Henry Ruggs admitted he had extra motivation in Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, even if he didn’t want to divulge the source.
“I had a little fire behind me for this game,” he said. “I was just ready to go. I don’t like to say too much because I don’t like to start anything. But some things were said, and I was ready to play and just prove who I am.”
The second-year wide receiver’s play did plenty of talking.
Ruggs made two spectacular catches in key situations to help the Raiders to a dramatic 31-28 overtime victory Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.
Ruggs finished with four catches for 78 yards and picked up 7 yards on his lone rushing attempt in a game in which he and fellow second-year wideout Bryan Edwards continued to establish themselves as foundational pieces of the offense after somewhat disappointing rookie seasons.
Edwards caught three passes for 89 yards, including a 34-yard reception on the final possession of overtime to set up the game-winning kick.
“I’m always going to be confident in those guys,” coach Jon Gruden said. “We were confident on draft day. All they have to do is keep playing and keep taking advantage of their at-bats. Both of those guys had big days against one of the better secondaries in pro football. The fun thing for me is I see these young guys really come alive. I see a different look in their eyes. I see confidence, and now they’re starting to demand the ball, so they get on my nerves a little bit.”
Gruden will gladly welcome the pestering if the two continue to play as they did Sunday.
Ruggs thinks the success is only beginning.
“The biggest thing is just being comfortable now,” he said. “We’re more confident in our assignments and our jobs and knowing what we have to do to help our team.”
The speedster made one spectacular catch down the left sideline during which he got open, then found a way to get both feet in just inside the boundary. That reception came after he assured himself of a spot on the highlight reel by going up over star cornerback Xavien Howard to make a catch in the second quarter.
It might have been Howard who motivated Ruggs. After last season’s meeting, Howard said on a podcast that he had made a 4.3 receiver look as if he’s running a 4.5.
If that was what drove Ruggs, he made Howard eat his words.
“He made that play against one of the three best corners in the NFL,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “I gave him a chance to make the play, and he’s proven that as well as he can run, he plays the vertical game, too. I’m sure you’ve seen some of his basketball highlights. He can go up and get the ball.”
Carr has similar faith in Edwards, and the chemistry is starting to show. He thinks it started through pickup sessions in the park at 6 a.m. over the summer and has only continued to grow.
“I definitely challenged them, and they stepped up,” Carr said. “Going against these corners and that defense, you go back to last year and how many turnovers they caused, and you watch them on film and how sticky their coverage is against really good receivers and they’re making some huge plays for us.”
The second-year pros also impressed third-year receiver Hunter Renfrow, who had five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.
“I love Bryan and Henry, and it’s just so much fun watching them play,” he said. “I get to run a route, and then we throw it deep and I get to sit there and watch from the best seat in the house. It’s fun being their teammate and watching them develop, because they took a lot of criticism from people last year for not having the type of year they wanted and they were hurt a little bit.”
More performances like Sunday’s, especially against defenders with reputations like that of the Dolphins, will make their rookie years seem like a distant memory.
“I feel like I’m a playmaker, and I can make plays with the best in this league no matter who they are or what their name is,” he said.