Red Hot Raiders Cooled By Off-Field Controversy
The Las Vegas Raiders entered the 2021 season with lots of optimism. Heading into the year, their division was considered as one of the toughest in football with defending AFC champion Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, sophomore QB Justin Herbert and his upstart Los Angeles Chargers, and the Denver Broncos with young wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. The Raiders led by head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr still believed there was a route for them to make the playoffs even with their tough competition.
On the field, the Raiders have not only met expectations but exceeded them. They are 5-2 heading into a Week 9 date with the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium following their Week 8 bye. Their only losses were to Herbert’s Chargers and to rookie QB Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears. With the Chargers’ Week 8 loss in LA to Mac Jones and the New England Patriots, the Raiders have a comfortable lead in the AFC West with the Chargers being the second closest team at 4-3 following their loss. However, the Raiders’ on field success has been overshadowed as they have been in the headlines plenty through the first half of the season, but for off-field controversy.
Following the team’s loss to Chicago on October 10, Gruden was questioned about emails that had leaked from his time working as an analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast. In the emails, he criticized the executive director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) DeMaurice Smith and used a racist stereotype to describe his appearance. More emails from Gruden leaked in the coming days which included him making racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments. Gruden’s comments came from different points in his career including his time as head coach of the then Oakland Raiders as well as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and his time working at ESPN following his stint with Tampa Bay. As these emails became public, Gruden decided to resign from his position as head coach of Las Vegas saying that he did not want to become a distraction to the team.
Raiders owner Mark Davis replaced Gruden with special team’s coordinator Rich Bisaccia in the interim head coach position. The Raiders have won both of their games with Bisaccia as head coach since beating the Broncos in Denver and beating sophomore QB Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles in Vegas heading into their Week 8 bye. But just as the team thought they were beginning to separate themselves from off-field headlines, another story broke.
This Monday, wide receiver Henry Ruggs was charged with reckless driving and driving under the influence resulting in death. In Nevada, both crimes are felonies and Ruggs will face 2, 20-year sentences in prison. Ruggs was reportedly driving 156 miles per hour and his blood alcohol content was over twice the legal limit when he fatally struck the car in front of him. The victim was 23-year-old Tina Tintor, who worked at a nearby Vegas Target, and her dog. The Raiders released Ruggs the following day and gave their condolences to the family and friends of the victim. When asked about Ruggs, Carr said that he wishes there was something he could do to prevent the tragedy.
The Raiders hope to make the playoffs this year even though their off-field issues have very much overshadowed them. The pressure the players must face when they are questioned about Gruden’s comments and Ruggs’ decision only adds more distractions for a team that wants to be the best they can be on the field. However, the Raiders organization is no stranger to off-field drama. They have built their legacy on being the “bad boys” of the league. This persona even carries on to their fans, who nicknamed their old stadium “The Black Hole” and their new stadium “The Death Star”. The response by the Raiders players and organization has been masterclass and proves the age-old adage, “practice makes perfect”. Especially QB Derek Carr, who has done a good job keeping the team together with all of the adversity they have faced. They head into MetLife Stadium this week with one goal: to beat the Giants and increase their lead in the AFC West with a flailing Chiefs’ team and young Herbert and the Chargers trying to get back into the division race as the season rolls into November.
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