In a way, the 2021-22 Las Vegas Raiders are like Dante Hicks’ character’s most famous line from the 1994 movie, “Clerks” — “They’re not even supposed to be here today.”
Heading into the season, few expected the Raiders to go very far. Oh sure, they had drafted better than last year, but the cream of AFC West seemed to be either the Chiefs or the up-and-coming Chargers.
But yet, while other teams have fallen ill or failed (the Colts), the Raiders are here on Jan. 15, playing a longer shift and hoping to beat the Bengals for their first playoff win since 2002. when the franchise beat the Tennessee Titans to go to the Super Bowl.
How did they come here? Their road has been more haunting than that of Cormac McCarthy. After the Raiders got everyone upbeat with a 3-0 start with impressive wins over Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Miami, they lost games to the lowly Chargers and Bears (Sorry, Boss).
Before the game against the Bears, the league discovered that head coach Jon Gruden sent misogynistic and anti-gay language in numerous emails over a seven-year period. This had come shortly after 10-year-old Gruden emails were made public. Soon after, Gruden resigned.
So you might understand that if the team would play flatter than 10-day-old Bud Light when he visited Denver for a game against the Broncos in October, the only thing is, that never happened. They defeated Denver, then picked up a win over Philadelphia. The Raiders looked optimistic again with a 5-2 record going into the bye week. What could go wrong?
Well, it turns out everything. Wideout Henry Ruggs III was involved in a fatal car accident in Las Vegas. He was charged with driving under the influence and was driving 156mph resulting in death and reckless driving after killing 23-year-old Tina Tintor and her dog. In the right decision, the Raiders released Ruggs.
Then the Raiders lost to the Giants to start a 1-5 skid. At the same time, Raiders tight end Darren Waller as well as their solid running back Josh Jacobs were injured and in and out of the lineup.
It’s getting worse. During the losing streak period, video surfaced of cornerback Damon Arnette brandishing a gun and making death threats. So the Raiders, once again making the right call, released him. You’d think, that’s it, the Raiders are over. Stick a fork in it.
Shortly after, Nate Hobbs, a 22 1/2 year old rookie starting cornerback, was arrested and charged with a DUI. Geez, how hard is it with the money that NFL players earn to hire a limo driver? An Uber? A friend to drive?
But almost like magic, the Raiders have won four straight, beating potential playoff teams like Cleveland and Indianapolis on the road. Then the epic Week 18 final game win over the Chargers that had more twists and turns than Lombard Street in a hurricane. And even though they “aren’t even supposed to be here today,” they are making the best of a horrible situation.
Jacobs and Waller regained their health. Hunter Renfrow saw a punch from Chuck Norris and caught it for a touchdown. Maxx Crosby was in the face of every quarterback.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Derek Carr becomes the “Clerks” wife who brings you lasagna. While other callers cheat or fail, Carr is loyal. He wants to be a Raider. His 4,804 passing yards are fifth in the NFL this year. Sure, he throws his share of interceptions, but has he been a better long-term flagger for the franchise since Ken Stabler?
And these are the best types of teams to encourage. There’s no pressure to cheer on an underdog like this. The Raiders are playing with house money. It’s as if their cousin just gave them $2,000 more at the blackjack table. Split these seven? Sure why not? It’s not your money.
Everything the Raiders do from now on is just icing on a very hearty cake. So enjoy it. Yes, Las Vegas will be underdog against the Bengals and they are not expected to win.
But stranger things have happened, the Raiders could expose the Bengals. And as Randal Graves says in Clerks, “There’s nothing more uplifting than pointing out other people’s shortcomings, is there?”