Jon Gruden is proving he is not out of touch with today’s NFL, cast those 1998 jokes aside. The Oakland Raiders boss orchestrated an offense that corralled the Denver Broncos for the majority of last Sunday’s tilt with Derek Carr’s 90.6 completion percentage the shining example.
However, being good for the majority of a contest can get you only so far. In the end, the Broncos executed when it mattered most.
“You trying to get me mad here?” Gruden queried with a smile when asked on Monday about what went wrong on Denver’s final game-winning drive.
While the offense hummed along with Carr firing gems — his 25-yard laser to Seth Roberts for a score was an absolute dime — the defense trampled the Broncos the first half and much of the third quarter. Instead of Carr walking out the victor, it was Case Keenum — Mr. Mediocrity — who got the last laugh. Keenum and the Broncos looked fueled by adrenaline, while the Raiders defense could not hang in the altitude.
The human element buoyed one team and scuttled the other.
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“It was the hottest day in Denver Bronco history,” Gruden said, referring to the unusual 92-degree heat. “It was hot. Three of our D-linemen we had not see play in a game or many practices, either. That’s double trouble: The heat, the altitude, not knowing the condition everyone was in. “That affects everybody. It affects (Frostee) Rucker. It affects (Bruce) Irvin. It certainly affects (defensive coordinator Paul) Guenther, calling plays, base to nickel and back to base, and then they go no huddle. And then pretty soon, guys are getting tired just running on and off the field. So it was a challenge, to say the least. It certainly didn’t help the outcome yesterday.”
The Raiders were not without their chances on offense to seal the deal.
On a critical 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Gruden went to a play that gained seven yards earlier in the game. Instead of going pure smashmouth power football, Gruden dialed up a play-action pass to fullback Keith Smith. Carr, who threw the ball with heat coming his way, saw the pass clang off Beef’s hand — turnover on downs.
“I know what we’re doing and I have a good feeling about what’s going on here,” Gruden said. “And I know what the reality is. The reality is that our quarterback played great yesterday in a very tough place to play against one of the most formidable fronts in football.”
The other opportunity to slam the door shut — a 3rd-and-seven — saw Carr quickly fire to Martavis Bryant on a slant well short of the first-down marker. Questionable on the surface. However, not if you look at it repeatedly to see a free-shot defender coming around the right to smash Carr if he held it just a second longer.