Rams vs. Raiders final score, takeaways: Derek Carr's implosion soils Jon Gruden's return to Oakland

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Jon Gruden's wait for his first win since 2008 will continue for at least one more week. For that, he can blame the franchise quarterback he inherited, Derek Carr

In Gruden's long-awaited return to the sidelines on Monday night, the Raiders welcomed the Rams into Oakland and flirted with a win before ultimately losing 33-13 to a far more talented team after their $125 million quarterback imploded in the second half. The game was closer than the scoreline suggests. The Raiders led at halftime and didn't trail until the final play of the third quarter. The bloated margin of defeat can be pinned entirely on Carr, not Gruden. 

After spending an entire offseason criticizing Gruden's personnel moves, we won't spend the next week debating his ability to game-plan or call plays. We will, however, spend the next week wondering if the Raiders gave the mega-contract to the wrong player before Gruden arrived. 

Spoiler alert: They did.

For all of the qualms that existed about Gruden The Football Czar during the offseason -- most notably, the decision to trade Khalil Mack to the Bears on the first day of September -- there are just as many reasons to celebrate Gruden The Football Coach who nearly led an outgunned Raiders team to a shocking upset win over the Super Bowl contender Rams of Los Angeles. It didn't happen, but the fact that they were even in a position in the fourth quarter to beat the Rams is a positive sign for a franchise in need of all the positive signs it can get.

The Raiders didn't lose because Gruden isn't a good enough coach. They lost because their quarterback got skittish in the second half. Carr started hot, but fizzled as the night dragged on until he folded like a house of cards.

The thing is, even though Gruden is coaching in a league that values results over process -- there are no moral victories in the NFL -- there's a lot to be encouraged about. The Raiders gave him $100 million in January. Gruden proceeded to spend the offseason making the roster older. He traded a third-round pick for a receiver he cut before the season. A week before the season, he traded his best player, tried to claim he wasn't involved in daily negotiations, and later said that Mack didn't want to play for the Raiders. We spent the entire offseason laughing at Gruden for seemingly thinking that it was still 1998. And then, in his coaching debut, in front of a raucous crowd and against a Super Bowl contender, the Raiders hung with the Rams. For a half, they even outplayed them.

The Raiders, using some hard-nosed running coupled with a passing game that attacked the Rams' linebacking corps, dominated the first half even if the scoreboard didn't necessarily reflect that. But after a damn good start that included Marshawn Lynch going all Beast Mode all over Rams and Jared Cook looking like the tight end we always wanted him to be, the Raiders couldn't match the Rams' output. In the first half, the Raiders kept the Rams' high-powered offense off the field by controlling the ball for more than 21 minutes. They led 13-10 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Raiders didn't immediately break, holding the Rams to a short field goal. The scoreline remained at 13-13, but the Rams finally got rolling again on their final series of the third quarter, taking a 20-13 lead on Jared Goff's touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp. They extended their lead to 10 points when Greg Zuerlein drilled a 55-yard field goal from the infield dirt with just over nine minutes remaining. And that pretty much sealed it.

No, wait! This horrific, vomit-inducing pick by Carr sealed it.

No coach on the planet should be blamed for that.

From the Raiders' perspective, there's no shame in losing to the Rams. They might just be the best team in football. The Raiders, even if they still had Mack on their roster, were supposed to lose this game. Gruden, $100 million contract and all, deserves more than one game to show what he's worth. In Gruden's defense, his work as a play-caller wasn't the problem. Carr had open targets, the Raiders ran the ball well, and the screens worked. The scheme wasn't the problem. The problem was their lack of talent. The problem was their quarterback. It's a stark reminder that talent almost always wins out. Gruden can be the best coach on the planet, but they're not beating teams like the Rams until they upgrade their old and bad roster. Yes, that might include the quarterback position.

That last part -- the part about the talent level of a roster -- matters, because this is Gruden's team even if Reggie McKenzie is still the general manager in name. The Raiders' performance on Monday night doesn't absolve Gruden of his front office sins. Still, one can imagine the Raiders succeeding again with Gruden if they can turn all of those picks they got from the Bears into cheap, high-quality players. Should we be optimistic about that aspect? Probably not.

But don't be surprised if Gruden dumps Carr and searches for his own quarterback.

The Rams, on the other hand, they didn't do what we expected them to do. We expected them to hound the Raiders, make Gruden look silly, and seal their win by halftime. They didn't do that. Jared Goff struggled, nearly throwing two red-zone picks and missing too many deep balls to count. They didn't get the ball to Todd Gurley nearly enough. He touched the ball five times -- 5! -- in the first half. They got shredded in the intermediate portion of the field in the first half.

But they won. And really, that's all that matters. We saw it with the Eagles, who won an ugly season opener. These teams are so insanely talented, but rust -- especially when the preseason doesn't matter anymore -- has to be expected. What's important is that the Rams found a way to win an ugly game. It won't be surprising when they're rolling by mid-October, when that ugly win will matter as they fight for home-field advantage in a crowded NFC playoff picture. The Rams have work to do. But they've got the coaches and players to reach the heights they're destined for.

Read on for nine more takeaways from the game.

1. Gruden's offense starts hot

Gruden is back. And it took him one series to put the NFL on notice.

Gruden said he wanted to throw the game back to 1998. So, it was fitting then that the first series of the Gruden Era Part II -- after Carr started it with a 45-yard pass to Cook -- ended with a handoff to his bruising back, Beast Mode, who carried the Rams' vaunted defense into the end zone for a 10-yard run that should've been stopped at the 3-yard line. Gruden saw the Rams' defensive line of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh and ran straight at them.

