It started off well enough — for this team, you could say it was a first quarter for the ages. Peyton Manning looked flustered, throwing two early INTs that translated into 10 points and a rare lead for the Raiders. But the wheels came off shortly after that, and between Derek Carr turning the ball over several times deep in the Raiders’ own territory, and the defense’s inability to stop someone named C.J. Anderson, the lead and the optimism were short-lived.
Oakland’s performance has to be assessed on something of a curve here, the Broncos are simply that good. Where the Seahawks have muddled their way to a 5-3 midseason record, find themselves two full games behind Arizona, and may not even make a wild-card slot, the Broncos (aside from last week’s pummeling in New England) have performed like an elite team throughout, beating up on solid teams such as San Francisco and Arizona, and nearly beating the Seahawks in Seattle. They have an edge and a sense of urgency to make up for their dismal loss in the most recent Super Bowl, and should be considered one of the odds-on favorites to at least be in the next one, if not win it outright.
And that’s frustrating to watch, where a team picks up a few key free agents (yes, one of them just happens to be one of the two or three best QBs of this generation, but still) and steamrolls the rest of the league, while the Raiders throw record cap money at players who, I’m sure they’re good guys and want to win and have had great track records, just aren’t getting it done. There’s no running game. Only two pass plays went for over 20 yards. One of the wide receivers (James Jones) had 8 receptions for 20 yards, with a long of 10 yards. Twenty yards. That is not a typo.
What were the bright spots? D.J. Hayden got a sweet early pick, which the Raiders scored a field goal from. (Of course, Hayden was on the sideline by the end of the game, getting what appeared to be a groin or hamstring pull worked on.) Hayden’s coverage and tackling are solid, the question is just whether he can stay healthy or not. Justin Tuck had a great tip and pick, deep in Broncos territory, to set up a short TD for Oakland. Carr had a nice hookup with Brice Butler for a late garbage-time TD, as has been this team’s main consistency. Scoring late TDs long after the game is out of reach at least makes things more respectable and builds confidence for some of these young players, but it does not address the fact that this offense is incapable of doing those things when the game is closer in score.
Next week’s matchup in San Diego is the Raiders’ final chance to prevent going an entire calendar year without winning a game. Their last victory was a squeaker in Houston on Nov. 17, 2013 — where, as you might recall, the Texans were in meltdown mode for the season. Matt Schaub got pulled from the game and argued on the sideline with Andre Johnson, Arian Foster was not in the game to begin with, and the Raiders saved themselves with an end-zone interception of Case Keenum at the end of the game. Oh, and Matt McGloin threw for 3 TDs and no INTs, and some guy named Rashad Jennings had 150 rushing yards, including an 80-yard touchdown run. (For even more perspective on how miserable the running game has been, even though Jennings has been out with a sprained MCL since Week 5, his 396 yards and 2 TDs would lead the Raiders right now. Darren McFadden leads the team with 372 yards and 2 TDs, and the Raiders’ season rushing total is only 559 yards and 2 TDs. This includes Derek Carr’s 81 rushing yards.)