The Las Vegas Raiders look like a completely different team in 2020. That has nothing to do with them now taking up residence in the desert metropolis.
Through two weeks, Jon Gruden has his team playing tremendous football. That came out in droves during a shocking upset win over the New Orleans Saints in their first ever game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas Monday night.
After falling down 10-0 in the first half by virtue of an Alvin Kamara touchdown, Las Vegas pretty much had its way with Drew Brees and the Saints. That included both Darren Waller and Derek Carr coming up big time for the home team.
On the other hand, Drew Brees put up his second consecutive questionable performance to open the 2020 NFL season. These are among the biggest winners and losers from Las Vegas’ shocking 34-24 victory over the Saints on “Monday Night Football.”
Winner: Darren Waller continues ascension to elite status
A former late-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens back in 2015, Waller failed to catch a single pass with that team and was released after being suspended multiple times under the guise of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Latching on with the Raiders back in 2018, he caught a grand total of six passes in four games that season. Something changed big time this past year with the Georgia Tech product hauling in the second-most catches (90) among tight ends en route to finishing with 1,145 yards.
None of that compares to what we saw from the star tight end Monday night. Waller hauled in 12-of-16 targets for 103 yards and a touchdown. If the tight end continues at this level, he’s going to be considered right up there with the Travis Kelces and George Kittles of the world.
Loser: Emmanuel Sanders fails to step up in Michael Thomas’ stead
New Orleans needed someone outside of Alvin Kamara to make plays in the passing game with Michael Thomas sidelined to a high-ankle sprain. Going up against an inexperienced group of Raiders corners including Trayvon Mullen and rookie Damon Arnette, the expectation was that this would happen Monday night. That’s why New Orleans signed the veteran receiver in the first place.
It did not happen. Sanders did absolutely nothing throughout the Saints’ surprising Week 2 loss to Las Vegas. He caught a grand total of one pass for 18 yards on three targets. We’re not expecting Sanders to duplicate the record-setting performance we saw from Thomas last season. But something more than 18 yards should have been in the cards Monday evening.
Winner: Alvin Kamara is an absolute stud
Kamara’s questionable usage last season can be summed up by the fact that he was dealing with a multitude of injuries. With that said, the former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year had only 67 yards on 17 touches (3.9 yards per touch) against a pedestrian Buccaneers defense in Week 1. Boy did Kamara turn this thing around on “Monday Night Football.”
In addition to scoring the first ever NFL touchdown in Vegas, Kamara dominated both on the ground and through the air. He finished Monday night having tallied 174 yards on 22 touches. That included catching 9-of-9 targets out of the backfield. At least for one week, it looks like the recently-extended Kamara is back to his old self.
Loser: Drew Brees with second consecutive iffy outing
It was the Saints’ defense that stepped up against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers during their Week 1 win. That included a pick-six of the all-time great quarterback. However, Drew Brees didn’t necessarily do much of anything. The NFL’s all-time leading passer threw for just 160 yards in the 34-23 wn. Brees, 41, continued to look like a shell of his former self against a suspect Raiders defense Monday night.
Obviously missing the impact of Michael Thomas, Brees completed 26-of-38 passes for 312 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Statistically speaking, those aren’t horrible numbers. That’s until we realize he was dinking and dunking the ball all over Allegiant Stadium. In fact, Brees did not have a single completion of 20 air yards or more. One now has to wonder if the all-time great is hitting that proverbial wall in his career.
Winner: Derek Carr continues to show promise for Raiders
Let’s be clear here for a second. A lot of the Raiders’ success in the passing game against a good Saints defense Monday night had to do with receivers picking up yards after the catch. It’s an important part of their offense under head coach Jon Gruden. Carr is still struggling getting the ball down the field. With that said, he was more accurate Monday night than at any point since the three-time Pro Bowler was performing at a high level back in 2016.
Carr completed a resounding 28-of-38 passes for 282 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions against one of the best defenses in the NFL. He’s now completing 74 % of his passes with four touchdowns and no picks through two games. Could it be that Carr has finally found his calling in Gruden’s offense after two-plus seasons? Sure the heck looks like it.
Loser: Cameron Jordan fails to make an impact
Taking on the Raiders’ third-team right tackle Monday night, most expected this five-time Pro Bowler to dominate big time. Jordan has been among the most underrated pass rushers in the NFL since entering the league back in 2011. For some reason, it just did not happen.
Jordan tallied a total of zero quarterback hits and zero sacks of Derek Carr in the game. This is one of the primary reasons Las Vegas was able to put up 34 points in the final three quarters and 375 yards of total offense. It was an ugly performance from the Saints’ pass rush, led by Mr. Jordan himself.