The reason for so much optimism lately is based mostly on the level of expectation from these Raiders. They were expected to get blown out the dome by the Falcons. They were far from blown out and in doing so greatly exceeded the expectations set forth for them.
In the process of keeping this game competitive and even holding the lead for the majority of the game, the Raiders showed a great deal of promise. They took advantage of the Falcons weaknesses on defense and kept the Falcons' high-powered offense under wraps for much of the game.
The first unexpected appearance of this game came in the form of interceptions. The Raiders hadn't had one all season long coming into this game. That changed very quickly
Not only did it change quickly but built upon itself. That one interception turned into three interceptions... in the first half! Who saw that comin'? I didn't.
Taking the ball away on defense is vital for any winning team. Another even more vital aspect that has been missing from this team in the running game. The Falcons like to play a lot of nickel defense and the result is giving up 5.4 yards per carry. The Raiders focused on that area and from Mike Goodson they got a whole lot more than 5.4 yards per carry.
Goodson touched the ball just five times and racked up 96 yards. Most of those yards came on two plays-a screen pass for 37 yards and a run of 43 yards. He is showing the kind of skills that had the Raiders trading away a piece of dead weight in Bruce Campbell to get him.
On the flip side, the one death and taxes part of this team has been a highlight reel catch by Denarius Moore. He had two in this game but one was especially worth noting.
He took a short pass and ducked under what looked to be a very sure tackle and sprinted for the endzone, diving for a touchdown. No opposing teams want to face this human highlight reel. They know at some point they will be posterized.
After halftime, we saw one of the Raiders' Achilles heels show up again-the pass rush. But from it we saw another positive. John Abraham got underneath Jared Veldheer and took the edge to nail Carson Palmer from his blindside and force a fumble. The Falcons recovered the ball and were set up at the Raiders' two yard line. And after three plays, they were still at the two yard line.
What could have been a backbreaker, turned out to be a flesh wound. The Raiders held them to a field goal to tie the game at 13-13 as opposed to a 17-13 deficit.
That 13-13 score was another unexpected part of this game. No one expected the Raiders defense to hold the Falcons to a touchdown and two field goals through three quarters. But they did. And a big reason why was the sudden fantastic play of one Michael Huff.
Huff has now started his third game at cornerback since moving over from the free safety position. He was lost and outmatched in his first two games but something clicked over the Raiders' bye week and in this game he went from being a weak spot to a strong point at corner in this secondary. He proved the coaches correct in putting their faith in him instead of one of the other "natural" corners on the roster or bringing in someone else.
He started off with an interception and finished the remainder of the game with four passes defended. He also was often given the tough assignment of covering Tony Gonzalez-Falcons leading receiver and future Hall of Fame tight end. Gonzo was a non-factor in this game and as you can see, Huff was a big reason why.
There was as many positives to be found in this loss as there was in the win over the Steelers. The one main difference was how the game ended. The road to the finish was paved with encouraging signs for the direction of this team. If there were ever a time to gain momentum from a loss, this was it.