Championship teams are rarely caught by surprise. They turn up on time and ready. Opening plays show how prepared a team is for a game, opening games show how ready a team is for the season. When championship teams are caught off guard, they find ways to adapt, hang in there and then come back strong.
A positivity has been radiating from Oakland this summer—a new team with new coaches and a new philosophy.
After eight long years in the wilderness, the Raiders were again ready to compete, according to the vibe in Oak Town. The owner was ready, the coaches were ready, the fans were more than ready, were the players ready? It did not take long to find out.
The Raiders fumbled the opening kick-off and then began an incompletion, penalty, two-yard run, five-yard pass (on 3rd & 13), and a punt. Tennessee began a 20-yard run, four-yard run, and an 11 yard pass.
It was clear Oakland could not match the home side’s readiness to play. The rose-tinted summer had savagely given way to the harsh world of autumn in the NFL inside of three minutes of the season starting. The score was 0-0, but already this had all of the hallmarks of a ninth opening day loss in a row for the Silver-and-Black.
But, despite the slow start, Oakland actually took the lead and indeed found themselves with the ball, trailing by just 10-3 with 9:03 to play in the first half.
Perhaps this Raider side had found the inner steel to hang in there when the going is tough. Chris Johnson had run the ball eight times for just 15 yards, and despite three penalties, three sacks given up, two fumbles and just 23 yards of total offense, Oakland were still in the game. In fact having run the ball eight times for 41 yards, with McFadden to the fore, Oakland was showing signs of life.
Perhaps the hype was to be believed after all.
The next seven minutes of play blew a hole in any talk that the Raiders were back. Oakland went three-and-out. Tennessee marched 61 yards down the field in eight plays for a touchdown to make the score 17-3.
The Raiders got the ball back and threw an incompletion, penalty, sack, 13-yard run (on 3rd & 23), and a punt. This took the half to the two-minute warning. Chris Johnson took the next snap to the house via a 76-yard stroll through the Silver-and-Black's would-be-tacklers. The extra point made the score 24-3 and the game was as good as done.
To Oakland’s credit, they did not cave in at this point and some heart must be taken from a scoreline of 14-10 for the remainder of the game.
Jason Campbell started to find targets, and McFadden continued to find running room, but this does not disguise the fact that the Raiders had been blown away. It was as if nothing had changed. The same old bad traits were still glaringly obvious: penalties, turnovers, lack of production from the wide receivers, lack of protection for the quarterback, and giving up the big plays on defense. The Raiders could not stop hurting themselves.
So Oakland is not yet ready. Time to don the dark shades and hide for another season?
All is not lost.
Tennessee on the road is a tough place to start, and most people expected the Raiders to come off second best. If Darren McFadden can continue moving the sticks and Michael Bush gets fit, Oakland can have a very serviceable running game. Penalties and big plays on defense are down to mental errors—the Raiders have it within themselves to put these right.
What does need to emerge is a passing game, and without it thoughts of playoffs will have to be put on hold for yet another season.