This would be a big game under normal circumstances. Raiders at Broncos always represents a salty AFC West rivalry. Throw in the fact that the two teams are tied for second place in the division, one game out of first place.
Now add the Jon Gruden mess into the pot. After a flood of incendiary and offensive emails from him were revealed, Gruden resigned on Monday — four years into a 10-year, $100 million contract — rocking the Raiders, particularly quarterback Derek Carr, with whom he’d worked so closely.
The on-the-field question entering this game is this: How will the Gruden mess affect his now former team?
It could either crush the Raiders, already wallowing in the shock and misery of the week’s events, or it might galvanize them.
Both the Raiders and Broncos began the season 3-0 and have lost their past two.
Rich Bisaccia, who was the associate head coach and one of the top special teams coaches in the league, is now the Raiders’ interim head coach. Bisaccia’s personality would never be categorized as wallflower, so perhaps he will light a fire under his team.
How this affects Carr will be a fascinating subplot, because Carr has been so close to Gruden, a supposed quarterback “guru,’’ and because he has been playing well this season — completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 1,605 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
Carr, speaking to reporters in Last Vegas this week, characterized the past few days as “a lot of emotions, obviously,’’ adding he “didn’t see all of this coming. I don’t think any of us did.’’
Carr was quick to turn his attention to the task at hand and his role as a leader on the Raiders.
“From an emotional standpoint, I got a job to do, and that’s never changed no matter who the coach is, no matter who’s on the team with me,’’ he said. “I have a job to do, and that’s to lead these men, especially now. They need a leader more than ever, and my job is to lead them with my actions, like I always have, and my voice.
“We’re 3-2. We have everything out in front of us that we’ve wanted from the beginning. It’s not going to be with the same room of people, which is hard, but at the same time nobody cares, and you know how that goes.
“I mean I’m sick about it. I have a lot of emotions — angry, sick, upset, mad, frustrated, all those things, empathy. I don’t think there is a book on how to handle all this. But for me, my message [this week] was: We have a job to do. … If we are still in our feelings, it’s too late. We got to move on.’’
Asked how things may be different on the field without Gruden, Carr joked that the Raiders are going to a Wing-T, triple-option offense and will run the quarterback on most plays.
Turning serious, Carr said he knows how offensive coordinator Greg Olson calls plays and knows how he thinks, and that won’t change on game day.
The Raiders’ offense, which is ranked 13th in the league, has struggled early in games, scoring just six points in the first quarter. That may not be a good recipe against the Broncos’ third-ranked defense, which is led by eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller, who has 4.5 sacks in five games.
The Broncos’ offense, ranked 18th, also has been a slow starter, scoring just 13 points in the first quarter.
The Raiders have won four of the past five meetings between the teams. Can they make it five of the past six in the wake of this Gruden crisis?
“We are a good football team,’’ Carr said. “We believe that. We need to play better, but we still believe that we can compete with anybody. It’s just a weird time. I mean, we’re definitely focused on football. Are conversations [about Gruden] still happening? Absolutely.’’