Raiders’ grit and resilience shows against winless Bengals

OAKLAND — We’re 10 games into a season now that could well end with the Raiders in the playoffs.

And there will be some grumbling about how difficult it was for the 6-4 Raiders to put away the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are 0-10 and rookie quarterback Ryan Finley is likely just a stand-in for whoever arrives next season to be their quarterback of the future.

There was even some good-natured grumbling among the Raiders, who realize they can and should do better. Derek Carr (25 of 29, 292 yards) is convinced Jon Gruden will hit him up about his four (horror!) incomplete passes, one of which was an interception. Jacobs, the rookie running back, had his fourth 100-yard game and in each instance has insisted there is room for improvement.

“We made some tragic mistakes. Jumping offsides, fumbling the ball in the red zone,” Gruden said. “It could have been a different story today, but we’re happy to win.”

The offsides came from Richie Incognito, turning a first-and-goal at the 1 to first-and-goal at the 6 in a drive that ended in a field goal instead of a touchdown. It was one of seven penalties for the Raiders, who managed to sweep a three-game homestand despite each game being in doubt until the final moments.

Now it’s back to the road, with the New York Jets (3-7) in Jersey and the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 1.

And if those games are like most of the others, the Jets will be a struggle and so will the Chiefs. And both opponents will come away regardless of the result knowing they were in a fight.

The Raiders didn’t beat the Lions until Karl Joseph broke up Matt Stafford’s fourth down pass in the end zone. They didn’t beat the Chargers until Joseph intercepted Rivers and blew his foot apart in the process. And they didn’t beat the Bengals until Trayvon Mullen stole a Finley pass with 1:17 to play.

The Raiders have been a handful since Week 4, and that even includes Green Bay, because that 42-24 loss came with three red zone failures that could have evened out the score some.

Gruden resisted the notion of there ever being an easy win for his Raiders.

“I don’t know if it’s easy for anybody in this league any more,” Gruden said. “I mean, when you really look around, who’s doing it easy? I don’t see anybody. We’re going to scratch and fight. You may beat us but we’re going to be there. We’re going 50 miles with you. We’re not going to quit and that’s something I’m really proud of.”

Think of how different the Raiders are a little more than a year after a 34-3 loss to the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium, a game where their level of effort could truly be questioned even if Gruden wouldn’t do it at the time.

They have an identity now, and the thing tight end Darren Waller likes about it is that he sees the Raiders as a chameleon, changing their look to meet the demands of the moment.

“I think our identity is just to be us,” Waller said. “There are so many different ways to be us. Whether it’s running the ball, getting so many guys in the passing game. Or whether it’s the defense locking in. I think we are a very versatile team and we can go with the ebbs and flows of the game.”

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr believes hard work and teamwork trumps talent. Getty Images

In the middle of it all is Carr, who has bought in completely to the balance Gruden desires (the Raiders had 32 runs and 29 passes against Cincinnati), stats be damned.

“In my six years, there have been a lot of things that have happened,” Carr said. “I’ve seen a lot of different coaching styles, different players, a lot of different moods. The thing I can say about this team is the people that were brought in by (general manager) Mike Mayock and coach Gruden love football. They love each other. I will take that over the most talented guys, any day of the week. I think that’s what this year has taught me.”

Carr never mentioned Antonio Brown, although he had to be thinking of him.

The love of football isn’t going to carry the Raiders to a Super Bowl. It may not even get them to the playoffs. But there are 13 rookies on the roster who as a class are the best in franchise history in terms of instant production and impact. Defensive end Maxx Crosby had four sacks and Mullen the game-winning interception. Jacobs is so good and so consistent he’s almost taken for granted.

With that many young players, plus a number of carefully considered veterans and emergency fill-ins, the chances of the Raiders looking like a fine-tuned machine and going out and laying a whipping on some unsuspecting opponent are slim. The amount of energy it took to beat a team with zero wins Sunday serves as evidence.

That’s the hard part for the East Bay fan base, the realization that if anything truly great is going to happen it will probably be in Las Vegas.

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