EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Las Vegas Raiders and New York Giants are preparing to play Sunday with one dealing with tragedy and the other COVID-19 issues.
Coming off their bye week, the AFC West-leading Raiders (5-2) were stunned when wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was involved in a fatal car crash early Tuesday morning that killed a woman and her dog.
The 22-year-old player was released by the team hours later. Prosecutors say Ruggs was driving at 156 mph and had a blood-alcohol content twice Nevada’s legal limit.
The crash came less than a month after Jon Gruden stepped down as coach because of disparaging emails he sent before being hired by the team in 2018.
“These are two totally different situations,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “Some similar emotions, some very different emotions. But the message has to stay the same. Honestly, I don’t want it to right now. If I’m selfish, I don’t want it to. I want to say a lot of different things. But we have a game this week and I’ve got a job to do, and so do the guys in that locker room.”
The Giants (2-6) have been dealing with COVID-19 issues since returning home Tuesday following a loss to the Chiefs on Monday night. Practices have been delayed and some coaches and players sent home and then told to come back because of numerous false positive test results.
Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams said while it’s unfortunate some players have been forced to miss practice, he said the team dealt with the same issues during the pandemic last season.
“Because we have experience, we know not to let that be a distraction,” said Williams, who’s tied for the team lead with 5 1/2 sacks.
While they have split their last two games, the Giants defense has played its best games the past two weeks. It will be in for another tough one against Carr and the Raiders’ No 2 ranked passing offense.
The Raiders are off to their best start since 2016 and interim coach Rich Bisaccia is looking for his third straight win since replacing Gruden. But Las Vegas has an NFL-worst 3-15 mark coming off the bye over the past 18 seasons and has been outscored by 20.5 points per game in losing the last four.
BIG PLAY ZAY
With Ruggs released, Zay Jones will get a much bigger opportunity as the starting receiver alongside Bryan Edwards.
Jones has played just 21% of the offensive snaps this season with six catches for 115 yards and a TD. But he has made the most of his chances with the winning TD in overtime of the season opener against Baltimore and a key 43-yard catch against the Eagles two weeks ago.
“We have a high expectation for what Zay can bring us, just like what he’s brought us up to this point,” Bisaccia said. “So, we’re all going to get opportunities throughout the course of our careers and our time here, and again it’s how we respond to the opportunity given to us.”
With Saquon Barkley sidelined since spraining an ankle against Dallas on Oct. 8, former Raider Devontae Booker has become the Giants’ No. 1 running back. He had a career-best 125 total yards against Kansas City on Monday, rushing for 60 yards and catching five passes for 65 yards.
Booker, who signed with the Giants as a free agent in the offseason, has 216 yards rushing and 17 catches for 138 yards. He has three touchdowns — two rushing and one receiving. He had three TDs with Las Vegas last season.
“He has hit the ground running and last week, Monday night, he made a number of big plays for us and got us down the field,” Giants tight end Evan Engram said of Booker.
POST BYE BLUES
Getting a week off during the season hasn’t treated the Raiders well. Bisaccia met with about 15 players on how to get better results this year.
“We have to stay on top of that and we have to hold each other to that standard because if we don’t then we’ll be one of those teams that goes the wrong way, and we don’t want to be that,” Carr said. “Nothing is promised if you just do things the right way, but it sure does help if we can look at things in the past and say, ‘Well, I think this will help us be better.’”
BRADBERRY’S NEW ROLE
Raiders tight end Darren Waller, who has 33 catches for 378 yards and two TDs, is expected back after missing one game with an ankle injury. The Giants might have a surprise for him.
New York had great success playing big cornerback James Bradberry against Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce, limiting him to four catches for 27 yards.
Giants defensive coordinator Pat Graham said two or three players will get a chance to cover Waller, including Bradberry.
“Any time you’ve got a big corner, their skillset working with receivers or going against receivers, and then you add that size element versus a tight end,” Graham said, “I think it potentially helps us.”
OFF THE EDGE
The Raiders’ much improved defense has been led all season by edge rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby.
Ngakoue has multiple sacks in two of the past three games. In Denver — the game in between the other two — Crosby got three sacks of his own. Both players rank in the top 10 in quarterback pressures this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.
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