The Raiders missed the postseason for the fourth straight season and haven’t had a winning record since Jon Gruden took over the squad in 2018.
Still, the 8-8 Las Vegas squad doesn’t believe the gap is that big between themselves and the Kansas City Chiefs, who have won the division each of the past five years.
“I really don’t think there’s much because the first game we won, the second game they score at the end and if you ask people on defense, they say we can’t happen but those are two games that we feel like we should have won,” tight end Darren Waller told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We don’t feel like the gap is that big, honestly. It’s easy to show up and play them because they are so good and so talented that you naturally want to play your best. We feel like our best is right there with theirs.”
The Chiefs lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV but remain the team the rest of the AFC West is chasing. Patrick Mahomes and the core of the K.C. squad aren’t going anyway. It’s on the rest of the division to play catchup.
The Raiders were the only team to beat Mahomes in the regular season — the 14-2 Chiefs’ only other loss came in Week 17 when they rested most of the starters — winning a 40-32 sprint in Week 5. Vegas also nearly knocked off Kansas City again in Week 11, but Mahomes led a last-minute drive to swipe the 35-31 victory.
Waller believes the biggest difference between the Raiders and Chiefs is consistency.
“The Chiefs do it Week 1 through Week 22,” Waller said. “We just found a way to pick our spots. We can do it the first nine weeks fairly consistently, but at the end, it’s not the same. The Chiefs you’re getting that same product every week and you better come ready or it’s not going to look good. So we have to reach that level of consistency that they have. They have a historically great level of consistency that we haven’t reached yet.”
The Raiders started the season 6-3 but crumbled down the stretch, losing five of the final seven games to miss the postseason once again. Falling apart has been a similar theme for the Raiders under Gruden.
“I feel like when adversity hits and when you naturally get tired and, you know, I feel like our attention to detail lacked in all areas of the game, not just one side of the ball,” Waller said the collapse. “I feel like that has to be better because as teams go through the season, they get better — the good teams, the great teams — and we found a way to decline and that can’t happen. We just have to be a more locked in team going through the season because there’s going to be times when you’re not feeling great or you’re banged up and things like that, but the details can’t slide, the fundamentals can’t slide — we have the talent, we have the energy, guys get up and get going on game day. But when those fundamentals and those details aren’t there, that’s where the separation comes. It’s not blowouts all the time, it’s those one-score games that happen to us regularly and that’s what that comes down to.”
The Raiders have some core pieces but must upgrade a porous defense and get more consistent play out of the offense if Gruden’s club is truly going to provide a threat to the Chiefs’ dominance in the division.
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