KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jon Gruden was asked this week whether he thought his Oakland Raiders were looking ahead to their AFC West showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs when they were walloped by the New York Jets.
“No, not with this team,” the Raiders coach replied. “Nuh-uh. No. Uh-uh.”
Well, the Chiefs have their undivided attention now.
The Raiders (6-5) head to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday knowing full well that their chances of winning the division — and making the playoffs — rest heavily on the outcome. Win and they are not only tied for first place, but they wipe out the tiebreaker Kansas City (7-4) owns by virtue of their Week 2 win in Oakland; lose and they are merely another .500 team treading water.
“We are going to have to earn every first down, we are going to have to work hard to get (Patrick) Mahomes off the field. They’re coming off a bye week. They’ll be fresh as daisies,” Gruden said, “so it will be a great challenge in one of the great places and great rivalries in football.
“Hopefully it brings out a much better performance in us.”
The Raiders couldn’t do much worse than they did in their 34-3 loss to the Jets. Derek Carr threw for just 127 yards with an interception while Josh Jacobs was held to 34 yards rushing.
The defense? It didn’t fare a whole lot better.
But the Chiefs also know better than to overlook the Raiders, even though they’ve dominated the series since Andy Reid rolled into town. It’s a rivalry steeped in not only tradition but hatred, one that traces its roots to the earliest days of the old AFL.
It’s the kind of rivalry that spawned the “throw the records out” cliches, even though records just happen to be so relevant this week that the game was flexed to an afternoon kickoff.
“We don’t really care what happened (against the Jets). It doesn’t matter in the National Football League,” Reid said. “You have to be ready every week, in particular when you have an opportunity to play an AFC West opponent. It’s really about us getting ourselves ready. That’s what we’re going to focus on this week. That’s where all of our energy will go, and in making sure that we clean up and get better at some of the things that we need to take care of.”
As the Chiefs and Raiders prepare to meet in a divisional showdown, here are some things to know:
WEEK OF REST
The Chiefs expect to get several of their starters closer to 100 percent after having to wait until Week 12 for their bye. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who hurt his hamstring against the Chargers in Mexico City, is likely to play thanks largely to the extra week of rest.
HOUSE OF HORRORS
Carr has a couple of memorable wins at home against Kansas City, including the first of his career after a 0-10 start in 2014 and a dramatic primetime comeback two years ago. But it’s been a different story at Arrowhead Stadium, where Carr has lost all five of his starts. He has a quarterback rating of 61.9 in those games, the worst of any road venue in which he’s played multiple games.
The Raiders have struggled to limit big plays (20 yards or more) in the passing game, allowing a league-high 55 after the seven they gave up to the Jets. The Chiefs had eight of those during their win at Oakland, and six of those came when Kansas City scored all 28 of its points in the second quarter.
Gruden has been vocal in his praise for the Chiefs’ second-year starter, and that didn’t change after watching him throw for 443 yards and four touchdowns when the teams met in Oakland.
“He makes and attempts throws I have not seen before,” Gruden said. “When he gets hot, he can really hurt you. We just got to keep the ball in front of us. We can’t give up the vertical bombs, we just can’t do it. We’ve got to work hard this week on preventing that, and it was jaw-dropping the display he put on there for about six minutes, and we got to try and eliminate that obviously.“
The Raiders have lost nine straight games played in temperatures below 50 degrees and are likely set for another cold-weather game against the Chiefs. Oakland was held to three points last week on a cold, wet day against the Jets. Gruden said he can’t simulate that weather in California, though, so the Raiders will just have to learn to deal with it.
“I’m not a genius. I’m not Thomas Edison,” he said. “We’re just trying to show pictures of people that are cold that deal with cold. I don’t know. We’re not going to overanalyze it.”