Revitalized Josh Jacobs key for Raiders as schedule toughens

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Tuesday, November 14, 2023

LAS VEGAS -- While the Las Vegas Raiders had a special visitor at Saturday's walkthrough practice, All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs received some specific advice to take into Sunday night's game against the New York Jets -- if not for the rest of the season -- from said guest.

Bo Jackson, the two-sport star who played for the Raiders from 1987-1991, had Jacobs' full attention.

"Man, you run a motherf---er over, you pick him up," Jackson told Jacobs. "You say, 'All right, I'm going to come back 40 seconds later.'"

"And," Jacobs said quietly, "I tried to have that mentality."

Indeed, in the Raiders' 16-12 victory over the Jets that evened Las Vegas' record at 5-5 (2-0 under interim coach Antonio Pierce), Jacobs rushed for a season-high 116 yards, his first 100-yard rushing mark game since Dec. 4, 2022, a stretch of 14 games. That skein also included Jacobs rushing for minus-2 yards at the Buffalo Bills in Week 2, the first time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger a defending league rushing champ finished a game with negative rushing yardage.

And with the toughest part of the Raiders' schedule upcoming -- at the Miami Dolphins (6-3) this upcoming Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Hard Rock Stadium, CBS) and home against the Kansas City Chiefs (7-2) on Nov. 26 -- the Raiders are going to need Jacobs to continue the production he's had the last two weeks.

Consider: under former coach and offensive playcaller Josh McDaniels, Jacobs struggled to get going in rushing for a combined 408 yards on 3.1 yards per carry with three rushing touchdowns in eight games. Mind you, Jacobs sat out the entirety of the offseason program, training camp and the exhibition season in a contract stalemate.

Under interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree, who was elevated from quarterbacks coach to offensive playcaller after McDaniels was fired on Oct. 31, Jacobs has rushed for a combined 214 yards on 4.0 yards per attempt and two scores in two games.

The Dolphins, who are coming off their bye week, have the No. 13-ranked run defense in the NFL. The Chiefs are 17th.

Against the Jets' fearsome front, Jacobs ran behind a reimagined offensive line with stalwart left tackle Kolton Miller sidelined by a shoulder injury. Jermaine Eluemunor moved to the left side from right tackle and Thayer Munford Jr. started at right tackle.

The Raiders run game started slowly, with Jacobs having just one carry for two yards in the first quarter. He had 28 yards on nine attempts at halftime.

Pierce said one of his messages to the Raiders early in the week was the need to impose their will.

"And the only way you can do that is by one of two things, right? Stopping the run on defense, and running the ball on offense," Pierce said.

"In the second half, you saw what time it was, right? It was Josh Jacobs Time. It was Hammer Time. And you saw the energy, not only with our offensive line, our running back in our offense, but our team. It changed our whole mentality in that third quarter, and I think that's where things started shifting our favor."

As Jacobs said, "I told [Pierce] on the sideline, 'Everybody don't want the burden.' I said, 'S---, I want the burden. Put the burden on me and however it goes I feel like I could live with it.'

"It really felt like a slugfest out there. I was getting hit by three or four [Jets players] on some plays. I was like, 'Damn!'"

It was late in the third quarter when Jacobs finally broke one, his 40-yard dash up the gut and then down the right sideline his longest run of the season. And he gave credit to right guard Greg Van Roten.

"Look, [the Jets] want you to bounce outside," Van Roten told Jacobs in the huddle. "Keep it inside. Just trust it."

Jacobs' response?

"O.K., I got you," he told his offensive lineman.

"Literally, that next play, we hit a big one," Jacobs said.

It was Jacobs' 16th career game with at least 100 rushing yards, breaking a tie with Clem Daniels for the second-most in Raiders history. Only Hall of Famer Marcus Allen has more, with 22.

But it did not come without drama. Why would it? These are the Raiders, after all, and rarely do they do anything easy.

Or did you miss Jacobs losing a fumble -- his second of the game -- at the Jets' 25-yard line with more than six minutes to play, on a drive that could have sealed the game much sooner?

Instead, the Jets drove down to the Raiders' 20-yard line, where middle linebacker Robert Spillane picked off Jets quarterback Zach Wilson at the 15-yard line and returned it 25 yards with 74 seconds to play.

Still, after the Raiders had to punt, the defense again had to withstand a last-second Hail Mary pass into the end zone to hold on.

And that was when Jacobs could truly exhale.

"I was just hoping the defense didn't let me down," he said with a smile, shaking his head, "because I ain't want to be the reason why we lost.

"They saved me today, so I went up personally and shook all their hands after the game."

Talk about a special visit and a specific message. One that should be taken to heart the rest of the season in general, at Miami this weekend in particular.

Related Video