The Raiders could have rolled over and played dead a long time ago.
Thanks to Tony Sparano, they haven’t. And that’s as much a testament to the so-called interim head coach as it is to the players who’ve won two of their past three games, including Sunday’s shocking upset of the 49ers at O.co Coliseum.
After Sunday’s 24-13 victory was secured, that was Sparano getting a Gatorade shower on the sidelines by his players. And that was Sparano, giving an emotional speech to his players in the locker room after the game.
Though the Raiders still are tied for the worst record in the NFL at 2-11, they’ve continued to play hard under Sparano, who took over the team when it was 0-4 after Dennis Allen was fired.
Under Sparano, the Raiders are 2-7, but they’ve played hard for the NFL veteran assistant and head coach, nearly beating the Chargers (losing 31-28) and coming close against the Seahawks (30-24 loss) before coming up with Win No. 1 over the Chiefs, 24-20, after an 0-10 start.
Then, Sunday – after absorbing a 52-0 thumping to the Rams the week before – the Raiders again showed remarkable resiliency in rebounding to beat the heavily favored 49ers.
Sparano has stuck with rookie quarterback Derek Carr, and Carr has flourished. Lately, he’s given more touches to fullback Marcel Reece and running back Latavius Murray. Tight end Mychal Rivera – almost an invisible man early in the season – has become a go-to receiver. And the defense, hammered by injuries, has come up big in two of the last three games. Yesterday, the Raiders sacked Colin Kaepernick five times and put him under constant pressure.
The Raiders aren’t going anywhere this season, yet under Sparano, they haven’t crawled under a rock, either. He’s kept them motivated. Obviously, they respect him and have played hard for him.
It’s unlikely he’ll be the guy Mark Davis and GM Reggie McKenzie will pick to lead the franchise forward over the long term, but he’s undoubtedly been a positive influence.
“Give Sparano credit from keeping his team’s façade intact,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler, who also pointed out that Sparano’s efforts have helped take the heat off McKenzie.
McKenzie’s draft class, led by Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack, is playing well. Another good class, plus some smart offseason moves, could mean the start of a turnaround.
But before that happens, the Raiders and their fans owe a big thank you to Sparano, who’s done a solid job under tough circumstances.
As Sparano said in his locker room speech Sunday: “There in no let-up in this group. We decide when it’s over, OK? We decide when it’s over. Nobody else decides when it’s over … I’m really proud of you.”