The pundits and experts around the NFL aren’t giving Josh McDaniels and his new-look Las Vegas Raiders much of a chance of winning games this season. In fact, many believe the team will go backwards from its 6-11 result of last season.
With all sorts of question marks for the Raiders in 2023, their opener in Denver served as a way to measure where the revamped roster may stand. With mixed results at times during a close game against the now Sean Payton-led Denver Broncos, the Raiders did precisely what they needed to do: they won 17-16 at Mile High.
Making his first start as the Raiders quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo efficiently led his team from behind. Garoppolo, who scared Raider Nation early when he went down after a hit on his first offensive series, connected with slot receiver Jakobi Meyers on two touchdowns, finishing the day going 20-of-26 for 200 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Here are key takeaways from the Raiders first win of 2023.
Maxx Crosby’s motor never stops
The man who has quickly become the face of the new generation of the Raiders franchise again shined, practically carrying the entire Vegas defense. Crosby recorded five tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and two QB hits in the win.
A prime example of this was, with the Raiders clinging to a 10-6 lead in the second quarter, Crosby single-handedly thwarted a Broncos drive by drawing a Denver hold and then sacking quarterback Russell Wilson on the next play. The Broncos could never overcome the third and long that resulted and punted the ball back to the Raiders.
Crosby’s performance may not stick out in the stat sheet but his presence and the ability to disrupt the Denver offensive line played a key part in the win.
Jimmy G was A-OK for the Las Vegas Raiders
Garoppolo rarely puts up eye-popping numbers and often wins quietly as a quarterback. After starting Sunday’s game with an impressive drive that ended in his first touchdown pass as a Raider to Jakobi Meyers, the offense sputtered a bit. Josh Jacobs, showing some rust himself after missing training camp due to his contract, couldn’t get going early which forced the Raiders and Garoppolo into tough spots.
Then, after throwing an ill-advised interception in the end zone in the third quarter, Garoppolo redeemed himself by leading the Raiders on a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with a six-yard score to Meyers yet again. Garoppolo’s 12th come-from-behind fourth-quarter drive helped the Las Vegas Raiders notch their first win of the season and seventh in a row over Denver.
Garoppolo’s ability to scramble from the pocket and save plays also stuck out.
Related: Sportsnaut’s updated NFL QB rankings
Joltin’ Jakobi jumps to the top
When the Raiders signed former Patriots slot receiver Jakobi Meyers this past offseason, many were perplexed due to the team’s commitment to Hunter Renfrow. His ability to play bigger and run longer routes was evident against the Broncos. Before leaving with a concussion after a late hit, Meyers grabbed nine receptions on 10 targets for 81 yards and two scores, leading the Raiders in both categories. He also contributed greatly to the running game with some key blocks on the day.
The chemistry between Meyers and Garoppolo was noticeable and bodes well for the Raiders moving forward.
Defensive backs struggle for the Las Vegas Raiders
The new Raiders cornerback room had mixed results. Veteran cornerback Marcus Peters looked a step slow and standout rookie Jakorian Bennett struggled at times and committed a few costly penalties. Safeties Marcus Epps and Tre’von Moehrig also seemed overmatched early on against Russell Wilson, but all bounced back after a tough first half.
Bennett did show why the Raiders, and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, are excited about the Maryland product. For the first time in a long time, Las Vegas has a corner that plays physical with the pass defending abilities that point to a promising career.
How good are they?
It was a dog fight on Sunday in Denver that wasn’t pretty, yet the Raiders prevailed, showing a mental toughness that had eluded them since McDaniel’s arrival. The pass protection for Garoppolo was excellent despite a rotation on the offensive line.
Second-year tackle Thayer Munford, Jr. even played as a jumbo tight end. The Raiders are a work in progress and they can’t have 10 penalties for 97 yards against Buffalo next week if they have any chance of staying competitive with the high-flying Bills offense.