MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For a team already on the way out of Oakland, set to move to Las Vegas next year, hitting the road for such a long stretch will hardly be the biggest challenge to face the Raiders in a season already filled with setbacks.
Well, the first of six straight weeks without a game at home sure was problematic.
League rushing leader Dalvin Cook cruised past the 100-yard mark for the third straight time, Kirk Cousins rebounded from his rattled performance the week before with a turnover-free afternoon, and the Minnesota Vikings rolled by the Raiders 34-14 on Sunday.
Cousins enjoyed a sack-free game for the first time in his Vikings career and finished a crisp 15 for 21 for 174 yards and one score to Adam Thielen on their first possession. That was one of three touchdown drives of 75-plus yards for the Vikings (2-1), each of which was aided by Raiders penalties. Cornerback Gareon Conley was flagged for holding during a third-and-9 incompletion by Cousins, extending the opening possession.
"When you're playing a team like Minnesota, you just can't give them second life," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "You can't do it."
Next week, the Raiders (1-2) play at Indianapolis. Then they travel to London to face Chicago, counting as one of their home games. After their bye week, they go back on the road two more times to take on Green Bay and Houston, before finally returning to the Oakland Coliseum on Nov. 3 to host Detroit. At this rate, the Raiders could be well on their way to another top-five overall draft pick. They've already endured the Antonio Brown sideshow that led to his release and had first-round draft pick Johnathan Abram suffer a season-ending shoulder injury in the opener.
"We're going to do a lot of bonding time, right? We're going to be together as a team," Carr said, dismissing the perceived unfairness of their schedule. "No one cares. We've just got to win games, right?"
Carr threw an interception that set up a Vikings touchdown and was sacked four times for 28 yards, under frequent pressure by a Vikings defensive line that's one of the most dangerous in the NFL.
Left guard Richie Incognito returned from suspension to make his Raiders debut, but right guard Gabe Jackson remained out with a knee injury. In the fourth quarter, right tackle Trent Brown limped off the field, after missing time in practice this week to a knee injury. Left tackle Kolton Miller had plenty of trouble blocking defensive end Everson Griffen.
Even when the Raiders frequently used maximum protection schemes, facing so many pass-likely scenarios after falling behind 21-0 early in the second quarter, they still had trouble keeping Minnesota's front four away from Carr.
"You get down like that against that team, it's going to be hard to fight back," Carr said.
Carr went 27 for 34 for 242 yards and touchdowns to J.J. Nelson and Tyrell Williams. The bright spot, clearly, was tight end Darren Waller, who racked up 13 receptions for 134 yards, even if that came mostly in garbage time.
"It's not getting any easier for us, but I don't think guys in this locker room are looking for easy," Waller said. "They're looking to take that road that's going to be as tough as possible, because that will bring the best out of us. It will bring the worst out of us at times, but in the end it will flush that all out and bring the best out of us because we're really being put to the test. I'm looking forward to it."