The odds were stacked against the Oakland Raiders headed into a Week 6 game against the undefeated Atlanta Falcons. Everything except the fact that the Raiders were coming off the bye seemed to favor the Falcons. Of course, games are played on the football field and not on the stat sheet, and the Raiders played their most inspired football of the season on Sunday.
Despite great play by the defense, the Raiders just made one too many mistakes and the Falcons kicked a last-second field goal for the 23-20 win. The loss drops the Raiders to 1-4 on the season and improves the Falcons to 6-0.
The Raiders' biggest mistake came in in the fourth quarter when Carson Palmer threw behind Denarius Moore and Asante Samuel jumped the route and returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown. The Raiders also committed 12 penalties for 110 yards, and several times, failed to pin the Falcons deep in their own territory on punts.
The most damaging penalties wiped out long runs by Darren McFadden and put the Raiders in tough third-down situations. The Raiders would end the game five of 13 on third down, which means the penalties frequently resulted in stalled offensive drives.
The offense did respond with a touchdown drive after Palmer’s interception and scored with less than a minute on the clock to tie the game. The defense that had been so tough on the Falcons all day allowed Ryan to get the Falcons into field-goal range for the game-winning touchdown pass.
It’s tough to place the full weight of the loss on a defense that held the Falcons to one offensive touchdown even when it was put in tough positions with offensive miscues. The defense came away with three interceptions after being held without an interception in their first four games. It was Oakland’s offense that could only convert the interceptions into 10 points, which, in hindsight, kept the Falcons in the game.
The defense held Ryan to just 249 passing yards and one touchdown and allowed just 45 yards rushing. A lot of the defensive production can be attributed to the adjustments the Raiders made over the bye week. Rolando McClain was pulled from the nickel package in favor of rookie Miles Burris, and it seemed to light a fire under both players. Burris and McClain helped the Raiders defense hold the Falcons to a field goal at the goal line after Palmer was hit and fumbled.
Linebacker Philip Wheeler did a great job covering Tony Gonzalez and held him to four receptions for 42 yards. With Wheeler blanketing Gonzalez, the Raiders could use the safeties to provide over-the-top help on Roddy White and Julio Jones. White and Jones were both held to relatively pedestrian numbers by their standards.
The coverage was certainly helped because the Raiders were getting good pressure on Ryan. Andre Carter was playing in his first game as a Raider and helped the defense dial up pressure from the edge. The Raiders also gave more snaps to Desmond Bryant at defensive tackle in place of Tommy Kelly, and he provided a nice push up the middle in the passing game and the running game.
Which player was most impressive on Sunday?
Oakland’s offense has rarely flashed its ability to make big plays this season, but it did so on Sunday with plays of 49, 43 and 38 yards. The Raiders hit on a deep pass to Moore, a screen to Mike Goodson and an inside-zone run by Goodson. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp also got creative with an end around to Darrius Heyward-Bey that went for 20 yards.
The Raiders played well, and with a few adjustments, can play even better. With a home game against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars next week, the Raiders can use this game a springboard for better things. The Raiders have a relatively easy schedule over the next several weeks, and if the Denver Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers on Monday night, the division is far from wrapped up.
The Raiders played inspired football, and if they can avoid the mental errors while maintaining the intensity, they will win more football games. The Raiders have done this kind of thing before and showed up against a superior opponent only to play down to the inferior teams. The Raiders can use this loss as motivation, but it starts next week at home the Jaguars.