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Dublin: 20 °C Tuesday 16 July, 2019
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The Redzone: The spirit of Al Davis lives on in Jack Del Rio and the Raiders

The Silver and Black are having their best season since 2002 as they finally become relevant again.

Michael Crabtree and Derek Carr are the epitome of the 'Just Win Baby' mantra.
Michael Crabtree and Derek Carr are the epitome of the 'Just Win Baby' mantra.
Image: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/Press Association Images

THE GREAT ONES are different from you or I, they see further, they see clearer.

Where we see risks, they see opportunities. Where we see what could go wrong, they wonder what they’re going to say after they succeed.

For all his faults — and there were many, just ask Marcus Allen — Al Davis was a great man.

As a coach, he created a Raiders passing attack unlike anything professional football had seen before with every play a potential touchdown.

As an owner, he guided his team to three Super Bowl wins and crafted a reputation for the Silver and Black as one of the most iconic franchises in football.

And it was under his watch that the American Football League and National Football League came together to form the modern NFL.

Even if the merger was against his wishes, his moves to make the AFL the dominant force in American football was enough to the bring the NFL to the negotiating table.

When he died five years ago, Davis left behind a complicated legacy but perhaps his greatest posthumous contribution to the team he left behind was freeing up the general manager’s job for former Green Bay Packers director of player personnel Reggie McKenzie to take up.

Despite a couple of early stumbles in terms of both player and coaching recruitment, McKenzie has overseen the drafting of franchise players like Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Amari Cooper and the hiring of Jack Del Rio as head coach.

The appointment of the former Jaguars boss raised eyebrows in many quarters, not least in this particular quarter of the internet, but McKenzie had earned enough trust to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Last years, there were improvements but the Raiders still finished with a losing record but there was evidence — through coaching and McKenzie’s assembling of the second best offensive line in the league after the Cowboys’ much-vaunted front five — that this was a team on the rise.

This year, starting the season 4-1 for the first time since 2002 — the last year they had a winning record and the last year they reached the Super Bowl — Oakland has shown another improvement and are now winning close games they have, up until this season, historically lost.

A large part of their success this year, has been down to the risk-taking of Del Rio. In their opening encounter with the New Orleans Saints, he defied most conventional wisdom and, with 47 seconds remaining — and his team trailing 34-33 to New Orleans — took the decision to go for the two-point conversion, and the win, rather than take the safe bet and kick the game-tying extra point.

It worked and it gave his side every reason to believe in themselves.

Source: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/Press Association Images

Last night, I lost count of the number of times Carr, full of confidence, fired a pass so accurate that either his receiver made a play or it went out-of-bounds. There was no chance of a game-changing defensive play.

This was perhaps best highlighted on the score that would prove to be the winning one. On fourth down, with two yards to go, on the Chargers’ 21-yard line, Del Rio opted against a field goal that would have pulled the Raiders within three points of San Diego.

Instead, he told his quarterback to go out and make a play and he duly did, finding Michael Crabtree with a millimeter perfect pass before hitting Cooper for the two-point conversion, and the win, seconds later.

Now, I’m not saying that Del Rio is a genius — I’ll wait until after they win a Super Bowl for that — but this type of coaching, and the ‘Just Win Baby’ mantra so long ago instilled by Davis, gives players the confidence to believe they can do anything and you could tell from his throws in the second half last night that Carr believes he is now surrounded by players who he can take the postseason.

This might be a different style of offence than the one Al Davis wanted the Raiders to be for 50 years.

But it’s a winning one and that was all he ever wanted.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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