The Las Vegas Raiders came into the season looking like a team with a reliable offense and a work-in-progress defense.
That played out true to form in their season-opener Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium, as the Raiders defeated the Carolina Panthers 34-30 behind a high-powered attack in a game that was kept close because of minimal resistance.
Josh Jacobs ran for three touchdowns and racked up 139 yards from scrimmage in the Las Vegas Raiders’ debut. His final score was the game-winner, a six-yard sweep with 4:08 left in the game.
The Panthers had a shot at a game-winning drive but the Raiders’ defense, led by defensive tackle Maleik Collins, stuffed a 4th-and-1 attempt from midfield to secure the victory. It was one of the only big plays the defense made all day, as the Panthers racked up 388 yards of offense to the Raiders’ 372 yards.
Las Vegas went up 27-15 late in the third quarter on Jacobs’ second touchdown, a seven-yard burst up the middle, but turned conservative on offense and let the Panthers get back in the game with some defensive breakdowns.
Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson got past rookie cornerback Damon Arnette for a 75-yard score with 8:29 remaining to give the Panthers a 30-27 lead.
Good thing Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was up to the challenge of a game-winning drive, as he directed his team on a 9-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Carr went 22-for-30 with 239 yards and a touchdown in his first game since the franchise moved to Las Vegas.
Henry Ruggs III was his most productive target as the rookie hauled in three catches for 55 yards before leaving the game with an ankle injury in the second quarter.
Ruggs wasn’t the only injury casualty of the win. The Raiders also lost left tackle Trent Brown, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and cornerback Trayvon Mullen at various points.
Only Ruggs briefly returned. The status of each going forward is unknown.
Stay tuned to lasvegassun.com for more coverage later.
Panthers score two unanswered touchdowns to take lead
The Raiders got comfortable with a 12-point lead going into the fourth quarter, and now have seen it disappear.
Carolina has scored on two straight possessions at Bank of America Stadium to take a 30-27 lead with eight minutes remaining. The Panthers’ latest touchdown came on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Robby Anderson, who was left wide open after a gaffe by rookie cornerback Damon Arnette on the second play of their latest possession.
Their earlier fourth-quarter scoring drive was also relatively fast, as it took only five plays and 11 yards before Christian McCaffrey punched in an 11-yard touchdown, his second touchdown rush of the day.
Derek Carr has a history of leading comebacks, and now it’s time to see if he can continue it in his first game since the Raiders relocated to Las Vegas.
Raiders lead 27-15 in third quarter
Josh Jacobs is making a strong player of the game case in the debut of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The second-year running back just scored his second touchdown, a seven-yard burst to finish off a six-play, 49-yard drive.
The Raiders lead the Panthers 27-15.
Jacobs sits with 16 rushes for 65 yards and two touchdowns while also hauling in a pair of receptions for 28 yards.
Raiders hold on to halftime lead
Josh Jacobs, Nelson Agholor and Daniel Carlson all put points on the board for the Las Vegas Raiders, which go into halftime with a 17-15 lead over the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.
Apart from an early 3-and-out, the Raiders offense has hummed in its season debut with nearly 7 yards per play. Derek Carr has completed 13 of 18 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown, while Jacobs has 56 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
It might be tough for the Raiders’ offense to keep up the production in the second half, however, as injuries are piling up. After five early touches, top draft pick Henry Ruggs III appeared to roll his ankle and went to the locker room right as Agholor was hauling in a perfect 23-yard touchdown pass from Carr after the 2-minute warning.
Right tackle Trent Brown played only one series before being ruled out for the rest of the game with a re-aggravated calf injury.
The Raiders’ defense has allowed the Panthers to be nearly as efficient. Their fourth scoring drive came in a two-minute drill just before halftime with Joey Slye converting on a 31-yard field goal, his third make of the day, to get the Panthers down to a two-point deficit.
The Raiders’ lead didn’t last long.
The Carolina Panthers quickly answered with a 10-play, 63-yard drive in less than five minutes before the end of the first quarter. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was excellent throughout, extending plays by getting outside of the pocket, but Christian McCaffrey finished the job with a 6-yard rushing touchdown.
Joey Slye missed the extra point, putting the Raiders within a field goal of taking the lead.
Raiders lead 7-3
Josh Jacobs scored the first touchdown in Las Vegas Raiders history less than 10 minutes into the team’s season-opening game at Bank of America Stadium.
The Raiders lead the Panthers 7-3 after a productive second possession. Derek Carr led Las Vegas on an 8-play, 75-yard drive highlighted by a 45-yard completion to rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III that advanced the ball to the 1-yard line.
It was a good sight for the Raiders’ offense after they quickly fizzled on their first drive. Carr had two incompletions — including another deep shot to Ruggs — and Panthers defensive lineman Brent Burns stuffed Josh Jacobs for a short gain.
Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater directed an eight-play, 34-yard drive to set up kicker Joey Slye for a 47-yard field goal down the middle for the Panthers’ points.
The preventive measures enacted by the NFL to avoid injuries in the wake of a shortened offseason because of the coronavirus appears to have worked wonders for the Raiders.
Las Vegas will kick off its season opener at Bank of America Stadium against Carolina at 10:05 a.m. without any significant absences, now officially after the team released its inactive list.
“We’re in good shape and ready to go,” coach Jon Gruden said on Friday.
The main concern was along the offensive line, where veterans Trent Brown and Richie Incognito have both missed practices, but they’re ready to make their planned starts. Depth could still be an issue up front, as backup guard John Simpson and backup tackle Brandon Parker were among the Raiders’ list of five inactives.
