Monday, Nov. 13, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Raiders running back Josh Jacobs had remarked multiple times throughout the season that it was remarkable how fresh he felt, not picking up anything as small as a minor injuries or nicks despite leading the NFL in rushing attempts.
That might have changed Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium. Multiple Raiders described the opposing New York Jets as the most physical opponent they’ve faced this season, and no one knew better than Jacobs.
On his first 16 carries through nearly the entire first three quarters, Jacobs averaged just more than two yards per carry. The Jets’ hefty and hard-hitting front seven defenders were getting to him fast and forcefully.
“I was getting hit by three or four guys some plays and like (expletive), but I was getting back up and like, ‘All right, we’re coming right back at you,” Jacobs said.
On the 17th attempt, that perseverance paid off. Jacobs lowered his shoulder, committed to the hole and broke loose for a 40-yard gain, his longest run of the year, to deliver the Raiders to the red zone for the first and only time in the game.
The run set up the game’s lone touchdown, a 7-yard jump ball from rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell to rookie tight end Michael Mayer. That proved enough for the home team to hold on for its second straight victory since interim coach Antonio Pierce took over.
Raiders 16, Jets 12.
“It was a war,” edge rusher Maxx Crosby said after the game.
The first word Pierce used to describe the mentality he wanted to instill with the Raiders upon taking over for the fired Josh McDaniels two weeks ago was “tough.” It’s the type of descriptor a lot of new coaches preach at the outset, but the Raiders demonstrated the toughness against the Jets.
A softer team, which many accused Las Vegas of being under McDaniels, doesn’t escape with a victory.
Not a lot went the Raiders’ way against the Jets. They trailed for the majority of the game and finished at a major statistical disadvantage.
New York gained 365 total yards and averaged of 5.8 yards per play; Las Vegas gained 274 total yards and averaged 4.4 yards per play.
But the Raiders’ persistence to keep “battling” and “believing,” in Pierce’s words, eventually won out.
Jacobs’ breakout run after having not gotten much other than a bunch of bruises was one example. So was Mayer’s catch two plays later at the start of the fourth quarter.
O’Connell had to navigate a collapsing pocket and progress through his first set of reads before making a split-second decision to target Mayer despite tight coverage from the Jets’ Jordan Whitehead. The veteran safety had baited O’Connell into a poor pass earlier in the game that he picked off but the rookie quarterback was undeterred this time around in firing a high pass.
“That was one of the best balls of the day, for him because he only put it where I could get it,” Mayer said. “There was no way (Whitehead) could have gotten that ball.”
Mayer “blacked out” after the catch in a state of euphoria from hauling in his first touchdown pass as a professional. He made sure not to lose the ball in the moment because he knew it was one he wanted to keep to look back on as the first of “many, many more to come hopefully.”
“Someone picked it up for me,” Mayer said of the game ball afterwards in the locker room. “I’ve got to find it. I have no idea where it is.”
There was some competition for game balls after the victory because a handful of Raiders thrived in the tough environment. Jacobs seemed to get stronger as the game went on, finishing with a season-high 27 carries and 116 yards, and garnered the official Sunday Night Football Player of the Game ball from NBC.
But it was fellow offensive star Davante Adams who initially got Las Vegas on track. Even though he was shut out of the end zone for an uncharacteristic seventh straight game, the veteran receiver paced Las Vegas early and led the team with six catches for 86 yards — more than half of O’Connell’s 156 passing yards.
“They loaded the box, so we were going to have opportunities there for Davante and obviously the first couple plays were right to him, get the ball in his hands and get him going,” Pierce said. “When you’ve got one of the best receivers in the game, I’m not stupid. I know who to get the ball to — No. 17 (Adams) and No. 8 (Jacobs).”
The Raiders’ drives consistently bogged down, though, so they had to rely on kicker Daniel Carlson, who made all three of his field goal attempts despite each of them being from at least 40 yards out. The Pro Bowler has now made eight consecutive field goals on the season.
That was enough to match New York counterpart Greg Zeurlein, who also made all three of his field-goal attempts in the first three quarters before staying perfect with another in the fourth quarter.
The Jets twice appeared to score a touchdown at the start of the second quarter. First, quarterback Zach Wilson scrambled for 23 yards on a third-down play before replay determined he stepped out at the 3-yard line.
Then, on the next play, running back Breece Hall powered his way into the end zone but there was a flag on tight end C.J. Uzomah for holding Crosby after he drug the defender down by his shoulders.
Backed up to the 13-yard line, the Raiders’ defense only allowed the Jets to gain another yard on the next three plays with Crosby and linebacker Robert Spillane stuffing Hall for a loss on a second-down sweep play.
“That’s Raider football — blue-collar, hard-nosed, rely on each other, trust the family and keep pushing forward,” Spillane said.
Spillane later challenged Jacobs and Mayer for the play of the night when he single-handedly put an end to an 11-play, near-five-minute Jets’ drive that saw them reach the Raiders’ 20-yard line. New York had plenty of time to score a touchdown and erase its 16-12 deficit with a new set of downs after the two-minute warning.
Wilson, who was sharper than his reputation on the night with 263 yards on 23-for-39 passing, found what appeared to be an open Allen Lazard in the middle of the field on second-and-eight.
But Spillane closed hard on a pass Wilson zipped, outstretched his arms and claimed his career-high third interception of the year.
“I saw Zach Wilson drop back, saw a little route concept in the boundary and Divine Deablo did a great job making him double pump on the throw, which gave me time to get there,” Spillane said. “Just great team defense.”
Pierce, formerly the Raiders’ linebackers coach, celebrated more emphatically than anyone else on the sideline. He was the first to greet Spillane as his pupil ran off the field with an embrace and some kind words.
Jacobs said he was just relieved, “the defense didn’t let me down,” because he had lost a fumble to set up the Jets’ potential game-winning drive. The Raiders’ offense had another chance to clinch the game but went three-and-out meaning the team had to punt back to the Jets with a minute to play.
Wilson evaded a hellacious rush from Crosby in the final seconds to throw a Hail Mary pass on the run that reached the end zone and hit receiver Garrett Wilson in the hands. But a sea of Raiders’ arms were alongside him and they were able to affect Garrett Wilson enough that he couldn’t complete the catch.
Another example of toughness embodied.
“We just kept fighting,” Crosby said. “We kept working. You saw guys stay together, and that’s what we talked about.”