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Graney: Gruden takes all-or-nothing approach to 2021 season

Updated September 8, 2021 - 6:20 pm

When they enter the Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center for daily practice, Raiders players are welcomed by three shining examples of excellence.

Super Bowl trophies have a way of inspiring.

Make no mistake. Those won by the Raiders are strategically placed to motivate a franchise hoping to again reach such heights.

“Every time I walk in, I stare at them,” said eight-year starting quarterback Derek Carr. “I can’t imagine anything cooler than that in football.”

Since Jon Gruden returned to coach the Raiders in 2018, Carr says there has been one consistent message from him — do whatever it takes to hoist another Lombardi Trophy, the prize that goes to the Super Bowl champion.

First, though, the Raiders have to actually qualify for the tournament. It hasn’t been easy of late.

For a really long time.

Must be better

Playoffs or bust. All or nothing. Pick one. It’s the fourth year of Gruden’s second act coaching the Raiders, and much bigger things should be expected after what has been a 19-29 record over the past three seasons. It’s time they’re much better under him.

“The goal is always to win the Super Bowl,” said linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. “That’s what all-or-nothing means to me and every guy out here. Work as hard as you can, and everything else will sort itself out over time.”

Gruden also coached the Raiders from 1998 to 2001. It was in his third season when they made the playoffs. Lost in the AFC championship game to Baltimore. The following year, it was a Tuck Rule defeat to the Patriots in the divisional round.

He is in a 15th season as an NFL coach, and his teams have made the playoffs five times. That includes a Tampa Bay side that beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

But the Raiders have earned just one playoff berth in the last 18 years, a forgettable trend that Gruden seems confident can be reversed this season.

Few outside the organization agree. The team’s win total is 7.5, and the under isn’t earning a playoff spot. Nothing short of 9-8 over a now 17-game schedule would flirt with one. If that.

The odds for Gruden’s team making the playoffs:

Yes is a plus-325 underdog.

No is a minus-400 favorite.

You see where most folks stand, and it isn’t on the side of earning a berth.

There is also this: The Raiders have the league’s second-toughest schedule based on projected win totals.

“Same message as last year and every year,” Gruden said about his all-or-nothing mantra. “You got to go all out. I’m not going to get too deep and philosophical, but we all got to be on the same page.

“We’ve got a great group of guys. The energy level is extreme, and we’ve got good veteran leadership on this team. I like the culture here better than any of the teams I’ve had in a long time or been a part of.”

Hoping against hope

He hopes key defensive additions will turn that side of the ball from awful to respectable. Hopes what was a top 10 offense last season executes even better. Hopes the red zone isn’t again scarier than a haunted house.

Hopes the Chiefs come back to the AFC West pack some and the Chargers aren’t as improved as many believe.

Hopes it all occurs. Or at least a majority of it.

“Effort, and it’s not just 10 yards effort,” said Carr, who as an example mentioned a practice play from 340-pound defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins.

“I handed a ball off and turned around. Hankins stopped, put his foot in the ground and beat two guys to the football. That’s the biggest man on our team.”

Carr said he told him, “‘That right there is going to win us a Super Bowl.’ I think it’s that day-to-day grind that gets us to that end goal of what (Gruden) expects.”

Which is this: Playoffs or bust. All or nothing.

Welcome to the Raiders, 2021.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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