The other players on the inactive list were wide receiver Rico Gafford, safety Dallin Leavitt and defensive tackle Daniel Roos.
The Panthers’ report was slightly more surprising as it contained rookie cornerback Stanley Thomas-Oliver, who participated in practice but was limited all week. Carolina will also be without starting left guard Dennis Daley, who hurt his ankle in training camp.
Both teams did lose significant pieces earlier in the training camp as the Raiders added last year's No. 1 receiver Tyrell Williams and backup quarterback Marcus Mariota to injured reserve while the Panthers did the same with starting cornerback Eli Apple.
One of the most significant moments in local sports history takes place this morning more than 2,000 miles away from Las Vegas. After three-and-a-half years of planning and executing their relocation from Oakland, the Raiders make their debut as the Las Vegas Raiders with a road game at the Carolina Panthers.
With no fans in at Bank of America, it won’t have the pageantry that fans have come to expect from the NFL in week 1 but that doesn’t make the moment any less historic. Or vital. Betting lines and expert predictions tab the Raiders and Panthers as two of the lesser sides in the league this season, but every NFL season brings its share of teams that defy expectations.
Either Las Vegas or Carolina will take a big step forward in establishing itself as a surprise contender with a season-opening victory.
Favorable matchup: Raiders passing game vs. Panthers secondary
The Panthers have one of the most unproven, if not suspect, defensive backfields in the NFL. As many as four rookies are expected to take meaningful snaps, including fourth-round pick Troy Pride Jr. being thrust into a starting cornerback role after an injury to veteran Eli Apple. Even the most experienced cornerbacks left on the roster, Donte Jackson and Corn Elder, have been highly inconsistent throughout their young careers. On paper, it’s a unit that Raiders quarterback Derek Carr should be able to carve up, especially with his new cadre of weapons that includes a pair of promising rookies starting at receiver in Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards. It will be interesting to see if Ruggs and Edwards can outdo the production of the Raiders’ more established pair of primary targets, slot receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller.
Problematic matchup: Panthers defensive front vs. Raiders offensive line
It amounts to a bit of speculation, but Carolina is banking on the defensive line emerging as the strength of its team after using its first two draft picks on the unit. Rookie defensive tackle Derrick Brown and rookie defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos are expected to create havoc alongside proven standouts Brian Burns and Kawaan Short. The Raiders’ offensive line remains a strength but may have more questions coming into the year than expected. The group’s biggest star, right tackle Trent Brown, hardly practiced at all through training camp. Left guard Richie Incognito was fantastic last season, but his ascent came out of nowhere and he recently turned 37 years old, making some decline likely. Left tackle Kolton Miller and right guard Gabe Jackson have played brilliantly at times, but mediocre at others. Pro-Bowl center Rodney Hudson might be the only sure thing. It’s a bit alarmist to expect the Raiders’ offensive line to be anything less than solid on the season as a whole, but the Panthers aren’t going to allow them the opportunity to ease into anything.
Gamebreaker: Linebacker Cory Littleton
The Raiders made the former Los Angeles Ram their biggest free-agent acquisition with a three-year, $36 million contract explicitly to improve their pass coverage against running backs. It’s awfully appropriate then that Littleton starts the season tasked with slowing down the NFL’s most prolific receiving back of the last three seasons in Christian McCaffrey. The fourth-year star has caught 303 passes for 2,523 yards and 15 touchdowns since Carolina drafted him out of Stanford in 2017. He’s exactly the type of player who has torn up the Raiders recently, as they ranked 30th in the NFL in covering running backs last season by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. It’s up to Littleton to make sure Las Vegas improves in that area this season, and it starts against McCaffrey.
They Said It
“There certainly shouldn’t be a lot of crowd noise. I don’t know what they pipe in, but that shouldn’t be a problem. And the environment, if you have to get an NFL player fired up on Sunday at 1:00, you’re not in the right profession. These guys will be ready to go.”
-Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther
“It’s a little like when you were a high school coach and you used to drive across the county to exchange film, but unfortunately their coach never showed up, so you didn’t get any tape to look at.”
-Coach Jon Gruden on the challenges of preparing for a new-look Carolina team
“I’ve never been to an NFL game so there will be a lot going through my head in the pregame and everything but after the first play, it’s back to football.”
-Rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III
“My man can do anything; he runs that offense. I don’t know necessarily where they’re going to put him. He’s always a factor in whatever type of play they’re going to run. We’ve just got to key him and do our best to shut him down.”
-Linebacker Cory Littleton on stopping Christian McCaffrey
Pro Football Focus’ play-action passing score last year on Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, which was first in the NFL. Bridgewater graded out below average in every other category, but his efficiency out of play action allowed him to rack up a 5-0 record filling in for Drew Brees with the New Orleans Saints. The Panthers don’t have quite the same talent around Bridgewater as the Saints did, but the Raiders will need to be extra cautious before over-committing to the run on any given snap. They were 18th defensively against play action last year according to Football Outsiders.
Best Bet: Christian McCaffrey will not score a touchdown
A tip to use throughout the season: The “yes” on proposition wagers asking if a star player will score a touchdown is almost always inflated. Betting on McCaffrey to not score a touchdown should be available at a decent plus price, which represents value given both the uncertainty of the Panthers’ offense under a new coaching staff and the Raiders’ matchup ability. The Raiders’ defense should be better against the run, and with Littleton in the fold and on patrol against McCaffrey, their biggest passing vulnerabilities should be more out wide and further downfield.