The last three weeks has been a heck of a ride for the Oakland Raiders. They have destroyed past and present AFC West rivals 115-37 dominating on both sides of the ball.
This has sent the Raider Nation into overdrive with dreams of the play-offs and divisional crowns seemingly now with-in their grasp.
It is easy to feel the elation at finally managing to rid the Raider tradition of the darkness that has surrounded the past seven seasons and derogatory epithets such as “dysfunctional”. This monkey is well and truly off their back, as loyalty, consistency, wise drafting, solid free-agency pick-ups, good coaching, talent and hard-work have been the bed-rock of the Raiders revival.
The Raiders are back.
But before we all start organising Super Bowl parties and voting for half of the team to go to the Pro Bowl, there are some words of warning for the 5-4 Raiders.
Firstly, the schedule is against Oakland. The Raiders are at 5-4, with the Chiefs narrowly ahead at 5-3. With Oakland sitting at home on a bye week, the Chiefs go to Mile High in Denver and will in all probability extend their record to 6-4. KC has a much easier schedule than Oakland and also play host to their rivals in the season finale. Oakland will have to keep winning, hope the KC bus gets de-railed and that the Chargers resurgence is short-lived.
Secondly, the injury list is mounting. Yes, Oakland has a bye-week at a perfect time, but it is not ideal to have Gradkowski, Schilens, Murphy, Zach Miller, Asomugha, Howard, Henderson and Branch all with concerns about their ability to go and perform after the bye. Offensive stand-outs Robert Gallery and Darren McFadden have also had a chequered few seasons with regards to staying on the field.
Yes, dealing with injuries is part of football; yes everyone gets injured sometime; but these are key players for Oakland and they will be a poorer team without them. Coach Tom Cable has made the mantra of “next man up” work wonders so far in 2010, but if the Raiders are going to get ahead of the Chiefs, they need some help from the trainers.
Thirdly and finally, are the Oakland players mentally ready? We will know more about this following the bye-week. It would be easy to think the page had been turned and things are all going to go Oakland’s way for the remainder of the season. But the work has only just started – the Raiders need to show up in good shape following the bye.
The mentality of winning seemed to go a bit awry at the start of the Chiefs game. At half-time the Raiders were 10-0 down and looking at an embarrassing loss in front of the first home sell-out in years. Jason Campbell’s play at QB has dipped down to the lows of the 49ers game; the red-zone offense that torched the Broncos had disappeared and the penalties kept mounting.
Oakland showed real signs of nerves against KC and certainly need to improve if they are going to worry the Steelers or the Colts down the stretch. Even after the second half fight-back and taking the lead, Oakland couldn’t put the game to bed. Worse still, with the game seemingly won, Nick Miller fumbled a punt return and Oakland handed the initiative back to Kansas City. It took a monumental effort from Jacoby Ford to dig Oakland out of the hole.
To conclude, there are reasons to be cautious; there are hurdles to overcome. Nothing has been achieved yet. There are no trophies for turning things around and competing again. Having said that, this is an incredible journey this has been and it’s only just begun!
If Oakland can keep “cuttin’ it loose”, stay the course, stay grounded, believe in the process, believe in the organisation and the players in Silver-and-Black, take each game as it comes, overcome obstacles, play the opposition in front of them and not their record or the relative standing of Kansas City, keep trying to get better in whatever way they can and keep putting in the work, then the Raiders will get what they deserve.