Tottenham Hotspur Stadium sparkles as Raiders beat Bears 24-21
By Ben Rolfe
A fitting opener for a fantastic new stadium
Sunday saw the arrival of the NFL at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadum, as the Oakland Raiders “hosted” the Chicago Bears. The Oakland Raiders came out on top 24-21, but arguably the stadium and the event itself were the big winner of the day.
The stadium was incredible to look at and both sides acknowledged it after the game. Matt Nagy was full of praise for the stadium,
“Beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. I mean, it’s the first thing you do, you walk in here and you just see it, it’s state-of-the-art. It’s top-notch. You talk about doing things the right way, I mean, it blows you away. It’s phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal.”
Meanwhile, Derek Carr suppressed a laugh when asked about the stadium as the reporters from Oakland in the press conference also chuckled about the contrast between this brand-new stadium and Oakland’s home back in the Bay. He went on to compare Tottenham’s stadium and his previous experiences at Wembley,
“…this is definitely if not the, one of the best stadiums I’ve ever been in my life. Playing at Wembley was really cool with the memories and all the different games that have been played here. But being able to play here and being able to see what could be done. It’s amazing that they could do all this. First class. Obviously to win here obviously feel better than the opposite.”
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium atmosphere lives up to its promise
The noise inside the stadium was a step above anything we have heard before at either Wembley or Twickenham. Tottenham have discussed at length how this stadium was built to produce that atmosphere and wall of noise, including their monster South stand, and it did not disappoint. However, it was notable once again that the support was much more vocal for the “visiting” Bears than for the Raiders. Jon Gruden praised the atmosphere, but also commented on his disappointment that London had not got behind the Raiders more,
“It was great. It was great. It was really fun. I thought the crowd was much more for the Bears, though, it really disappointed me. All the people in London, we’ll be back.”
However, Matt Nagy made it clear he does not just think the support they received was a product of coming to London,
“Yeah, that’s how our fans go. We’ve got fans everywhere, and that’s what’s so neat about this whole thing for all of us. You hurt because we all want it, they all want it. They’re passionate. There are Bears fans everywhere you go.”
Carr did point to the atmosphere as part of the reason some teams struggle with the trip to London.
“Yeah, I think when you’re the home team I think you resist it more. Because home team advantage in the NFL is so crucial, if I’m being honest. Losing a home game, that’s always hard because it really is an advantage. We came out in the stadium and got booed. Because it was 50 percent Bears fans. That doesn’t feel like a home game.”
However, he later explained how despite it being difficult to be away from your family and not sleep in your bed for a home game he loves the trips to London and what comes with them.
“I love playing here. I’m a soccer fan, it’s cool to me. I got to talk to Harry Kane for a little while. I’m a real fan.”
Bears defensive line takes an early hit
The Raiders defensive line outplaying the Bears was the shock of the first half for many. All the talk was about the Bears defense coming into the game, but an early injury to Akiem Hicks, combined with Bilal Nichols being inactive in the contest, left the Bears short of recognised bodies on their defensive line. When Hicks was helped off the field on the eighth play of the very first drive, he already had two tackles and was playing a big role in the centre of that line. After his departure the Bears defensive line never really got anything going.
Raiders offensive line comes up big
Despite the injury to Hicks the Raiders offensive line should still get a lot of credit, as both their coach and quarterback were quick to do after the game. Carr was not sacked once in the game and was never really under much pressure outside of the occasional play. Khalil Mack’s one real pressure came when he rushed from the opposite side of the line against second-year player Kolton Miller. Carr was full of praise for his free agent left-tackle Trent Brown and his effect on the game.
“Yeah, he was awesome, right? … It was my wife’s favorite signing, also. For me to go out there and play against that defense and only be touched one time, that doesn’t happen.”
Gruden spread his credit across the line but also identified both of his offensive tackles as huge parts of their performance,
“…our line is quality stuff. And Trent Brown and Kolton Miller, I don’t know who gets the game ball, I’ll make that decision here in front of you guys.”
Josh Jacobs impressive despite injuries
Rookie running back Jacobs had an impressive day carrying the ball 26 times for 123 yards and getting both the first and last touchdowns of the game. There was a moment during the first touchdown drive where it looked like he was injured. He ripped off a 20-yard rush on third down, thanks in large part to a stunning block by Brown, but then did not see another snap for the remainder of the drive, until he scored the touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.
In the press conference Gruden confirmed that Jacobs did get banged up, making his output on the day even more impressive.
“Jacobs, he got hurt early in the game. He came back twice. He proved a lot tonight. He made some great runs. I thought Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington picked up the slack for him.”
Jacobs came up clutch a couple of times on the final touchdown drive. With the Raiders at their three-yard line he ripped off a 15-yard rush to open the drive give the offense breathing room. He then took the ball and leapt over the scrum in the middle of the field to push the ball over the goal line and into the end zone for the touchdown. In between those two plays his role was relatively minor, but time and time again in this game he stepped up for the Raiders and demonstrated why they spent a first-round pick on him.
The momentum swing
Two plays into the Raiders first drive of the second half, leading 17-0 and with al the momentum, Carr threw the Bears a lifeline. On 2nd-and-4 Carr inexplicably pitched the ball past running back Josh Jacobs, and the former-Raider Mack came out of the ensuing scrum with the ball. Three plays later and David Montgomery was in the end zone to put the Bears back within 10 following the extra point.
