ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Oakland Raiders spent almost all of training camp and the week leading up to the season opener without star receiver Antonio Brown on the practice field.
So while most outsiders figured his release two days before the opener would be as costly as last year’s trade of pass rusher Khalil Mack, the Raiders believed they had a much-improved team capable of competing and showed that in a 24-16 victory Monday night over Denver.
“We tried to tell everybody all offseason (that) we weren’t just blowing smoke,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “We had a good football team even when (Brown) wasn’t there. We knew if we had him, my goodness, that could be crazy because he’s so good as a football player. But he’s not here. And when it happened, honestly, it wasn’t the same feeling as when Khalil Mack got traded. I’ll just put it as that. It was not the same feeling. It was like ‘OK, at least the question was answered. At least we have answers.’ ”
For one night at least, the answers looked to be good ones. Carr played with much more confidence, showing needed growth in Year 2 under coach Jon Gruden. The rookie class had a big impact, from running back Josh Jacobs, a Tulsa native, to defensive end Clelin Ferrell and safety Johnathan Abram.
Perhaps most importantly, free agent receiver Tyrell Williams and tight end Darren Waller showed Oakland still has some capable pass catchers even with Brown in New England.
Carr finished 22-for-26 for 259 yards, with an 8-yard TD pass to Williams on the opening drive.
Jacobs was brought in to be the bell-cow back despite carrying the ball 20 times in a game just once in three seasons at Alabama. The former McLain standout thrived under a heavy load in the opener. He ran 23 times for 85 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a 28-yard pass that set up a TD. Jacobs became the first player since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2001 to gain at least 100 yards from scrimmage and run for two TDs in an NFL debut.
“This man wasn’t really the feature back at Alabama. He’s not drawing from a lot of experience,” Gruden said. “I’m anxious to see how he feels today after 24 touches because we’d like to get him 24 more next week.”