL," Gruden said after the win over the Bengals. "We played not only on the road, we played in foreign countries and across the world it seemed like every week. We came back and did what we had to do if we wanted to get in this thing."

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With just December home games against the Titans and Jaguars remaining, Gruden is relishing each win he can celebrate with the Raiders fans that closely resemble their head coach.

"I can say I've been fortunate to be in some great places, great traditional places," Gruden said Sunday. "Notre Dame, I grew up in South Bend. Had the opportunity to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, 49ers, they all have great fans. Something about these people. They are nuts. They are the closest thing to me that I've ever seen."

Road dates with the Jets and Chiefs await the Raiders over the next two weeks. Both games are losable, and both winnable, as has been the case with the 2019 Raiders.

Returning to the hallowed ground in Oakland with the playoffs in sight will have the Coliseum primed to ratchet it up to 11 as their final mosh in silver and black comes in December games to remember. A fitting parting gift to those who have made the Coliseum so special.

Gruden and the Raiders plan to give it to them.

Raiders protect Coliseum, set playoff course after sweeping homestand originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area