With the dramatic come-from-behind win against the Steelers on Sunday in Oakland, Jon Gruden is starting to prove he’s reaching the roster he does have and that bodes well for the future of the franchise.
He’s lost touch with today’s players, they said.
He doesn’t grasp the modern game, they said.
What the hell is he doing up there, they asked.
After Sunday’s comeback 24-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jon Gruden is slowly starting to show the chatter and biting criticisms of him and his closely-guarded plan may have been a bit premature. Sure, the Raiders won thanks to the Steelers kicker slipping on the turf in Oakland but there is no such thing as an ugly win in the NFL.
“The character of this team is impressive, no matter what anybody says,” Gruden said during his post-game press conference. “As you saw today, the character in there (locker room) is special.”
Although Gruden doesn’t yet have the talent he needs to win consistently and compete for a championship, the team he does have is finally “getting it” and has rallied around one another and their coach. Their spirited efforts the past several weeks have put to rest any talk of “tanking” the rest of the season to improve their draft stock. As their beleaguered defense plays better (and makes key plays more often), their thin offense is coming along led by the resurgent and increasingly confident Derek Carr.
He’s not a franchise quarterback, they said.
He can’t throw the ball deep anymore, they said.
He’s lost his confidence, they said.
Carr went yet another game without throwing an interception (the streak now at eight games) and posted a passer rating of 122.4 – the fourth-straight week he improved that rating. After posting a 72.9 rating in Week 11, Carr raised it to 106.6 in Week 12, 120.4 in Week 13, and now his highest of the season in the win over the Steelers. That’s what they call a trend.
“Carr played great today,” Gruden acknowledged. “He brought us back twice in the fourth quarter, made some great throws, some great audibles, and I’m really proud of him.”
While Gruden’s comments can sometimes be taken at face value, the genuine appreciation of his student’s performance – and battle with adversity – was clear on this day. After all, Gruden said after arriving in Oakland for his second stint as coach that if Carr didn’t succeed, it would be the coach’s failure, not his quarterback’s.
“This is my second favorite win ever,” a jovial and visibly relieved Carr said post-game. “If it was in our division, it would be first.”
Body language can be tough to read (especially via video from Las Vegas) but Carr certainly looked like a player who feels like he and his team have turned a corner.
“I think being able to show our team, our relationship (with Gruden), our system, we’ve tried to sell as hard as we both can,” Carr said of the importance of the win. “We knew it was going to be a process…we didn’t know how it was going to start out and we knew it was going to take time to have people see it the way we see it.
“It feels good because it puts a stamp on it like ‘fellas if we continue to do it right, just do it this way,’ then good things can happen.”
Patience and time aren’t words the thirsting fans of Raider Nation want to hear. Yet it’s hard to argue with the slow but steady progress Gruden, Carr and his team are making. It might not result in a winning season, but the plan is starting to win over players and they are believing in the course set out by their general.
On a day when reports circulated what has long been assumed since his arrival, the eventual departure of general manager Reggie McKenzie at season’s end, Gruden side-stepped and wouldn’t comment only offering a promise he made the day he was hired.
“We’re going to build this team back, I know that,” Gruden said emphatically. “And bring the Raiders back.”
Success is never guaranteed and Gruden’s plan has yet to be validated in terms of wins or championships.
One thing is certain: for those that do believe, they’re buying in and progress is apparent.