Why did Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, with his team needing just an extra point to tie New Orleans late Sunday, opt to go for two and the win instead? There were 392 reasons.
As in the 392 yards passing Drew Brees had racked up prior to his team’s previous possession. When Derek Carr hit Seth Roberts to pull Oakland within one point of the Saints, Brees was sitting on four touchdown passes. With the help of some timely (and, at times, shaky) flags, Brees’s offense had marched up and down the field for much of the day.
So, going to overtime and risking the Saints winning the coin toss was at least as much a gamble for Del Rio as giving his offense a chance to win it in regular time.
That’s a bit of a troubling reality for the Raiders coming out of Week 1, given how high the expectations were for their defense heading into the season. Aside from the fumble Oakland forced on the game’s opening possession, there was little to indicate that the D will be dominant in 2016. One of its high-priced acquisitions, CB Sean Smith, even wound up being benched in the second half because of subpar play.
Not every offense the Raiders face will be as explosive as the Saints can be, of course. And it was because of that explosiveness that Del Rio put himself under the gun with that two-point call. Had the Raiders failed to convert and been unable to recover the subsequent onside kick, Del Rio surely would have had to answer for not pushing the festivities to overtime.
But in his back pocket, Del Rio had an offense that was cruising along pretty well, too, despite struggling in the middle two quarters. The Saints held Oakland to just three points in quarters two and three, but the Raiders responded with three fourth-quarter touchdowns, capped by Roberts’s grab in traffic.
The offense was clicking. The defense was scuffling—Brees & Co. had the Raiders in a hole in the first place because of a quick TD drive of their own moments earlier. Del Rio leaned into his team’s Week 1 strengths.
“We’re here to win,” Del Rio said after the game, via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur. “Why not win it now?”
This was a prime, early example of why so many are anticipating big things from this Raiders team, in the present and certainly the future. The Del Rio two-point call carried a little feel of an underdog trying to pull a stunner, but it mostly revealed a complete confidence in his offense. In recent years, Oakland probably would not have been in that situation in the first place—the Saints long earlier taking control—but it also might have been more inclined to take the safe route. To hope that the opposition made the costly mistake.
Now, the Raiders have the personnel necessary to push the envelope a bit. You don’t leave the offense on the field there, in a one-point game with 47 seconds left, without trusting that Carr can drop a fade pass exactly where it has to be and that veteran Michael Crabtree will go up to get it.
This was just one game of 16, against a foe that finished below .500 last season (and has a losing record at home since 2014). The Raiders still have much to prove before they can be considered a playoff or a legitimate AFC West contender.
Del Rio’s gutsy decision, though, served notice that the Raiders no longer hope just to be competitive, maybe steal a victory from time to time. They believe they can win, every week, no matter the circumstances, and their coach just proved it.