ALAMEDA (AP) ― The Oakland Raiders are a fun-loving group these days. Players joke and laugh on their way to and from the practice field. Rookies are needled by veterans for giving interviews.
It’s going so well that even their starting middle linebacker, who previously shied away from the media, made a rare exception to his season-long silence.
Funny what a three-game winning streak will do.
Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour thinks it’s exactly the type of atmosphere the Raiders need.
“You always try and have that childlike mindset from a playing-the-game standpoint,” Seymour said. “When you win, you start to develop that. Moving forward you just want to keep that vibe going. It’s a process and I think we’re all starting to understand what it takes to be a champion. Guys are really buying into what we’re trying to do.”
Seymour has been at the heart of Oakland’s turnaround.
Oakland (5-4) is on a bye this week but Seymour isn’t worried about losing momentum. Instead, the break comes at a perfect time for a team that was without injured cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, tight end Zach Miller and wide receivers Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy in Sunday’s 23-20 overtime win against Kansas City.
The 31-year-old is anchoring a defense that is seventh overall and tied with San Diego for second in the NFL with 27 sacks, one behind league-leading Green Bay.
After a slow start with their run defense, the Raiders have improved significantly over the past month. Oakland is allowing an average of only 95 yards on the ground over its last five game. In the win against Kansas City, the Raiders held the Chiefs’ No. 1-ranked rushing attack to a mere 104 yards.
That helped propel Oakland to the overtime win while extending the team’s streak to three games, its longest since 2002.
“I think we’re showing that it was in the making,” Seymour said. “Obviously the first game of the season got away from us. We were kind of up and down. We knew we could have really been in all the games we played in this year, so that’s been encouraging.”
Seymour didn’t always feel so optimistic.
When he was traded to Oakland from New England on Sept. 6, 2009, in exchange for the Raiders’ first-round draft pick in 2011, Seymour was initially reticent to fly to the West Coast. He didn’t even report to his new team until two days before the team’s season-opener.
Looking back, Seymour laughs at the trade and says the Raiders got a bargain.
“Oh yeah,” Seymour said. “I think (owner Al Davis) wolfed the Patriots on that trade.”
It would be difficult to argue.
Seymour and Tommy Kelly, along with the rotating defensive end trio of Matt Shaughnessy, Trevor Scott and rookie Lamarr Houston, have Oakland’s defense playing at its most productive and consistent level since 2002, when the Raiders won the last of their three straight AFC West titles.
It was also the last time Oakland made it to the playoffs, something Seymour has focused on changing since his arrival.
“Really from the first time he got here, he brought an air of ‘I’ve been through a lot of battles and I know how to prepare, I know what it takes to be successful,’” coach Tom Cable said. “He speaks when he feels he needs to, but he certainly is very well-respected. He’s been to the top of the mountain.”
The effects of Seymour’s approach are tangible everywhere.
Players were relaxed and jovial as they walked off the field following practice Tuesday. Rookie cornerback Jeremy Ware, who made his first career interception in the game against Kansas City, took several verbal jabs from teammates while stopping to talk to a reporter.
Middle linebacker Rolando McClain, Oakland’s first-round draft pick who has previously turned down nearly every media request for an interview, even found time to break his silence. That fulfilled a promise he made when he asked Raiders fans to sell out last week’s game against the Chiefs, which they did.
“I wanted the sellout because I knew we were about to do something special,” McClain said. “You can feel it in the locker room, you can feel it in practice. We’re about to be pretty darned scary around here. I just wanted the fans’ support.”
Notes: Cable is hopeful the Raiders will get Asomugha (ankle), Miller (arch), Murphy (chest) and defensive tackle John Henderson (foot) back after the bye. There’s also a chance that Schilens, who hasn’t played since offseason knee surgery, could be back.
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