BUFFALO, N.Y. — With the serene peacefulness of West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains behind them, the Las Vegas Raiders were jarred awake by the wing sauce-stained, blue-and-red-zebra-pattern-pant-wearing Buffalo Bills fans on Sunday.
That crowd had plenty of opportunities to scream as their defensive players gang-tackled Josh Jacobs again and again. The Raiders handed the ball to Jacobs nine times and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion finished with minus-2 yards in the 38-10 loss.
The team’s week of practices in West Virginia may have helped it adjust to the Eastern time zone and been nice for player bonding, but it did nothing to prevent the Raiders from being outscored 38-3 over the final 57 minutes of the game.
“We never got control of the line of scrimmage the entire say,” coach Josh McDaniels said. “When you don’t have control of the line of scrimmage, it becomes a very one-dimensional type of game. We were always in second-and-long.”
McDaniels had a beautiful script of five plays drawn up on the opening drive, and that’s including Jacobs’ loss of 4 on the first play. Jimmy Garoppolo hit Jacobs for a 12-yard pass, Davante Adams made a pretty last-second reach on the sideline and then rookie Tre Tucker took off around the end for 34 yards. When Adams broke free for a 16-yard touchdown and the crowd at Highmark Stadium fell silent, you could hear some Raiders players singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at Friday’s practice.
But the music soon ended. After that 75-yard opening drive, the Raiders gained only 120 yards on their next seven possessions.
“What makes this one so frustrating,” Jacobs said, “is that we showed flashes of what this offense can do on the first drive, but then we couldn’t do anything.”
Even when the Raiders finally moved the ball again, it didn’t go well. In a garbage-time drive that put Zamir White and Hunter Renfrow on the stat sheet, Adams appeared to take a hit to the head when Garoppolo threw a deep ball to him in triple coverage. He left the game with 3:09 remaining to be evaluated for a concussion.
According to Elias Sports, this is the first time since the 1970 merger that reigning NFL rushing champion finished a game with negative rushing yardage.
“We knew we had to stop the run,” Bills safety Jordan Poyer said. “That was our biggest emphasis throughout the week. … We knew that if we could get them in a passing-type situation game, we would feast.”
The Bills put an extra man in the box to stop Jacobs, and while they didn’t sack Garoppolo, they mixed in some blitzes well and made him hurry. He had two interceptions, though one came off a pass batted at the line of scrimmage and the other came when Bills linebacker Matt Milano rudely reached over Jacobs and snatched the ball from him.
That’s a linebacker out there with a Moss ‼️ @MatthewMilanoo
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McDaniels acknowledged that he wasn’t even feeling too good when the Raiders were up 7-0 as his team was losing the battle on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
“We created some momentum at the beginning of the game, but momentum is just a word,” he said. “You need to play well, you just can’t live off the momentum of a drive … and you can’t live off gadget plays.
“You have to grind out yards against a team as good as this, there is just no way around it.”
Garoppolo finished 16-of-24 passing for 185 yards and the Raiders have to be happy that they are 1-1 despite only scoring 27 points with no defensive turnovers this season.
“I made way too many mistakes, physical and mental, and we couldn’t get into a rhythm,” said Garoppolo, who missed a couple of wide-open throws. “To beat a good team at their place, you have to play a lot better than that. They just took advantage of us.”
Garoppolo said the Bills are fast and started moving defenders towards Adams more — the Raiders didn’t have much on the other side with Jakobi Meyers out with a concussion. The bigger issue, McDaniels noted, was up front. Before White gained 22 yards on the final drive (which ended with him losing a fumble), the Raiders had just 33 rushing yards on 11 carries — and that includes Tucker’s 34-yard end around. Seven of the Raiders’ 15 carries went for no or negative yards.
“We have to be able to block people,” said McDaniels, who waved the white flag with 12:53 left when he punted on fourth-and-3 down 31-10. “We couldn’t even get (Jacobs) to the line of scrimmage without being touched. I take responsibility for all of that and I am going to have to figure out how to get JJ going.”
The Raiders head home and will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night in what could be a real tell-all game for the rest of the season. The Steelers will surely stack the box against the Jacobs after seeing the Denver Broncos and Bills hold him down. Yeah, the Raiders can pass the ball better — ideally with Adams and Meyers back — but there is a more basic gut check needed for the five guys upfront. Six, if McDaniels wants to lean on the jumbo package more.
“Teams are challenging us,” left tackle Kolton Miller said, “And they are going to keep challenging us. We just have to keep pushing more. More. We had a good week of practice, but we have to push forward. More. And more.”
(Top photo of Josh Jacobs being swarmed by Bills defense: Mark Konezny / USA Today)
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