Six weeks of Oakland Raider football is in the books; and though the team has been vastly outperforming preseason expectations, they still sit at a disappointing 2-4. With both the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs sporting impressive 6-0 records, the Raiders’ hopes of a playoff push are becoming increasingly dim.
The most disappointing part of all? It didn’t have to be this way.
Let’s take a look at some of the near-misses that have caused the Raiders to stay on the outside looking in.
Week 1 @ Indianapolis Colts
After falling to a 14-0 deficit in the first half, the Raiders put the clamps on Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense and battled back to take a 17-14 lead in the 4th quarter. But on the following Colts’ possession the defense began to crumble, allowing Luck to pick up 2 conversions on third downs through the air, and finally a rushing touchdown to reclaim the lead. Oakland’s offense took the field, and put itself in a strong position to answer with what was an impressive drive until Colts’ safety Antoine Bethea intercepted Terrelle Pryor in the endzone with only 25 seconds remaining. Raider fans were pleased to see the team maintain competitive against a respected, playoff-caliber AFC team; but the difference between contenders and pretenders lies in the ability to close out games and not let opportunities for victory slip away.
Final: L 21-17
Week 4 vs. Washington Redskins
Starting QB Terrelle Pryor was stuck on the sidelines, having been concussed in Week 3, leaving him unable to take advantage of an incredibly vulnerable Washington secondary. Still, the Raiders got off to a quick start, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter by way of a blocked punt recovered in the endzone and an 18-yard touchdown strike from Matt Flynn to Mychal Rivera on the following drive. It was all downhill from there. In the second quarter Flynn was intercepted by David Amerson, who ran it 45 yards the other way for a score. From that point on, Flynn looked afraid to throw the football, demonstrated no ability to read a defense, adjust protections, or sense pressure in the pocket. He was sacked seven times on the day, and added 3 fumbles for good measure. This is the performance that got Flynn demoted behind undrafted FA rookie Matt McGloin, and later cut. Nobody likes excuses, but it’s hard not to wonder how much differently this game would have played out had it been Pryor under center.
Final: L 24-14
Week 6 @ Kansas City Chiefs
The Raiders went in to Arrowhead to take on the Chiefs’ dominant pass rush with a bit of a patchwork offensive line. A few more injuries later, and the protection became virtually nonexistent. Credit the Chiefs stellar defense for taking advantage; they had their foot on the Raiders’ throat for the entire second half, racking up a double digit sack total. Perhaps the outcome would have been different, though, if the Raiders didn’t have to resort to a couple of practice squad players trying to fend off Pro Bowl pass rushers. Add an injury to C Andre Gurode, and now you’ve got RG Mike Brisiel thrown into the fire at Center- a position he has never played a snap at in the NFL, and an invaluably important position to boot.
Final: L 24-7
We can clearly see that with some better fortune and better performance in just a few critical moments, the Raiders could be one game back from the Denver Broncos in the division, holding a tiebreaker over the Kansas City Chiefs, with a 5-1 record. Obviously, the NFL is no place for excuses, and not many will be impressed when you tell them that the Raiders are a pretty darn good 2-4 team. Good teams get it done when it matters, and Oakland simply has not done that.
What can be taken from all of this, then? Well, there is a young quarterback with the makings of a franchise signal-caller. There’s a defense that is building chemistry and improving every week. There is a coaching staff and front office who is hell-bent on building a perennial contender the right way. Right now they are making mistakes, and blowing leads, and losing. But with that, they are learning how to correct those mistakes, how to come together, and how to win. I believe they are close, and while close may not count for a whole lot; the hope it provides certainly counts for something.