The Oakland Raiders’ ship is sinking, and it’s sinking incredibly fast.
On Sunday, the Detroit Lions ransacked the Oakland Coliseum, and launched an aerial attack that left the Raiders unable to retaliate. Detroit exposed numerous holes in the Raiders’ defensive hull, and as a result, Oakland’s playoff hopes are seemingly drifting out to sea.
Given the high aspirations of the ball club, Sunday’s gut wrenching last-minute heartbreaker will surely have the crew seasick for the next few days. The Raiders’ current three-game slide has left them in second place in the AFC West, one game back of the Denver Broncos, with two games to play. But knowing how excruciatingly close Oakland was to strangling their own playoff destiny, this loss will ail them more than a bout of scurvy.
No one more so than their captain, head coach Hue Jackson.
Sadly, it is Jackson’s actions in Sunday’s defeat that could very well have the Raiders sitting on a deserted island this postseason. His play-calling throughout the game were consistent with the risk-taking that he has become known for. But it was also consistent with the greenness of being a first-year head coach in the NFL. And it could have cost the Raiders more than just the game against the Lions.
4th-and-1 in the first quarter
The Raiders faced a crucial point in the game quite early—with little more than nine minutes left in the first quarter. In the team’s first offensive series, Oakland managed to drive down the field to the Lions’ 24-yard line; but they stalled a bit and faced an innocuous fourth down.
Or so everybody thought.
Instead of trotting the reliable Sebastian Janikowski for a sure-fire 41-yard field goal attempt, Jackson called a timeout to coordinate a play for his offense to go for the first down. The outcome was an errant pass by Carson Palmer to a wide-open Denarius Moore at the end zone. What would have been a touchdown, or in the very least a pass-interference call on the Lions, resulted in neither. And worse—no points. For a team that had struggled mightily to put points on the board early, particularly in the first quarter, it would have been a valuable confidence boost to be up 3-0 after the first exchange of series.
But Jackson averred that a decision that early would unlikely impact the result of the game. And, true, the Raiders did score a touchdown on their next possession. But it’s possible that those three points could have made a difference down the line—as well as that extra time out that could have been used on Oakland’s final first-half series.
Not going for two in the fourth quarter
Hindsight is always sharper in retrospect. Especially in the case of going for two-point conversions in a one-point loss. There are too many scenarios to truly formulate a guidebook of when and when not to go for two. And head coaches are unfortunately left with all of the scrutiny in the world should a decision come back to haunt them and the team.
For Jackson, that nightmare may be the non-two-point attempt with just under seven minutes left in the game, after Oakland’s Aaron Curry recovered a fumble and returned it for the Raiders’ first defensive touchdown on the season. The score put his team up 26-14, and noticeably burst the Lions’ bubble for a bit.
Instead, the 27-14 score offered the Lions the opportunity to win the game, not tie game. Which everyone watching could see a mile away. Following Curry’s touchdown, it wasn’t surprising—nearly expected—that the Raiders’ pass defense would softly allow a score the other way to make it 27-20.
That is precisely what happened. And the rest is history.
Not giving Stanford Routt safety protection
Any player who has to cover the Lions’ All-Pro receiver, Calvin Johnson, will have an uneasy go of it. But it was a particularly a tough day for Stanford Routt. The Raiders corner back was thoroughly routed by Johnson, the worst of which came on the Lions’ final two series of the game.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford picked apart the Raiders’ secondary, going 9-for-15 on after the Raiders went ahead 27-14. Johnson caught five of those passes, including the game-winning touchdown. Most of Johnson’s handiwork came at the expense of Routt, who was also called for two pass interference penalties on those final two drives, in addition to the two holding penalties in the first half of the game.
This isn’t necessarily or specifically Coach Jackson’s fault. But he could have solicited another option instead of going with a matchup that was obviously in Detroit’s favor throughout the afternoon. Though Routt was not covering Johnson for the entire game, he was instrumental in being unable to cover the Lions’ wideout when it mattered most. Ultimately, Oakland needed to offer double-coverage of Johnson; not let him beat them. Down the stretch, Johnson ran Routt to the ground, and the Raiders will kick themselves for not preventing touchdowns with their unpreventable defense.
Should the Raiders have gone for two after Curry's touchdown?
In spite of the incredibly dejected touchdown that put the Raiders in a hole, there was belief throughout the stadium that Oakland could pull out the victory—if only because of Janikowski’s heavy left leg. They received the ball with 39 seconds left to play and two timeouts; and if everything worked accordingly, all Oakland would need to do was reach sniff Lions’ territory in order to give SeaBass at worst a 60-plus yard field-attempt.
And it nearly worked. The Raiders drove to the Lions’ 48-yard line, setting up the most electrifying field-goal attempt in regular season history. Everyone in the building knew that it could happen. He could make it. They could miraculously win.
We all know what happened. Because of the distance, Janikowski had to lower the angle of the trajectory a tad. As a result, the Lions were able to block the kick, a huge blockade to the Raiders’ playoff hopes.
But Oakland could have done better in managing the no-huddle hurry-up offense. And Jackson should be held accountable for his poor direction during that last drive. Particularly considering they only had two of their timeouts remaining.
After reaching midfield on a 21-yard pass to tight end Kevin Boss, Oakland had one timeout left with 27 seconds remaining, Palmer surprisingly did not spike the ball. Instead, he was sacked by Cliff Avril, forcing the Raiders to burn their last timeout.
Either Palmer isn’t yet in tune with the two-minute offense, or Jackson isn’t communicative about how to manage time in the waning seconds of a game. Whatever the case may be, the Raiders were forced to gain a small chunk of yards and bring on the field goal unit in for a game-winning attempt, all in less than 13 seconds.
What was a little mind-boggling was Palmer’s short pass attempt to wideout Darius Heyward-Bey, which fortunately fell incomplete. Had he actually connected, the Raiders would absolutely not even been able to try for a field goal. On the next play, Palmer was able to hit T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a six-yard gain, right before he stepped out of bounds. But one had to wonder why they didn’t call that play in the previous snap? It certainly would have afforded them another chance to gain a few more yard, potentially allowing Janikowski to try a shorter, high-arcing field goal under 60 yards.
Nobody will really know. However, fans will scratch their heads about some of the play-calling by Jackson during the most critical moments of the game. With the Broncos finally losing on Sunday, Oakland needed to take advantage.
If the Raiders are unable to win the AFC West, they can point to Jackson’s misguidance down the stretch as to the reason why.
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