On two weeks' rest in a quasi-home game against a mediocre-despite-its-record opponent, the Oakland Raiders did not play well Monday night in Mexico City.
Star wide receiver Amari Cooper had just two catches for 14 yards through three quarters. His fellow starting wideout, Michael Crabtree, produced five yards of offense on seven targets. Top back Latavius Murray had just 33 yards on 12 carries. Raiders receivers dropped several Derek Carr passes, and Carr threw a rotten second-half interception.
And yet the Raiders won, 27-20.
Believe it or not, that's a good sign. Because in the past, a performance like this would have inevitably resulted in an Oakland loss. The Raiders hardly won at all between 2003 and 2015, and they almost never won when they underperformed.
Against the Houston Texans, they underperformed. A team that wins by lighting up the scoreboard—they had scored 30 points or more in each of their last three games, all wins—wasn't crisp or efficient on offense. As a result, it trailed an equally inefficient team by seven points with less than 11 minutes remaining.
In that situation, the 2006 Raiders would have been packing up equipment on the sideline. The 2009 Raiders would have been warming up the buses. The 2012 Raiders would have been texting their wives reminders not to delete that week's episode of Breaking Bad.
Those teams just didn't have it. They didn't possess the talent or the ability to persevere like this one does.
"It wasn't one of our cleaner games in terms of execution throughout, but we showed tremendous grit," Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said during his postgame press conference. "We got an opportunity late in the game to seize control and did, and made the plays we needed to make to get a hard-earned win."
Don't get me wrong: In order to win in January, the Raiders will need cleaner games. In order to take care of the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos—both of whom they play on the road in the final month of the season—and capture their first NFC West crown since George W. Bush's first term as president, they'll need to execute throughout, not just during the final 11 minutes.
They were lucky that the Texans weren't particularly good on either side of the ball, and that Houston head coach Bill O'Brien made some questionable decisions that might have cost his team points, and that the officials made some questionable calls that might have taken Texans points off the board.
But those 11 minutes prevented this game from being labeled as a victory the 8-2 Raiders didn't deserve.
|Good When They Needed to Be: Raiders on Monday Night|
|Category||First 49 Minutes||Final 11 Minutes*|
|*Excluding two kneel-downs (NFL.com)|
During the first 49 minutes, 22 of the 25 passes thrown by Carr hit his receivers in the hands, but only 16 of those 22 were hauled in. During the last 11 minutes, he threw six passes. All six hit his receivers in the hands. Five were caught, including two for touchdowns. Four picked up 29 yards or more.
During the first 49 minutes, Cooper was targeted three times. He caught one, another was intercepted and another resulted in a reception for a loss of one yard. On the game-winning drive, he had two catches for 43 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown.
During the first 56-plus minutes, Murray rushed for just 15 yards on seven carries. On the final drive of the game, he had 18 hard-earned yards against a defense that knew he was getting the ball.
They were—pardon me as I reach into my bag of dad jokes and portmanteaus—procrastiraiders. That isn't sustainable, and the Raiders better know it. But you can't be on every week. And when you're off for the majority of a night and you still win, it's an indication you have something special.
The Raiders have won four in a row, and they sit alone atop the AFC West. They've yet to lose in six games outside of Oakland, and they have back-to-back home games against non-winning teams on tap, giving them a chance to develop more of a cushion before finishing with four tough ones against the Chiefs, Broncos, San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts. If they can hold on, they'll likely earn a first-round bye.
And it's entirely possible we've yet to see the young Raiders at their best. What we saw from them during the first 49 minutes Monday night might have been within reaching distance of their worst, and yet they still found a way to win.
That should scare the rest of the AFC.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.