Following a rollercoaster ride of a season for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021, they were able to produce in the face of daunting adversity. The obstacles the Raiders faced included the loss of their head coach to the imprisonment of their star receiver, yet the team still reached the playoffs. To fully understand this remarkable season we must first travel back to the beginning and unpack each event.
Following three straight wins to start the season, the Las Vegas Raiders lost two games in a row, both by double-digits. This was not a great look for a team who was trying to make a run at the playoffs, but it would only get worse from there.
After their week five loss to the Chicago Bears, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden suddenly resigned. Gruden, an esteemed coach and Super Bowl champion, was found to have written many emails containing homophobic and misogynistic language dating back to over a decade ago. These actions were of course not tolerated by the NFL (National Football League) and Gruden chose to resign instead of being fired.
The Raiders were at a low point and they needed someone to step up and replace their former coach. The team decided to promote special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia to fill their interim head coach position. Bisaccia, 61, had been an assistant coach in various locations for almost 40 years, including almost 20 years in the NFL, most of which he spent alongside Gruden. Although he didn’t have any head coaching experience, he was very well respected and the perfect person to take over and establish calm and focus.
Las Vegas rallied around their new coach, winning two straight games, and moving to 5-2 on the season, tying two other teams for the top record in their conference heading into their bye week. With the future finally brightening, tragedy struck once again. Star second-year receiver Henry Ruggs was arrested after a car accident at around 3:30 AM on November 2nd. Ruggs was charged with DUI and two counts of reckless driving. He caused the death of a twenty-three year-old woman and her dog, along with substantial bodily harm. At the time of the accident he was reported to have been traveling at a mind-boggling 156 mph.
Ruggs had proven himself a very talented receiver who played his college football at Alabama and was a part of the team that won the 2018 National Championship. He had a very good resume coming out of college, and he declared his availability for the 2020 NFL draft. The Raiders selected him as the 11th overall in the first round. Ruggs was cut from the team after the news of his accident became public. He now faces 46 years in prison with further criminal charges still pending.
This situation was a total mess for the Raiders, and their team began to collapse. They lost five of their next six games, falling to 6-7 on the season, and the last of those losses was a 39-point beatdown at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs. Fivethirtyeight.com, a well-respected NFL statistics website only gave the raiders a 5% chance of making the playoffs and it looked like they were headed for another lost season.
So, what changed? First off, they never lost hope. The Raiders knew they couldn’t control how other teams played, so they figured they would give their best effort for the last four games and see how it turned out. Rallying behind their quarterback, Derek Carr, they won four straight games, including an overtime win against the Los Angeles Chargers. In doing o, they clinched a playoff spot and a win-or-go-home game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Although they would go on to lose that game, it was still an incredible run and a true show of perseverance for the Las Vegas Raiders.