Oakland Raiders Lose in Atlanta, Are They a Playoff Contender?

Gean May@GeanMayNFLFIXContributor IIOctober 14, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 14:  Carson Palmer #3 of the Oakland Raiders walks off the field during a timeout against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 14, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If the Oakland Raiders were not 1-3 coming into Sunday's game against the now 6-0 Atlanta Falcons, their 23-20 heartbreaking loss might not have stung as much.

But that was the reality, making the loss feel like multiple bee stings.

Winning on Sunday would have put the Raiders right back in the thick of things in the AFC West.

The Raiders didn't play perfectly against the Falcons. They did improve, though. They were able to pressure quarterback Matt Ryan and this helped out a very thin secondary; see how that works? Don't give the quarterback all day to throw and suddenly your defensive backs don't look so vulnerable.

The Raiders' defense held up all game long while picking off Matt Ryan three times. It was able to come up with a huge stop on a 3rd-and-goal situation in the third quarter to limit the Falcons to a field goal after a Carson Palmer fumble gave them the ball at the Raiders' 2-yard line.

The Falcons reached the end zone twice, and their offense was only able to muster a 4-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Roddy White early in the second quarter.

Asante Samuel picked off Palmer late in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown for the Falcons' only touchdown of the second half.

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The Raiders' defense played inspired football and this sort of effort will be needed the rest of the season.

Other than the Palmer pick, the offense also played well as it was able move the ball against a good Falcons defense. There were still some glaring deficiencies, however. The offensive line had its problems blocking John Abraham and company and committed costly holding penalties.

Run Regardless

Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp stuck to the ground game, even if it was tough sledding.  Darren McFadden carried the ball 27 times for 70 tough yards, and his touchdown run late in the fourth quarter tied the game.

McFadden's backup Mike Goodson pitched in with four carries for 59 yards, including a 43-yard run from deep in Raiders' territory.

Knapp kept the ball on the ground 32 time for 149 yards, and quarterback Carson Palmer aired it out 33 times.  This is the type of balance this team needs, especially with the type of personnel they have and the scheme they ultimately want to run.

If fans believe in moral victories, maybe this was exactly that.  But the Raiders now fall to 1-4 and the hole they were in has now become much deeper.

If head coach Dennis Allen can build off Sunday's win and get the team to believe every week, can the Raiders make a season out of their slow start or did this loss bury them too deep?

Looking Forward

Winning three games in a row is a tough task no matter who you have on your schedule, but this is exactly what the Raiders will need to do to contend for a playoff spot. Before you go all Jim Mora on me with the "playoffs" rant, let's take a glance at the Raiders' schedule.

They played well Sunday against one of the NFL's elite teams in its house. So winning the next three games is not an impossible task. Next week they host the Jacksonville Jaguars, then go to Kansas City to play the hated Chiefs before returning home to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Things Get a Little Tough.

If the Silver and Black manage to get to 4-4, and I believe they can, the schedule tightens up a bit with a road game in Baltimore against the Ravens, another elite team.

By Week 11, the New Orleans Saints might be back to playing like a top-tier team. So even a home game against Drew Brees and company will be no picnic.

At this point, I have the Raiders at 5-5 and you can take a guess about which team, the Ravens or Saints, I think they can beat. The Ravens have flat-out owned the Raiders over the past few years.

Week 12 has the Raiders headed to Cincinnati to take on a very game Bengals squad. They did give the Browns their first win of 2012 on Sunday. But make no mistake; this team has weapons and will be in playoff contention all year.

I say the Raiders dump this game and fall to 5-6.

Home Sweet Home

The Raiders are not locks at home by any stretch of the imagination. But their next three games are in Oakland against Cleveland, Denver on Thursday night and the Chiefs. Playing teams that can be had in front of a boisterous home crowd could be a winning combination that puts the Raiders at 8-6 with two games to play.

Down The Stretch

We are now down to two.  Games at Carolina and San Diego close out the season. The Panthers are a mystery at this point and the Chargers can be taken out at home.

Maybe Oakland is 8-7 or 9-6 heading into the Chargers' game. Either way, that game could be a must win for the Raiders to earn their first postseason berth since 2002. Sound familiar?

I will make no more predictions beyond the Carolina game. Is it crazy to think the Raiders will be in contention in Week 17?  Sunday's game should have sent a message to fans that they will not lay down.

Watch Raider and non-Raider fans, the progress we witnessed Sunday and a favorable schedule could make this season salvageable.