What a difference a week makes!
With more than seven minutes to go in the second quarter, the Raiders were down 14-0 and staring down the barrel of another blow-out. From somewhere, the Silver-and-Black dug out a last-gasp win, refusing to give up.
Cincinnati’s last five possessions of the game ended in fumble-punt-punt-fumble-interception. The Raiders, by contrast, scored 10 points inside the last minute, giving the season-low crowd something to cheer.
Just Win baby? You bet! Pride and poise? The Raiders showed both.
Commitment to excellence? Not just yet. But this was a big step in the right direction. Wins against the Eagles and Bengals, coupled with two narrow defeats to the Chargers, prove this team can compete in this league. Confidence can come from these performances.
When the defense brings the attitude (and the blitz) as it did on Sunday, the results can be spectacular! Four forced fumbles, an interception, three sacks and 11 tackle-for-losses is a sign of what can be achieved by these Raiders.
However, they still give up too many big plays to be a contender. The way forward is simple—keep bringing the heat and try to cut down on the big plays.
On the offensive side of the ball, there were too many drops and too many fumbles, but Bruce Gradkowski at last got the Raiders into some sort of rhythm. Zero sacks, just one quarterback hurry and one single tackle-for-loss was a supreme effort against a defense like Cincinnati’s.
Everyone has to start somewhere. The Raiders may not have a plan A, involving an all-out-attack from the “triplets” of Russell, McFadden and Heyward-Bey, but they do now have an effective plan B of Gradkowski, Bush/Fargas, Schilens and Miller.
Where does this leave the roster with six games to go? Improving all the time.
As per my previous article, the Raiders have 18 starting players who could be on a winning team...
Michael Bush, Chaz Schilens, Zach Miller, Mario Henderson, Robert Gallery, Cooper Carlisle, Richard Seymour, Greg Ellis, Tommy Kelly, Thomas Howard, Kirk Morrison, Nnamdi Asomugha, Chris Johnson, Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff, Shane Lechler, Sebastian Janikowski and Jon Condo.
Justin Fargas, Matt Shaughnessy and Gerard Warren all give depth to the roster and to this number I am going to add Bruce Gradkowski, Louis Murphy, Samson Satele, Cornell Green and Jay Richardson following their exploits against the Bengals.
This gives Oakland 26 players (18 starters) around whom they can build a future. Next up is the Cowboys and the Steelers. I’m looking for McFadden, Myers, Bryant and Mitchell to build on their promise so far and force their way into mix.
Let’s see if Oakland can find those seven missing pieces of the “starting role” jigsaw and finish the season with 35-40 players who can drive the Raiders forward. Target key players during free agency, draft well and the Raiders can be a force to be reckoned with in 2010.