Last week against the Browns looked like a crossroads for the Raiders. I would have said turning point, but there was nothing that suggested certainly that there was a corner that had been reached around which they were on a new path. It was merely a point where they could go one of two directions.
Either it was a sign of good things to come, which would suggest and upward trend, or a momentary departure from their struggles, which would suggest a return to the mean the following week.
It was the latter. And worse.
The mean was them playing well in the first half and then collapsing in the second half. This game they hung around in the first quarter and their crash and burn time happened before halftime.
The Chargers got on the board first on their first drive with a short field goal. It came off a Bruce Irvin sack on third down, so despite the opening drive, the Raiders defense stopped it.
At the tail end of the first quarter, the Raiders went on a long scoring drive that lasted into the start of the second quarter. They drove all the way to the 5-yard-line in first and goal. And then fell apart.
As is all too often the case, in first and goal, they went the the air, with the pass falling incomplete in triple coverage to Jared Cook. A false start by Jon Feliciano, filling in for the injured Kelechi Osemele, backed the Raiders up to the 10-yard-line. Then a short pass to Jalen Richard went for a loss and suddenly the Raiders were in third and goal from the 12. They would settle for a field goal.
The first part of the second quarter was a field position battle that the Chargers were winning. With six minutes left in the half, the score was still tied 3-3, but give the Chargers the field position edge that many times and eventually they are going to break through. They did so on a short dump pass to Austin Ekeler which he took for a 44-yard touchdown, juking Tahir Whitehead and Daryl Worley out of their cleats along the way.
With the first play of the Raiders’ next possession Carr found Martavis Bryant over the middle, who made a move and had the ball ripped out and given right back to the Chargers, who again had great field position. And again they had a big play on a short pass to a running back. The Raiders blitzed and the Chargers called a screen to Melvin Gordon and he was gone with an entourage of blockers.
That’s two scoring drives with two short passes to running backs that went for big yardage. And Raiders fans know that’s a longtime problem for their team. Even in their win over the Browns last week, they gave up several huge plays.
Worley wasn’t part of those previous losses. He returned this week from suspension and had a couple of nice tackles in the game. He was often alone in that and can’t always do it by himself.
“It was a check down that turned into a touchdown and that’s us, not them,” said Worley after the geam. “It may just be overcompensating a little bit, all 11 guys. Everyone just has to do their jobs. They have to make the tackles when they come. . . If we can eliminate those big plays, we’ll be ok.”
That falls squarely in the category of ‘easier said than done.’
Clock management has been a concern as well, particularly at the end of the first half.
Down 17-3, with 1:39 remaining in the second quarter, the Raiders got the ball. Much like against the Dolphins in week 3 with :52 seconds left, they had no timeouts with which to work. The Chargers protected the boundaries, forcing Carr to throw to the middle of the field. The clocked drained down with only a couple of spikes to stop it. His final spike set up a 57-yard field goal attempt which Matt McCrane missed short.
The time in Miami, they opted to kneel out the clock (which took two kneels) and turning down an opportunity to make any attempt at a score.
After the McCrane miss, the Chargers took over at their own 47-yard-line with just :06 seconds left. They could have taken a quick knee and headed to the locker room up 17-3, but they didn’t. They ran a play that picked up 8 yards and called a timeout (those things can be handy). And with one second left, Philip Rivers went for the Hail Mary. It fell incomplete, but Bruce Irvin put a late hit on Rivers which was flagged for a personal foul and moved the Chargers into field goal range. Caleb Sturgis missed the 48-yard attempt, but look what the Chargers were able to accomplish in :06 seconds? Something the Raiders couldn’t in 99 seconds in this game and chose not to even attempt with 52 seconds Miami.
That two-score lead made this game over at the half. We just didn’t know it yet because the last week the Raiders actually showed up in the second half, fooling everyone into thinking they could do it again.
A three-and-out by the Raiders gave way to another long drive by the Chargers to add a field goal to take a 20-3 lead.
What happened next was the nail in the coffin. Carr orchestrated a long drive, starting at his own 25 and leading into the red zone where a pass interference penalty on Derwin James in the end zone covering Jared Cook would give the Raiders the ball in first and goal at the one-yard-line.
In first and goal, not only did Carr not hand it to Marshawn, but Carr threw an interception right to Melvin Ingram. It was as easy an interception as you’ll see. Much like the one he threw to Rams linebacker Corey Littleton in the season opener. A gift with a big bow on it.
“You have to tell me to calm down before you have to get me going, that has always been a problem of mine. It’s not a problem, more of a weakness,” said Carr. “I just always try doing too much. It is not out of a bad heart it’s just that I want to win so bad. Sometimes, it gets me caught up like on that bad play with the interception. I will have a whole bunch of reps before I am doing the right thing. I tell myself calm down and do the right thing and then we move the ball and score a touchdown. If we didn’t get the ball back, that would have hurt a lot but to get the ball back and say let’s just do what we have been doing and lets score. I definitely press and it’s me trying to force something when I don’t have to do that.”
Gruden stood by his decision not to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch on first down, handing off blame to Derek Carr for making what could have been an incompletion an interception.
“We haven’t thrown the ball in a goal-to-go situation all year. It was first-and-goal, the decision there was to throw it. If it isn’t open, you throw it away. It didn’t work out. We expected that we’d have a wide open receiver on the play and obviously that will be second guessed, rightfully so. We should have made that throw down there and I’ll live to hand the ball off on the next play possibly.”
Just as the Chargers had done with the previous turnover on the Bryant fumble, they drove for a touchdown. This one they had to go 96 yards, but the interception was deflating to an already struggling Raiders defense and the Chargers marched right down the field. Half of that came on the first play with Tyrell Williams burning Gareon Conley for a 48-yard completion.
The score put the Chargers up 26-3 and instead of the shoot out many were expecting, it was a blowout. No sign of the high-powered offense late in the game in Oakland last week and all indications of the no-power offense and toothless defense that had taken the field in the second half of the first three.
Carr maintained his NFL interception lead, throwing his 8th of the season. The defense again had a sack in the first half and none in the second and have the fewest sacks in the NFL (6). Meanwhile Carr was sacked three times, all three of which were allowed by Kolton Miller.
Where do they go from here?