After the game Jacobs appeared to have taken the blame for the mistake in the locker room, but Carr was also quick to take the blame himself.
“It was my fault. I’ll say it was my fault. I’m not going to lie to you. It was one of our faults. And we’ll just make sure that the young guy gets another rip at it.”
Bears seize the initiative
Carr’s mistake was the kick start the Bears needed. The Raiders next two drives consisted of a total of just 10 plays. Meanwhile the Bears scored two touchdowns thanks to some individual pieces of brilliance.
First, Anthony Miller took the ball out of Lamarcus Joyner’s for a long completion down the side line on 3rd-and-2. That led to a fairly routine Chase Daniel touchdown pass to Allen Robinson. Next up would be a monster 71-yard punt return from Tarik Cohen, which would have been a touchdown if not for a fantastic play from Raiders rookie CB Keisean Nelson. However, the Allen Robinson show would kick into full gear as he pulled in a fantastic touchdown catch on the right side of end zone to give the Bears the lead.
However, Robinson was not done there. Trevor Davis of the Raiders fumbled on the one-yard line, giving the Bears the ball on their own goal line. With the offense facing third down on their own one-yard line, Robinson hauled in a fantastic toe-tapping reception on the right-side line, extending the drive and giving the Bears the field position advantage. That advantage looked like it may have won the day for Bears, but the game had one more twist yet.
Allen Robinson was singled out for praise by his head coach for dragging his team back into this game,
“Yeah, he’s great. He’s a playmaker. He’s special. He’s somebody that makes you a good coach, makes you call good plays when you do stuff like that you become a good coach.”
The Bears punt debacle
The Bears had a chance to put this game away. With the Raiders facing 4th-and-6 on their own 22 with 6:02 remaining they chose to punt the ball away. Cohen made his second important punt return of the game, carrying the ball back towards midfield. However, a flag on the play negated not only the return, but also the punt. The Raiders chose to have the fourth down again but this time with just a yard to go. That is when they got funky.
The Raiders decided to go for a fake punt and it nearly backfired. Safety Erik Harris took a direct snap and carried the ball into the line, making the line to gain only for the ball to pop out as he went to the ground. However, upon review it was the ground that forced the fumble and the Raiders drive lived to fight another day.
When asked about the punt after the game Gruden mentioned they had a couple of situations they might look to take advantage of, but also admitted the fumble nearly gave him a heart attack.
“We had a couple of plays that we wanted to use, we were waiting for the right situation. And we trust Erik Harris, hopefully he takes a little better care of the ball. They were reviewing that.”
Tight ends play a major role for the Raiders
The biggest player on the final drive was actually rookie tight end Foster Moreau. When Carr needed to convert on a big play, it was Moreau who he looked to. On 3rd-and-1 from the Oakland 40, Carr found Moreau for 23 yards. Later in the drive on 2nd-and-6 from the Chicago 18, it was Moreau again who made the impact, with a 16-yard reception. On the very next play Jacobs would score the match-winning touchdown.
In fact, all three tight ends played a big part for Oakland. Darren Waller saw five targets, Moreau saw five and Derek Carrier saw two as well. Of Carr’s 32 pass attempts 12 went to tight ends. Carrier stepped up big on the first touchdown drive, finding a pocket of space on 3rd-and-6 and turning it upfield for 20 yards to take the Raiders close to the red zone.
After the game Carr praised his tight ends,
“We have three guys that can do a lot of things extremely well. It’s hard to get three guys to be on the same page like that and do those things. We definitely have a good group of guys at that position. Very special. And they had to step up. We were really shorthanded when it comes to starters. But we weren’t shorthanded in terms of talent.”
Raiders heading into the bye in good spirits
The Raiders were flailing at 1-2 heading into Indianapolis last week. However, they now head into the bye at 3-2 and within one game of the division lead. During the press conference Carr explained how this was the closest team he had ever been part of since arriving in Oakland.
“Yeah, this is the closest team I’ve ever been on, to be honest with you. I could have told you that in training camp. We spend — every second that we spent not in the media room this week we were at a card table altogether. We were at the soccer game altogether. I’ve never seen a whole collection, a whole group chat together on our phone. The relationships that this team has, it really shows me what kind of team that Mr. Mayock and Jon Gruden have tried to build. Because super close, super results, super tough. I knew we had a close team, but we have been a close team because of our 700 day road trip.”
Can the Raiders build on this and surprise everyone with a run at the playoffs in 2019?
Bye week brings questions for the Bears
As for the Bears they are also 3-2 but have yet to look convincing offensive, and now have question marks surrounding their defense. Nagy did not deflect from the problem of his offense following the game when asked about processing the result and then moving forward.
“Just the same way that I’ve always done it. We’ve five games in, we’ll have the bye week. But you know, for me as a head coach, that’s one part. Then I’ve got to shift and I’ve got to go to — as the offense goes. Numbers don’t lie, you know. Not good enough, not — you put in a lot of work to be better, and we know where we’re at, and so it’s my job to make sure that it gets better, and what’s the how, what’s the why, and I believe wholeheartedly in all of our guys.
Again, but we need to — each person, every coach, every player, time to start looking at themselves in the mirror and figuring out why you’re out there and why we’re out there.”
The Bears are in a tough division, with all four teams over .500 right now. They need to get their offensive rolling sooner rather than later. If not they may find themselves failing to defend their NFC North crown, and watching the playoffs from their sofa come January.