INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP)The Raiders were born in Oakland, and that’s where they spent most of their life.
Like so many other Californians approaching their 60s, they moved to Las Vegas a few years ago to get the modern, spacious new home they could never afford back in the Golden State.
But for 13 mostly thrilling years in the prime of their lives, the Raiders were major players in Hollywood – and their hold on Los Angeles’ football fans has barely loosened as the decades roll on.
”A lot of old Raider fans, they stay Raider fans,” said Rams offensive lineman Coleman Shelton, a Pasadena native born in 1995 during the same summer in which the Raiders left Los Angeles. ”They follow them wherever they go. … I didn’t have any team here growing up, but obviously there were leftover fans from when the Raiders were in LA, and even when the Rams were in LA.”
Seven seasons into the Rams’ return to Southern California, they are gradually overtaking the Raiders as Los Angeles’ hometown team. Although football fandom in this area became fickle and fractured during the NFL’s 21-year absence, the defending Super Bowl champions might already be tops among people younger or older than the Gen Xers and elder millennials who famously kept their Raiders allegiance from the 1990s.
Although the Raiders (5-7) have made annual trips to LA since the AFC West rival Chargers’ relocation in 2017, the Silver and Black on Thursday night will make their first regular-season visit to face the Rams (3-9) since the latter’s Los Angeles homecoming.
This symbolic collision of the past and future of LA football could have been a landmark moment for two franchises that entered the season harboring playoff aspirations at a minimum. But both teams currently have much bigger concerns than fighting for the hearts and minds of the bipartisan SoCal crowd that will pack SoFi Stadium for the prime-time showdown.
”We just have great support there,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said. ”We felt it on opening day (against the Chargers), and I’m sure we’re going to feel it (Thursday) night.”
The Rams have lost six straight games amidst the worst season in NFL history by a defending champion so far, while the Raiders have won three straight while desperately trying to crawl out of the hole created by their 2-7 start.
”Because of the way that we didn’t win certain games early on in the season, every next game is the most important,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. ”Defending champs, stars all over the field on their side of the football, so it’s a tough challenge for us, but it’s what I’m excited about. Our fans usually travel well to LA, so I’m excited about that.”
The Rams have three options at quarterback, but none is Matthew Stafford, who is out with a bruised spinal cord. John Wolford wasn’t outstanding in Los Angeles’ loss to Seattle last weekend while dealing with a neck injury, and mobile third-stringer Bryce Perkins wasn’t any better the previous week. The Rams claimed Baker Mayfield off waivers from Carolina on Tuesday, and while the former No. 1 draft pick probably will be active Thursday, coach Sean McVay is hoping he won’t need to play.
HOBBS BACK IN ACTION
Cornerback Nate Hobbs had a major impact on the Raiders’ struggling pass defense last week after coming back from a broken hand for his first game since early October, making eight tackles and recovering a fumble against the Chargers. He could be primed for another big game against the Rams’ makeshift passing offense.
”I felt great,” Hobbs said. ”Honestly, I didn’t even think about my hand. I just went out there and . competed. That’s what I like to do. That’s what I tell myself, every play is win the down and compete, so that’s what I did every play.”
RAMSEY VS ADAMS
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Raiders receiver Davante Adams have had several memorable showdowns over the years. Adams enters this meeting on a run of solid play, with 41 catches for 664 yards and seven touchdowns over the past five games, while Ramsey has struggled occasionally along with the Rams’ fading defense.
TRICK PLAY/NOT A TRICK PLAY
The flea flicker is seen by many as a gadget play, but not so much for McDaniels.
”I look at it, it’s a play-action pass,” he said. ”I mean, that’s what it is. Instead of faking the ball to the running back, you just hand it to him, and then he gives it right back to you.”
Whatever you want to call it, McDaniels has called for the flea flicker/play-action pass each of the past two weeks. The plays worked to perfection, resulting in touchdown passes to wide-open receivers: Mack Hollins caught a 36-yard pass at Seattle and Adams a 45-yarder against the Chargers.
Josh Jacobs has rushed for 482 yards and three TDs with 5.81 yards per attempt during the Raiders’ three-game winning streak. Los Angeles’ run defense has been solid, ranking fourth in the NFL with linebacker Bobby Wagner leading the effort – but All-Pro lineman Aaron Donald will miss his second straight game with a high ankle sprain.
AP Sports Writer Mark Anderson in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
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