Carr, by the way, actually started 10 of 11 for 120 yards. And after three series netted 10 points, it looked like Gruden and Carr might be the league's next great duo.

2. Carr's flaws show up again

And then, the expected happened. Carr's flaws, which are widely known at this point, showed up. And those flaws prevented the Raiders from doing much of anything offensively after building a 13-10 halftime lead.

About those flaws: Carr's success is often tied to the players in front of him. If he's well protected by his offensive line, he can use his God-given arm to shred anyone. If he feels the hint of pressure, he crumbles. For the most part, the Raiders' offensive line held up against a Rams' defensive front that features an incredible interior, but a lackluster exterior. As a result, Carr was cooking early. And then, Carr felt the pressure, even when the pressure wasn't even there. His footwork and mechanics deteriorated.

Skittish is the word that comes to mind.

A bad interception in the first half, when the Raiders were driving to put the Rams in a two-score hole, soiled his otherwise excellent first half. Carr put this pass in the one spot he couldn't. Instead of leading Cook downfield and at worst, overthrowing him, he underthrew him to give the defensive back a shot at the pick. And it was picked.

Deep-ball interceptions were a theme of Carr's disappointing 2017 season. And wouldn't you know it, that interception came on a deep ball.

In the second half, Carr folded. In a tight game, he threw the ball away when there was no need to -- again, he felt pressure when pressure hadn't arrived yet.

Boos serenaded the Raiders after that play. Disbelief overtook the Coliseum after Carr's interception all but ended the game.

To complete the nightmare, Carr gifted Marcus Peters a free touchdown to make the game appear as if it'd been a blowout when the truth was, the Raiders could've won this game.

Carr finished 29 of 40 for 303 yards, no touchdowns, three picks, and a 62.8 passer rating.

Yes, the Rams' defense should be good again this season. Yes, it's his first game in Gruden's system. But what's concerning is that the flaws that have held Carr back in years past resurfaced again on Monday. If the Raiders really couldn't afford to pay Mack the money he deserves because they gave Carr $125 million last summer, man oh man will that end up going down as a costly decision.

It might not just have costed them $25 million per year. It might've also costed them Mack, a 27-year-old generational superstar pass rusher.

3. The Rams have a weakness and the Raiders attacked it early

The Rams' interest in Mack has been well documented. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, they offered first and third-round picks for the former Raiders, current Bears pass rusher. It's easy to scoff at that report and laugh at the Rams wanting yet another incredible defensive force, but the truth is, the Rams' defense has a weakness.

Their defensive interior features an all-time great combination, their secondary is great, but their linebacking core is a liability. There's a reason why Cook looked like mini Gronk. The Raiders targeted the Rams' linebackers in coverage with crossing routes and drags, and Cook was the main beneficiary of that strategy. Mack's not a linebacker who would drop into coverage of course, but the Rams' linebacking group remains a weakness.

Thankfully, the Rams have a pretty damn good defensive coordinator. Wade Phillips adjusted in the second half.

The Raiders didn't score a single point in the second half.

4. The Jared Cook Revenge Game?

Jared Cook's been a maddening player throughout his decade-long career. He's always had the physical tools to succeed, but inconsistency has plagued him stop after stop after stop. His second stop, of course, was St. Louis back when the Rams still lived in the midwest. There, Cook never fully caught on -- just like he never caught on anywhere else.

He was Carr's go-to target Monday. At halftime, he had six catches for 113 yards. He helped provide the Raiders with their 13-10 halftime lead by bulldozing Aqib Talib to manufacture a first down on third-and-long.

He finished with 180 yards on nine catches. Maybe it was just about the matchup, but after one week, Cook appears to be poised for a breakout 10 years into the making.

5. Todd Gurley: Still awesome at football

Gurley touched the ball five times in the first half. He still found a way to finish with 108 rushing yards on 20 carries (5.4 yards per carry) and 39 yards in the passing game. The Rams erred in not getting him the ball enough in the first half, but they corrected that mistake in the second half and rode Gurley to an ugly win.

Todd Gurley is still amazing at football.

Nobody should be surprised.

6. Goff needs to improve

Goff did enough to beat the Raiders, but he needs to improve over the course of the season. He missed more than a few deep balls, but got bailed out by a couple pass-interference penalties. He nearly got picked off twice in the red zone on telegraphed passes. His work under pressure wasn't great, although he wasn't nearly as bad as Carr in that department.

He finished 18 of 33 for 233 yards, two touchdowns, no picks, and a 97.2 passer rating. A lot of his success is more about Sean McVay's scheme and play-calling.

To be clear, it's not like he was bad. It's just that, if he can make the leap from good to great, the Rams' offense might just become an unstoppable force. In a way though, it's scary that the Rams won by 20 points when their quarterback was average at best.

7. Brandin Cooks was the focal point

I hope you drafted Brandin Cooks in your Fantasy leagues, because if Monday night is any indication, he's going to be the focal point of the Rams' aerial assault. He caught five passes for 87 yards and drew an additional 87 yards on pass interference penalties.

Cooks in this scheme can be a WR1 stud. Goff's deep ball, again, needs to improve for that to happen. 

8. Amari Cooper wasn't a focal point

Well, that wasn't how we expected the Raiders to use Amari Cooper. After taking an end-around for nine yards on the first series, he touched the ball only one more time all game long. In all, he caught one pass for nine yards and rushed for nine yards on one carry.

To put it another way ...

9. What's next

Both teams now turn their attention to important divisional contests. The Rams host the 0-1 Cardinals while the Raiders head to Denver for a showdown with the 1-0 Broncos.

Live-blog

Below, you'll find our live-blog from the game.

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