I had a feeling the Raiders would put forth a great effort. They did, but typical Raider mistakes were their undoing as Matt Bryant's 55-yard field goal with one second left Oakland a stunning 23-20 loser against the Atlanta Falcons.
Too many times the Raiders had opportunities to make plays but failed to capitalize. There were plenty of nice things, but 12 penalties and an absolutely killer Carson Palmer pick-six to Asante Samuel were the difference in a game that was much more competitive than most people expected.
As always, I targeted five keys for the Raiders to spring an upset against the now 6-0 Falcons. With three minutes in the game, it looked like they were in perfect position to pull it off. But Palmer's 3rd-and-6 out route to Denarius Moore was intercepted by Samuel, who raced 79 yards to turn a potential 16-13 Raider lead to a 20-13 deficit.
To his credit, Palmer marched the Raiders 80 yards on the ensuing drive, with Darren McFadden scoring from two yards out to tie the game at 20. But 40 seconds was much too much time for Matt Ryan as he calmly moved the Falcons 42 yards to set up Bryant's 55-yard field goal. Great effort, but it was for naught as the Raiders fall to 1-4.
Let's check the keys and how the Raiders did with them.
Get Marcel Reece the Football
Well, as it turned out, Reece wasn't much of a factor today. One catch for one yard. But he wasn't important because Mike Goodson had a solid game for the Raiders, rushing for 58 yards and adding 37 yards on a nice screen pass. This is going to sound blasphemous for some, but Goodson looks better in the zone blocking system than Darren McFadden. Food for thought going forward.
If You Can't Connect Four, Then Do It with Five (or Six)
The Raiders did bring more pressure for portions of the game. And yes, there were dividends. None was more evident than Phillip Wheeler's A-Gap blitz that forced a wobbly Ryan throw that was intercepted by Tyvon Branch. That led directly to a Raider touchdown.
The problem was, with the game on the line, the Raiders rushed three and dropped eight. That allowed Ryan to complete five passes, and the Falcons got the game-winning field goal. There was only one sack, but the Raider pressure was better.
Turnovers for Dessert
Entering the game, the Raiders had all of zero interceptions. In the first half, they picked Ryan off three times. Joselio Hanson, Michael Huff, and Tyvon Branch made plays, with Hanson's being most impressive as he undercut slot receiver Harry Douglas.
The turnover battle was even at three, but the most critical turnover was committed by Oakland. Either way, generating multiple turnovers was a positive sign going forward.
McFadden and Whitehand
I figured both Darren McFadden and Carson Palmer would have to be excellent for the Raiders to win. While McFadden was up and down (98 total yards, one touchdown) and Palmer was largely excellent (23/33, 353 yards, 1 TD), both made big mistakes that altered the course of the game.
After Hanson's interception in the first quarter, the Raiders entered Atlanta territory when McFadden was stripped by Jordan Babineaux. Palmer was largely excellent, but his interception changed the end of the game. If the Raiders convert that 3rd-and-6, they are in position to grind the majority of the clock out and minimum kick a field goal.
Instead, they were the team in catchup mode, and while Palmer led them to a touchdown, there was more than enough time for Ryan to fire the last blow. I said Palmer and McFadden had to be great. They were good, and good isn't enough against an upper-echelon team.
Bend, Bend, Bend but Don't (Always) Break
For the most part, the Raiders succeeded here. Whether it was stopping the Falcons after the McFadden fumble (Matt Bryant missed the 42-yard field goal try), Carson Palmer's fumble (goal-line stand led to a 20-yard field goal) or getting off the field on 3rd down, Oakland's defense was very solid today.
The Raiders out-gained Atlanta 474-286 and led in time of possession 36:26 to 23:34. Oakland also held Atlanta to 2-9 on 3rd-down conversions.
Giving up 16 points should have been good enough to win. Palmer's interception was bad, but they did tie the score. Playing super conservative and allowing the Falcons to drive with plenty of time will haunt the Raider Nation. The game plan should have remained the same.
So the Raiders drop to 1-4 on the 2012 season. Moral victories don't usually fly, but they were a 10-point underdog and realistically should have won. Oakland outplayed Atlanta but don't have the win to show for it.
Hopefully, they can channel this effort and parlay it into a victory next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. If there was ever a game that they could put in their pocket, it would be that one.