After seeing their AFC West title hopes all but squashed with an emotional last-minute home loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, the Las Vegas Raiders will try to avoid a letdown when they travel to face the NFC South cellar-dwelling Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.
Las Vegas head coach Jon Gruden pulled out some of his best cliches after Wednesday's practice to make sure the Raiders (6-4), who trail the first-place Chiefs (9-1) by three games with six to go, don't overlook the Falcons (3-7), who enter off an ugly 24-9 loss at New Orleans.
"This is the best 3-7 team I've ever seen," Gruden said. "I don't know how they've lost some of those games, and I'm sure they don't either."
It was easy to pin the reason for Sunday night's loss to the Chiefs for Las Vegas: Patrick Mahomes.
After the Raiders took a 31-28 lead on a one-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to tight end Jason Witten with 1:43 to go, Mahomes calmly drove the Chiefs 75 yards in seven plays, connecting with a wide-open Travis Kelce for a game-winning 22-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left to pull out the 35-31 victory.
Had Las Vegas been able to hold on, it would have closed to within one-game of the Chiefs and owned the head-to-head tiebreaker. Instead, the Raiders find themselves in a dogfight for a wild card playoff spot.
"We are what we are," Gruden said. "We're 6-4 with six games left, and we've got to be ready for Atlanta."
The play of the offensive line was the biggest issue for Atlanta in its loss to the Saints. Quarterback Matt Ryan, who ranks third in the NFL with 2,978 passing yards and needs just 22 yards Sunday to become the eighth quarterback in NFL history with 11 consecutive seasons with 3,000 or more passing yards, was under constant duress, getting sacked eight times and taking 11 quarterback hits.
Ryan finished 19-of-37 for 232 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions and a passer rating of 48.5, his lowest since a 47.2 pass rating in a 27-13 loss to Arizona on Oct. 27, 2013.
The run game also struggled, garnering just 52 yards on 14 attempts with the longest rush covering just seven yards.
"A lot of those were combinations of coverage and rush," interim head coach Raheem Morris said. "We don't want to just blow blame on the (offensive) line all the way."
The potentially good news for Atlanta is that the Raiders have sacked the quarterback just 11 times this season. Only Jacksonville (nine) has fewer sacks in the NFL.
Of more concern for the Falcons is the health of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones, who played just 35 percent of the snaps against New Orleans because of hamstring tightness. Jones, who has missed two games this season, has 45 receptions for 677 yards and three touchdowns.
"Obviously, we'll take Julio into a game-time decision and give him the best opportunity in order to go out there and be able to compete as long as he's healthy," Morris said.
Jones and defensive end Dante Fowler, who came off the COVID-19 list on Wednesday, both were limited in practice on Wednesday with hamstring injuries while running back Todd Gurley II, tied for third in the league with nine rushing TDs to go along with 610 yards on 167 carries, sat out with a knee injury. Tight end Hayden Hurst (ankle) and running back Qadree Ollison (illness) also didn't practice.
Cornerbacks Damon Arnette and Amik Robertson both missed practice for Las Vegas on Wednesday with illnesses. Gruden said starting defensive end Clelin Ferrell (COVID-19), who missed the Kansas City loss, could be back in the facility on Thursday but added, "I don't know how he's going to play, honestly."
--Field Level Media