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DENVER – The Raiders have won three straight home games. They’ve lost ten straight on the road, and 19 of the last 21. It’s a streak they hope to snap on Sunday afternoon at Sports Authority Field, where they’re 14-point underdogs to the rival Broncos.
That’s an extremely tough task. It’s also the next step for a football team intent on growth heading into the final game of a season long since lost.
“When you win three games at home like that, the three teams that we beat in our place, that says an awful lot,” interim head coach Tony Sparano said. “Our fans are tremendous, they really are. I’m not just saying that. I’ve been to a lot of places where there is passionate people, but I’ve never been around anything like this. It’s a loud place and it can be a really tough environment for a visiting team. That’s what the Raiders are.
“Getting that mindset when you travel on the road, you’re the Raiders walking into someone else’s stadium now. You kind of know how you’re going to be received. We have to feed off of that a little bit and turn that energy around.”
The Raiders haven’t been good at that this season. They’ve gotten overwhelmed early and failed to recover several times, including the last two attempts at St. Louis and Kansas City. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr has been worse on the road, with a 69.8 passer rating outside the East Bay, a number that doesn’t include an uneven “home” performance versus Miami at a neutral site in London.
Part of it must be mental, because the Raiders earned hard-fought wins against quality opponents at home. They are confident in their aging structure. It’s tough to play in Denver, a game that will be cold, loud and played at altitude. The Broncos are highly motivated, fighting for a precious first-round playoff bye.
The Raiders hope to quiet the crowd by playing smart defense and running the ball well. Latavius Murray and Darren McFadden will work in tandem and try to grind out tough yards on long, boring, sustained drives. The Raiders haven’t exceeded 71 yards on the road this season. That total won’t cut it against Denver, which held the Raiders to 30 yards in Week 10.
That was the breaking point, where the Silver and Black finally put Murray in the mix.
“Our hope is to run the ball well, with the type of commitment we had last week (when the Raiders had 37 carries),” Murray said. “A good running game can take energy out of the crowd. That’s something we hope to do this Sunday.”
The Raiders want to finish strong, play spoiler and check something else off their list of firsts. While there will be significant veteran turnoever, there’s a large group of young players here committed to long-term progress.
After so much losing, the Raiders want to finish strong and point to something positive at season’s end, which would come from winning four games in six tries.
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“It’s something we talked about a lot this week,” Sparano said. “At some point in the game, we knew that we would have to turn the tide in this game. It’s something I preach long and hard to the players about. There’s a knockout punch that comes in one of those kinds of fights. We delivered a few of those. We were able to turn the tide in some of those situations. When you’re out on the road, you have to be able to do that. You can’t feed their ego and feed the crowd’s ego. We have to be able to turn the tide when we’re in those situations. Take some of that energy, confidence and swagger that we have from home, and bring it with us on the road. That's the next step for our football team."