Programming note: Watch Raiders Press Conference Live today at 2:00 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California, or streaming live right here.
CLEVELAND – The Raiders have never searched for moral victories during this 0-7 start. They care about winning and, to this point, they’ve continued to work and fight and play hard despite disappointing results.
Sunday’s 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium was another heartbreaker, a competitive game where the Raiders fell short.
There were bright spots though, as usual, they’re difficult to find. Here are three that stood out:
1. Mack earning respect: The Raiders have been praising rookie Khalil Mack’s work all season, telling fans to ignore his sack shutout and focus on the tape. It means a little more when it comes from the opposition.
Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer brought Mack up without being asked and said how difficult he was to diffuse.
“He gained the respect of everyone in our locker room,” Hoyer said. “That guy, No. 52, Khalil Mack is one of the best players we’ve gone up against this year. That’s a unanimous decision in our locker room. We knew coming in he was a tough player, but he gained our respect with what he did out there.”
Mack was dominant yet again, especially as a run defender. He had six tackles, two for losses. He had two quarterback hits and four pressures in 24 pass rush attempts, an efficient total that has become the norm.
Pro Football Focus gave Mack the game ball in a losing effort, a further sign that Mack is making a name for himself in football circles.
2. Third-down defense: The Raiders were excited to improve in an area where they’ve struggled mightily in recent weeks. The extra emphasis on third-down defense and solid run stopping on early downs allowed the Raiders to get off the field with ease.
The Raiders allowed just 2-of-12 third-conversions on Sunday, a shocking departure for a team with a 52.9-percent conversion clip.
“I thought our defense was outstanding today, particularly on third down,” interim head coach Tony Sparano said. “They did a really good job of getting off the field and giving us opportunities. We just didn’t do enough with them.”
3. Young players step up: The Raiders are already playing a lost season. There’s no hope for the playoffs. It would even take a strong effort to equal last year’s 4-12 mark. They would like to expand their foundation of young players beyond the obvious.
Mack, quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Sio Moore are already on that list, but the Raiders must be pleased by solid play from second year pickups and the possible end of Mychal Rivera’s sophomore slump. The tight end had a season-high seven catches for 83 yards and seemed to build solid chemistry with Carr.
The same can be said of second-year waiver claim Kenbrell Thompkins, who had a moment of brilliance while securing four receptions for 34 yards. His best effort was a one-handed, back shoulder catch that set up a field goal.
Defensive end Benson Mayowa, another second-year waiver-wire pickup, had five tackles and a pressure in his first start as a Raider. Considering a pass-rushing specialist, Mayowa played a career-high 47 defensive snaps and held up well on rushing downs.