Each of the teams in the AFC West has suffered a blowout loss at least once this season. The San Diego Chargers gave up more rushing yards to one man than any other team has ever given up in a devastating loss to the Minnesota Vikings (35-17). The Denver Broncos lost to the Detroit Lions by nearly 40 points, and the Kansas City Chiefs were torn apart by the Broncos when they played earlier this month. To complete the trend, the Raiders suffered their worst loss of the season last Sunday in Jacksonville (49-11).
The defense finally self-destructed after a season of total frustration. Last season the Oakland Raiders defense knew they were doing everything they could to keep their team in each game. This season they know they’ve failed (at least for the most part) to pick up the slack for an up-and-down offense that shined at times, and imploded at times, but rarely got the support they needed from their cohorts on defense.
With 7:43 left in the season opener against the Lions, the Raiders took the lead, but like what occurred in the waning minutes in the games the Raiders played against the (Indianapolis) Colts, the Broncos in Denver, and the visiting Chicago Bears, the Raiders D could not hold a 4th quarter lead. Head Coach Lane Kiffin has had a tough season, and has had mixed reviews, but I was there when he brought the entire team on the field to motivate the defense after the Raiders took the lead against the Colts two weeks ago. Kiffin made the entire stadium erupt that day, and made me believe that he was starting to grow some real love for the franchise, fans, and players that have trusted him since day one, even though he came in with a thin resume.
If the Raiders D could’ve held the Vikings’ and Chargers’ running attacks (when they played earlier this season) from such huge numbers (228 & 206 yard respectively), then the points their teammates on offense scored (22 & 14 respectively) might have been enough to achieve victory. Instead of getting into exactly what needs to be altered to better the Raiders run-D, let’s just say that if they would’ve had the players to improve their stats from the bottom to the middle of the league, then they probably would have won all the games mentioned above.
But adding 6 wins to the Raiders season doesn’t cover all the “what ifs”; the Raiders also loss a couple of games that could’ve been won by simply having a competent quarterback. Daunte Culpepper lost two games for the Raiders in the final minutes by throwing an interception- two stupid, ugly, and down right disgraceful INT’s towards the end of the Raiders-Chiefs and Titans games (of course the Raiders D played extremely well in the games). The Raiders offense was moving well prior to the two interceptions, but Culpepper was unable to show any ability to make the right decision. Do the Raiders deserve to be 12-3? No, but the facts are, they only got beat in 3 games this season, last week against the Jaguars, week 14 in Green Bay, and week 9 against the visiting Houston Texans. All the other games the Raiders lost due to the season long inconsistency from their D-line and quarterback positions.
So when Warren Sapp and company got into a verbal battle with officials last Sunday, it was the culmination of their entire season. Like I said earlier, the Raiders D knows they’ve played at par with some of the best and worst defenses in the NFL this year, and they’re not sure why it’s been so difficult for them to be consistent. With all of that boiling, the guys just exploded. After that, the game just got even uglier. I wrote last week that I thought JaMarcus Russell‘s big chance should come next week in Oakland against the Chargers, but when the game got out of touch, and the Jaguars started putting in their back-ups, Russell got his chance to gather some real experience. The thing was, he looked horrible (7-23, 83 yards, 4 sacks, 1 fumble, and 3 INT’s). It’s one thing if he played against a bunch of starters, but he didn’t, his poor play really didn’t even show up until every Jaguar starter was replaced. The fumble he had in the 4th quarter was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in professional sports. He seemed to trip over his own feet, and fell over, right hand first (the hand holding the football), when the ball lightly touched the ground, he just let go of it, falling forward like a spastic fat kid. He showed so little for me to be happy about, but he’ll still get one last chance to redeem himself.
Coach Kiffin has already announced that Russell will start the last game of the season. He will have all week to prepare for his first NFL start, but he’ll also have an entire season to either grow from a good performance, or suffer the torturous consequences that will emerge from another poor game. Another bad game will only incite 9 months of questions associated with that one last game, but if he plays well, then all the talk will be focused on what matters the most: what the Raiders can do to better the pieces around him. But it does get a little worse- last week I assumed the Chargers would be playing their backups in the final game, but if the Chargers win on Sunday they’d be the 3rd seed in the AFC. So now that Chargers have something to play for, but if you think about it, the home field that the 3rd seed would give them would only be enforced if they play the Pittsburg Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Granted being the 3rd seed would have you playing the weaker of the two wild cards (Jags & Cleveland or Tennessee), and if they win, they’d get the 2nd, not 1st , seed in the next round (Colts not Patriots), but none of that seems worth it to me. (If the Chargers want to look past the first round and think they’re better off playing the Colts, then I think they’re dead wrong. The Chargers best weapon is their running game, and there’s no better place to run against either of the Colts or Pats D’s than in the snow. I’d rather face Tom Brady in the snow in front of his home crowd, than Peyton Manning in the RCA Dome.)
It’ll all depend on whether the Chargers want to risk injury on a scenario that only really helps them if they win two playoff games, and both the Colts and New England Patriots lose at home. A lot will be on the line next Sunday, and in a game that normally would be a wash for both teams.