December saved Tarver, sealed Knapp's fate

US PRESSWIRE

Three quarters of the way through this season a lot had yet to be decided as to which coaches would get their walking papers. It was what happened down the stretch that made the decisions final.

At the end of November there wasn't much that was working properly for the Raiders. The least of which was their defense which was at or near the bottom of the league in yards and points allowed. The offense scored points but it was never enough to keep up with the pace at which the defense surrendered points.

At that point, it looked as if Jason Tarver was the most likely to get the boot. Greg Knapp wasn't looking too good either with the way the run game was a shell of its former self and the playcalling coming into question each week. But even then, it was the month of December that really separated the winners and losers.

In the month of December, the Raiders' offense was a travesty. It began with the home game against the Browns. The Raiders managed to put 17 points on the board in that game and kept it relatively close. But that 17 points was a high point for the Raiders and it would get much worse from there.

The next game was against the Broncos, they scored just 13 points and the lone touchdown was a meaningless one late in the game. Then they went two whole games without scoring a touchdown before the Pryor show to finish out the season. But by then, there was nothing that could save Knapp's job.

All the while the offense was sputtering, the defense was showing up big time. After giving up several 30 point games and big yardage to several running backs, they suddenly clicked. They were the only team to hold the Broncos under 30 points in the month of December and it was only the fifth time all season the Broncos had scored less than 30 points.

The following week, they shut out the Chiefs. It was only the second time in the history of the rivalry that the Raiders have shut out the Chiefs. And they did it while holding Jamaal Charles to 10 yards on nine carries. Charles had rushed for over 100 yards the three weeks prior and the week after when he ran for 226 yards against the playoff bound Colts.

In week 16 they held the Panthers to just 17 points which was their lowest total since week 10 of the season. It was also the only time in the final four games of the season which the Panthers scored less than 30 points including putting up 44 on the Saints in the season finale.

One of the more shocking parts about this suddenly formidable defense was they were doing it despite a great many injuries. The secondary was now starting Phillip Adams -- who was at one time the third string option --, and Michael Huff who had moved over from the safety position. Adams was injured in three of those games (twice concussed) and was placed on injured reserve before week 17. Tyvon Branch was battling injuries down the stretch and Richard Seymour didn't even play the last half of the season.

Injuries weren't the only issue. It was attitude adjustments. Rolando McClain went rogue and was suspended for two games and was not activated the remainder of the month of December (coincidence?). This forced the team to go out and sign free agent Omar Gaither off the street to start at middle linebacker.

Through it all, the defense was actually playing their best football of the season. The credit for this has to go to Jason Tarver.

Despite the resurgent defense, the Raiders couldn't survive their offensive struggles and went 1-4 in December because of it. Their one win was against the Chiefs in which they couldn't even score a touchdown.

It became clear even before the season finale against the Chargers that the offense was not improving, it was getting worse. That is to say, it had reached rock bottom and remained there. All the while the defense was defying all logic and reason and went from being ranked last or near last throughout the season to being ranked fourth in the NFL in the final four weeks of the season in points allowed (16.8), second in total defense, tied for fifth in rushing yards, sixth in net passing yards, and seventh in third-down percentage.

These numbers are hard to deny as it was hard to deny that Greg Knapp needed to go and Jason Tarver had earned the right to be back for another season.

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