Raider Nation is at a very difficult crossroads. On one side optimism is abound with a strong sense that the team is getting better and will be competing for years to come. On the other side we thought they would be competing this year after their hot start and now they have fallen apart.
This latest loss to the Detroit Lions stung the worst since their Week 1 annihalation at the hands of the Cincinnatti Bengals. It was ugly, boring, and featured some of the worst play from the offense that we have seen in Derek Carr's tenure in the NFL. They lost to a 2-7 team that they should have beaten, albeit one that is on a high after beating the Packers in Lambeau for the first time since 1991.
The defense for once wasn't even to blame for this game, they weren't perfect but they only gave up 16 points to the Lions (they got 2 points from a safety to equal their 18 on the day). It should have been enough to win. They bent throughout the game but stayed strong until the big drive from the Lions that retook the lead 16-13 with the scrambling touchdown from Matt Stafford. That drive was especially ugly, but the defense did well enough in the game for the win.
No, where the Raiders went wrong in this game fell squarely on their out of sync offense. There wasn't a single stand out player on the team yesterday from their highly touted playmakers, and their best player WR Amari Cooper had his worst game as a pro. What makes it so much worse was that this was a "must win" game that the team came out so unbelievably flat for.
The only player who stood out as having a truly great game was Khalil Mack on the defense who stepped up his game big time with Aldon Smith gone for the year. Mack was all over the place, tackling anything near him even when he had to chase them from behind to do it. He might not have the sack numbers that we envisioned, but Mack is as disruptive as can be for a single player that the offense knows they have to contain.
That is it though, with an honorable mention to Michael Crabtree who needs to be targeted even more than he currently is. The guy's hands are some of the best in the business, though even he only had 50 yards on his 6 receptions. That wasn't all his fault though, Derek Carr was not efficient against the Lions to say the least.
What can you really say at a time like this though? They are basically right dab in the middle of where anything positive comes off as naive, but anything too negative sounds like an over reaction when considering where the team is now compared to the last few years. That is where Raider Nation is though, drifting somewhere in between relevancy and laughing stock.
At 4-6 their playoff dreams are all but officially gone, they are not going to go 5-1 and they are unlikely to get enough help for it to matter even if they did. They haven't been mathematically eliminated so you die hard optimists can live on for slightly longer, but realistically any shot at the playoffs is pretty much caput.
The bigger thing for us to care about is just simply that the regression stops. They have a winnable game next week against the Titans before the schedule gets decidedly harder. Jack Del Rio needs to nip this slide in the bud this week so that the team can start improving for the future again. He is the one most responsible for the team being ready for each game and he utterly failed to do so yesterday against the Lions and to a lesser extent last week against the Vikings too.
Going into the upcoming heart of the schedule with Green Bay, Denver and 2 games against the Chiefs upcoming in their 6 remaining games is going to be hard. Heading into that schedule on the heels of a 4 game losing streak with 2 of those games being the Lions and the Titans would be downright unbearable. This is "must win" for their franchise, not just their season.
The truth is though, playoffs were always a long shot for this season. Their hot start made us all get giddy about the possibilities and excited for an even better season, but before the year we didn't think they would be a good team yet. Guess what? They are not a good team YET.
Get the young stars more experience, fight for the improbable playoff spot anyway, and get these players to have a consistently good effort from both sides of the field before the end of the year. The main goals now are to end the season with momentum, continue to instill the confidence that they are building something great here, and become the good team next season that they are capable of being.
Winning some this year assures everybody that they are on the same page and in for the long haul of sustained success for years to come. That is what is needed in the long run anyway because a flash in the pan of success before burning out all over again would be even worse than just continuing to be awful year after year. When these dark days are over they need to be over for a long time, and even with the current losing streak this team is still on a good path for that to become the reality. We hope.