Raiders' revival, Tom Brady's focus among midseason highlights
By Michael Silver
NFL Media columnist
Published: Nov. 5, 2015 at 04:24 p.m. Updated: Nov. 5, 2015 at 04:58 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Midway through an outdoor corridor in the back of an ultra-hip lounge across the Bay on Tuesday night, two powerful pillars of Oakland football converged: Marshawn Lynch, the Seattle Seahawks' star running back, who holds his hometown near and dear to his heart, and Raiders owner Mark Davis, who may or may not be relocating to Los Angeles next season but nonetheless has the Black Hole abuzz.
After exchanging pleasantries with Lynch -- whose agent, Doug Hendrickson of Relativity Sports, was hosting a star-filled private fundraising event for California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom that featured a live acoustic performance by the band Train -- Davis paused to reflect on one of the 2015 season's more inspiring storylines: After 12 seasons of futility, the Raiders appear to be back on track.
With Oakland boasting a 4-3 record and some exciting young players, including the "AC/DC" combination of rookie receiver Amari Cooper and second-year pro Derek Carr at quarterback, there has been a surge of pent-up excitement from those who worship the Silver and Black. It should be on full display on Nov. 14, when the Raiders next play at O.co Coliseum, against the Minnesota Vikings, whose 5-2 start has been fueled by the strong play of their own sophomore signal-caller, Teddy Bridgewater.
"That should be a great game," Davis said, his voice rising with enthusiasm. "We love our guy [Carr, drafted 36th overall in 2014], and their guy [Bridgewater, selected four spots earlier] is good, too. It will be fun to see two young quarterbacks with so much potential getting after it."
As with his late father, legendary Pro Football Hall of Famer Al Davis, Mark and I have had our share of disagreements over the years, but he'll get no argument from me on that point.
For all of the unpleasant things that have happened in the NFL over the first half of the 2015 season -- from season-ending injuries to valiant veterans like Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs and his equally gritty teammate, wideout Steve Smith; to the benching of Colin Kaepernick less than three seasons after the dynamic young quarterback was 5 yards away from leading the 49ers to their sixth Super Bowl title; to the stunning regression of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, something no one (least of all myself) saw coming back in September -- watching promising young passers like Carr and Bridgewater burgeon into potential franchise quarterbacks is chicken soup for the grizzled columnist's soul.
The Raiders' revival.
Yes, I recognize that it's early. As injured defensive lineman Justin Tuck (who also attended the exceptionally cool Newsom event Tuesday night at Forgery, where Joe Montana's daughter, Elizabeth, displayed grace under pressure as a bartender under siege), a two-time Super Bowl champion during his time with the Giants, wisely cautioned, the Raiders' 4-3 start "doesn't matter. We haven't done anything yet. In this league, you get crowned or killed in the media and by fans, etc., every week." He's right: It's easy to see the Raiders losing their next two games, to the Steelers and Vikings, to fall below .500. Then again, the rest of the way, they'd only face two more teams (Broncos, Packers) who currently have winning records. However you break it down, Oakland has a very legitimate shot at achieving its first winning season since 2002 -- when the Raiders rolled to an AFC title before getting pummeled by the Bucs in Super Bowl XXXVII -- and of ending its long playoff drought. The Raiders' roster is far from perfect, but these guys play hard and seem to possess better discipline and chemistry than in the past few seasons. Credit new coach Jack Del Rio and embattled general manager Reggie McKenzie, who somehow survived despite an 11-37 start to his Oakland tenure and some highly questionable decisions. (He's now 15-40, which has emboldened numerous Raiders fans to step to me -- and crack me up in the process -- via the mellifluous missives of social media. Bless them; we may not agree, but I'm excited that they're excited, so there's that ...) Davis, who stubbornly stuck with McKenzie, deserves praise as well. The Raiders are a long, long way from the glory days they enjoyed under Davis' dad, but they're nearly halfway home on the road to relevance, and that's not a terrible place to be.