I’ll be honest: Sunday’s game couldn’t end soon enough. To say I enjoyed any part of the last 60-90 minutes of that game would be a lie, and to say I hated it might be an understatement.
After falling behind 14-0 to open up the game (bad!), the Raiders responded by scoring 25 straight (good!) before ending regulation on the wrong side of an 11-0 run (bad!). That run featured a missed extra point and two three-and-outs on offense, plus an atrocious roughing the passer penalty, a fourth-and-eight conversion allowed, a fourth-and-one conversion with two seconds left, and a successful two-point conversion attempt allowed by the defense.
Then there was overtime! The Raiders won the toss but settled for a field goal before turning the game back to their defense. After allowing a fourth-and-twenty conversion from Jacoby Brissett and the Dolphin offense, Miami kicked a 50-yard field goal to tie the game.
Thankfully, the Raiders responded on the game’s final drive — marching down to the three before kicking the game-winning field goal as time expired, moving them to 3-0 on the season and in a tie with Denver atop AFC West.
Rewinding this game, was, in itself, an exercise that revealed just how different this 2021 version of the Raiders really is. In hindsight, I can’t believe the Raiders won this game — not because they didn’t deserve to (they deserved to win by double digits), but because when was the last time the Raiders won a game like this? When everything goes wrong, typically, the Raiders don’t have enough working in their favor to weather the storm — but this team is different.
The defense is legit. The offense has weapons everywhere. And most importantly, by all accounts, they believe in themselves — they believe that their 3-0 record isn’t a fluke, but exactly what they deserve. Add it all together, and it’s hard not to agree with them — because like the title says: an ugly win is still a win.
Offensive MVP: Peyton Barber
When the Raiders signed Kenyan Drake to a big contract, many assumed it was for stretches like this when Josh Jacobs had to miss time — but in Jacobs’ absence, it is Barber (and not Drake) who has flashed. While he finished with 111 yards on 23 carries (plus three catches for 31 yards), 91 of those rushing yards came in the second half. For a guy who was expected to be a warm body and “break in case of emergency” type back, Barber has been impressive thus far — so impressive that I’m guessing he sticks around even when Jacobs and Jalen Richard return (likely this week).
Honorable Mention: Derek Carr, Bryan Edwards, Henry Ruggs
Carr continues to light stat sheets on fire, while Edwards continues to be the team’s go-to man in overtime. On the other hand, Ruggs gets a nod here for making what I’d argue was the best catch of his professional career — a leaping, toe-tapping grab in overtime that showed he is more than just a deep threat.
Defensive MVP: Trayvon Mullen
While Casey Hayward has rightfully been getting a lot of attention for his outstanding play this season, Mullen was the guy at the center of attention on Sunday — and he was up to the task. The game’s biggest play came in overtime when the Dolphins went deep to Devante Parker on third-and-twenty, but Mullen was with him step-for-step, breaking up the pass and allowing the defense to stay alive.
- The Dolphins passing attack dropped back 51 times on Sunday — with two sacks and 49 pass attempts. Those dropbacks resulted in just 215 passing yards, a number that shows just how good Mullen and the rest of the Raiders’ defensive backs were.
Honorable Mention: Denzel Perryman
Perryman finished with 14 tackles, but even that seems to undersell the impact his thumping has on opposing offenses. The Perryman deal looks like a steal for all the bad trades and signings the Raiders have made.
Special Teams MVP: AJ Cole
The game turned for the Raiders when they got on the board with a safety, but it was Cole’s punt that pinned the Dolphins back on their own one, setting everything up. Cole finished with four punts averaging 54 yards apiece. His season average is 51.6 yards per punt, which is the best in the league.
- A week after giving Jon Gruden credit for being aggressive with the lead in the fourth quarter, he threw away all of that goodwill by packing it in on the Raiders’ final two drives in regulation. Those two drives included six plays for -9 yards — all after the Raiders had scored touchdowns on their last three drives. As a result, the Dolphins were able to get back into the game and force overtime.
- I mentioned all of the Raiders’ weapons — well, Derek Carr used them on Sunday, targeting nine different receivers throughout the game. In fact, six different players saw at least five passes come their way.
- One thing to watch over the coming weeks is how the offensive line for the Raiders progresses. This is a young, banged-up group with a rookie right tackle as well as a left guard and center both getting their first extended run as starters as well — and to be honest, they’ve looked it. The good news is that there is hope for improvement, and the Raiders will need it if they want to keep teams honest defensively and seriously contend in the AFC.