Despite the ineptitude of the Raiders offense in San Diego Sunday, the Raiders kept the game close all the way to the end. They were within one score, down 13-6 late in the game. The Chargers were driving and the Raiders needed a stop to have any chance of tying up the game. They very nearly did one better.
There was 2:37 left in the game and the Chargers lined up in third and three. Philip Rivers dropped back and threw for his All Pro tight end, Antonio Gates, but Charles Woodson read it perfectly and stepped in front of gates. What looked like a sure interception, and one that usually is in the grasp of Woodson, went through his hands, was tipped in the air and caught by Gates for 15 yards and a huge first down.
Had Woodson picked it, he had nothing but open field in front of him. It could very well have been returned for a score. At very least, it would have been a turnover that gave the Raiders the ball at midfield with plenty of time to put together a drive.
Instead, the Chargers had a fresh set of downs and punted to back the Raiders up at their own 12-yard line. After a sack, the Raiders were in second and 19 at their own 3-yard line with :39 seconds and no timeouts to try and drive 97 yards.
Quite a turn of events. And the Hall of Fame bound Woodson looking at another loss in a potentially winless season, it's moments like that which eat at him. And it's not just that play. The prideful veteran piles that play with the 51-yard touchdown catch and run by Broncos running back, CJ Anderson last week in which he was one of many Raiders defenders to miss a tackle.
"When I look at this season, I look at a couple things," said Woodson. "When I look at that play last week before the half when the running back ran up the sideline and scored, that's a play that I feel like where yeah other people had the opportunity to make the tackle but I could've made the tackle, I should've made the tackle. I feel like I let the team down in that respect.
"Today was a situation where I don't know how many times I've caught balls like that, so for that ball to slip out of my hands and possibly give us the ball back right there or get some yards after the catch or either score or get the offensive ball back on the 50, that's on me. And that kills me because I feel like I had an opportunity, being the player that I am, to help our team fight back and get a win and I failed the team.
"That's kinda how this season has gone. It's been that close a lot of times and we just haven't been able to finish it. And those two plays to me just because they're recent plays stick out in my mind as the way this season has gone for this team and it's the reason why we are where we are right now."
Woodson has seen the top of the NFL mountain as a Super Bowl champion in Green Bay and now he is staring at the deepest chasm. And yet in a game where he easily led the team with 14 tackles (11 solo), it's the one play he didn't make that eats at him. He just wishes sometimes he felt like that was a quality that extended to all of his teammates. Something he said happens only in "spurts".
"I'm still gonna go out there and do what I do as somebody that respects this game, loves this game," Woodson continued. "I'm out there fighting for respect every down. It don't matter what's going on on the field or what the record is, I'm going out there and you're gonna look at the film and say 24 is... that's what it's all about."
At some point maybe this team will get close enough to the reality of a winless season that they are able to play outside of themselves for the sake of pride. This could be Woodson's last season and this is not how he envisioned going out.