The opening season for the Raiders in Las Vegas proved to be a bit of a dud.
With no fans allowed at games, the Raiders stumbled to a 2-6 record at home in their first season since moving from Oakland and missed the playoffs for the 17th time in 18 seasons.
Now they get a second chance at an opening when they welcome in fans for the first time in the regular season when they get to show off their fancy new digs on Monday night against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.
“I still sometimes pinch myself,” coach Jon Gruden said. “You’re out there looking at the mountains. You see the Strip out there and you’re getting ready to play pro football here. It’s really a credit to Mark Davis and a lot of people in this city to make this happen. Vegas is an exciting and, like I said, I hope we give them a show that is worth the price.”
The Raiders opened the $1.9 billion stadium just off that Las Vegas Strip last season, but never allowed fans in to see the games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Davis opted against having small crowds, saying he would only let fans in when every season-ticket holder could come. Even Davis stayed home last season, watching home games off-site.
The 65,000-seat stadium that resembles the Death Star from “Star Wars” from the outside features a translucent roof that allows in natural light, sliding lanai doors that look out at the Strip, and a field-level club in one end zone that features two DJ booths, premium bottle service and a 45,000-watt sound system.
It's a far cry from the dilapidated Oakland Coliseum with its dirt infield and run-down locker rooms that flooded.
All that's been missing so far is a home-field advantage as the Raiders matched a franchise worst mark with six home losses last season.
The Raiders hope their passionate fans help change that pattern in 2021.
“I’m really excited,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That preseason game, I was hyped even though I knew I wasn’t playing. Just going through pregame was awesome. Hearing our fans, when the defense made a big hit, hearing them go nuts and things like that, that was fun.”
Baltimore lost running back J.K. Dobbins in the preseason to a season-ending knee injury. Of course, quarterback Lamar Jackson ran for 1,005 yards in 2020, a big reason the Ravens topped the league in rushing.
“J.K. is a tremendous back. We would have loved to have him, but we’re confident in the guys we have,” receiver Marquise Brown said. “We’re confident in what we can do in the pass game. So, we’re just going to continue to go forward and keep pushing.”
Gus Edwards injured his knee as well. Ty’Son Williams, a practice squad player for the Ravens last season, made this year’s team and is expected to contribute at running back. Baltimore also signed Le’Veon Bell to the practice squad, and agent Drew Rosenhaus said Thursday that Devonta Freeman was joining the Ravens’ practice squad as well.
The Raiders focused heavily on improving a defense that allowed the most points in the NFL in Gruden's first three seasons. Gus Bradley was hired to replace the fired Paul Guenther as coordinator and has a few new pieces that should help in edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, veteran cornerback Casey Hayward and rookie safety Tre'von Moehrig.
A foot injury that placed linebacker Nicholas Morrow on injured reserve left the Raiders seeking reinforcements at the position just before the season. They traded for Denzel Perryman for depth in the middle and then last week signed K.J. Wright, who was still seeking a job despite being one of the most dependable linebackers in the league the past decade.
“(I) had a lot of people doubt me this offseason, I’m still keeping it going,” Wright said. “I’m thankful to be here, but that burning desire you’re talking about, it’s on 100 right now.”
THE NEXT STEP
Baltimore won a playoff game last season for the first time with Jackson, but the Ravens had room for improvement — namely, their passing game, which ranked last in the league. Baltimore acquired Sammy Watkins to boost the receiving group. The Ravens also drafted receiver Rashod Bateman in the first round, although he’s been out with groin issues.
“We have a possibility to take it the distance for whoever gets the ball,” Brown said. “So, I’m excited about that.”
For the second straight season the Raiders are projected to start the inexperienced Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards at receiver. The duo struggled as rookies with Ruggs catching 26 passes and Edwards only 11. With Nelson Agholor having left in free agency and John Brown getting released, the Raiders will need much better production from those two to help quarterback Derek Carr in the passing game.
AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in Baltimore contributed to this report
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL