After a Chaotic Week, the Raiders Post an Efficient Win
DENVER — As Rich Bisaccia ran out of the stadium’s tunnel before his team played the Denver Broncos on Sunday, a man in a white shirt and yellow …
DENVER — As Rich Bisaccia ran out of the stadium’s tunnel before his team played the Denver Broncos on Sunday, a man in a white shirt and yellow hat greeted him with the head coaching headset. The two stood on the sideline for a few minutes while the man help snake the headset’s cords through Bisaccia’s shirt.
“The worst part for me was figuring out the headset,” Bisaccia said of the transition to head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. It had been a chaotic week since Jon Gruden’s resignation as coach last Monday, but that was evident only in the headset snafu. The Raiders cruised to a 34-24 victory against the Broncos, looking efficient and calm.
“I think they did a good job of handling their emotions throughout the week and putting them in perspective when it was time to go play the game,” Bisaccia said.
Gruden resigned on Monday, hours after The New York Times reported on homophobic and misogynistic emails the coach sent to Bruce Allen, a former president of the Washington Football Team. The week prior, The Wall Street Journal reported on emails in which Gruden used a racial trope in describing DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the N.F.L. Players Association, who is Black.
After Gruden’s resignation, the team turned to Bisaccia, a longtime Gruden lieutenant, as the interim head coach, over the assistants Gus Bradley and Greg Olson, who both have N.F.L. head coaching experience.
Bisaccia, 61, started his coaching career in 1983 as defensive backs and special teams coach at Wayne State. In 2002, he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as special teams coordinator under Gruden and contributed to the team’s Super Bowl title that season.
“I don’t see a vacuum of leadership,” General Manager Mike Mayock said last week.
In the wake of Gruden’s departure, Bisaccia, Mayock, the players and Mark Davis, the team’s owner, all addressed the news at a team meeting on Wednesday. Defensive end Carl Nassib, who in June became the first openly gay player on an active N.F.L. roster, did not attend practice Wednesday after requesting a personal day.
Olson said he saw more players wander upstairs in the team’s facility in Henderson, Nev., for informal conversations with their peers and coaches compared with when they usually discuss things in meeting rooms on the lower level.
“It’s the biggest story in sports right now, and that’s what we talk about,” Carr said. “You turn the TV on, that’s what’s on. Personally, I have to keep my mind as focused as I can.”
They tried to focus on football throughout the day — Mayock said he discussed adding a new player with positional coaches, as he normally does. But Mayock said he and Dwayne Joseph, the Raiders’ director of pro personnel, ended up talking at length about the Gruden news. Mayock, who is white, said he wanted to understand Joseph’s perspective as a Black man.
“I just said: ‘D.J., I can’t put myself in your shoes. Help me,’” he said.
By Sunday, the changeover, though, appeared seamless from the outside. The offense scored on its first two drives, including a 48-yard strike from Carr to receiver Henry Ruggs III. It was the Raiders’ first touchdown in a first quarter this season.
Olson, who took over play-calling duties from Gruden, diversified the play-calling with a hurry-up offense. Carr finished with 341 yards and two touchdowns, completing nearly 67 percent of his passes without an interception. Running backs Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake scored rushing touchdowns. (Drake also caught a touchdown pass.)
At times, Denver looked like the team with a new staff. Coach Vic Fangio threw two challenge flags — an out-of-bounds touchdown catch by Noah Fant and a 40-yard catch by Ruggs — on plays that were upheld. Teddy Bridgewater, the journeyman quarterback, misfired on deep shots to receiver Courtland Sutton and finished with 334 yards and three touchdowns, despite being sacked him five times.
“There’s always crazy things going on, especially with the Raiders, but these guys that we have in this building are resilient,” said defensive end Maxx Crosby, who posted three sacks. “Everybody is talking about: ‘Oh, what are the Raiders going to do? Is the season over?’ We heard all of it.”
Bridgewater connected on a 14-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, making the score, 31-17. On the next drive, a holding penalty backed the Raiders up near their end zone, potentially allotting the Broncos prime field position. But Carr lofted a 51-yard pass to Bryan Edwards, a ball that he caught over his shoulder near the sideline. It allowed Las Vegas to kick a 30-yard field goal, widening the gap to 34-17.
After two-straight losses, Las Vegas’s win over an A.F.C. West rival keeps them in the playoff hunt with a 4-2 record, and on track to chase a championship, looking as hopeful as they did at the start of the regular season.
“We’ll see what goes on from here,” Bisaccia said. “We’ll see the consistency that we can have going on. That will be the challenge for all of us.”