As the Oakland Raiders' nationally-televised game against the first-place Denver Broncos was minutes from kick on Thursday night, I imagine the thoughts on my mind were similar to those of Raiders fans around the country: just don't embarrass us.
To be fair, Oakland did a reasonable job at that.
As expected, however, all hope of winning had dissipated just minutes after kick.
After Denver marched down the field hitting wide open receiver after wide open receiver, Peyton Manning found his tight end (once again, wide open) in the end zone for the game's first score.
Just minutes later, Carson Palmer and the Raiders offense took the field for their first three-and-out of the night.
After a dropped pass from the newly-returned Darren McFadden (which honestly might have gone for 30-plus yards), a busted screen play and a short pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey, the Oakland punt team took the field for the first time all night.
And so, just 5:09 into the game, it was already clear: Oakland didn't have a chance.
Denver advanced inside the Oakland 25 a total of seven times on Thursday night, coming away with two touchdowns and four field goals before taking a knee at the Oakland 13 to close out the game.
While the score showed just a 13-point spread, the game was hardly that close, as the Broncos moved the ball up and down the field every time they touched it, simply failing to punch it in on a regular basis.
The Raiders, on the other hand, did find some success in the passing game but seemed to do all they could to prevent Carson Palmer from getting into a consistent rhythm.
As the first half was coming to a close, Oakland took over the ball with 8:32 remaining in the half, trailing 13-0.
What came next was the game plan Oakland should have gone with all night: pass, pass, pass.
On the ensuing 14-play scoring drive, Oakland ran the ball just three times, finally allowing Palmer to get into a rhythm. On the drive, Palmer was 9-of-11 for 80 yards and a touchdown.
With some positive momentum heading into the second half after forcing a Denver punt, Oakland had as much of a chance as they would have all night to fight back into the game.
So what did they do?
Run the ball.
After McFadden's best run of the night—and maybe the season—went for 36 yards, Oakland ran it right up the middle two more times before finally putting the ball back in Palmer's hands. Facing third-and-13, however, Palmer's pass for Denarius Moore was incomplete.
After one of the most successful drives of the entire season—one fueled almost entirely by the pass game—Oakland abandoned the pass until late in the fourth quarter.
On the next two possessions, Palmer attempted just two passes.
Now, I'm sure people will cry out that Oakland needed to maintain the threat of a running game in order to keep Denver honest, but has Oakland had the threat of a running game at any point this season?
Sure, Marcel Reece filled in admirably the past two weeks, but an Oakland running back has rushed for more than 100 yards just three times all season.
Should Oakland be passing the ball more?
Palmer, on the other hand, has now thrown for 270-plus yards in five of his last six games.
Coming into the season, I could never have imagined a scenario in which I was advocating for Oakland to abandon its commitment to McFadden, but alas, we have come to that point in the season.
Oakland has some promising playmakers at the wide receiver position, and with the Raiders' porous defense, they're really the team's only hope at this point.
Then again, maybe running the ball more will move us up in the draft?