Competing and finishing are two entirely different things. Josh McDaniels’ Las Vegas Raiders do the former well enough, however, it’s the latter that still needs refinement. Learning how to win is a lesson the head coach harps on his desert marauders since he arrived and thus far, finishing has eluded the Silver & Black in all but one game (the lone win over the Denver Broncos).
“Learning lessons the hard way sucks,” McDaniels said during his day-after press conference on Tuesday. “But, again, I think our team realizes you can compete with them, but there’s a difference between just being in the game and then being able to close the game. And those are the lessons that we’re going to have to learn, hopefully soon.”
The “soon” part has to be the most the frustrating stick point for not only the Raiders coaching staff and players and the rabid Raider Nation fan base, but also owner Mark Davis. The 1-4 mark has to be beyond Davis’ wildest dreams of how this incarnation of his Raiders would after five games. But the initial stanza of the 2022 campaign is replete with the inability to close.
The Raiders joined the Ravens as teams to lose multiple games this season after leading by 17+ points.— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 11, 2022
Only 2 teams had lost multiple games after leading by 17+ points in the first 5 weeks of a season in all of NFL history prior to this year (2020 Chargers and 2011 Vikings).
The football-watching world saw Las Vegas walk into Arrowhead and throttle the Kansas City Chiefs to the tune of a surprising 17-0 lead. But that advantage dwindled to 20-10 before halftime and the end result was a 30-29 loss for the Raiders.
“So, the offense had three or four plays there, a couple of penalties, and we went from being ahead 20-7 to behind 24 to 20,” McDaniels said recapping Monday night’s defeat. “And that’s what happens when you play a really good team and you make some mistakes and don’t finish the quarters. Like I said, credit to them, they did a nice job in the second half of really fighting and battling and made some adjustments. We had some things that were working periodically and we kind of slowed them down a little bit here and there on defense, and then they found some other answers.”
While the distinction of losing multiple games in one season after leading 17-plus points is undoubtedly disconcerting, the Raiders’ ability to be within striking distance of a win can’t be ignored. Yes, moral victories are meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but the lessons learned are not. The minus-five point differential (125 points scored, 130 points yielded) is indicative of Las Vegas’ fight.
“Nobody can sit here and say we didn’t have opportunities last night, that’s not a true statement,” McDaniels lamented. “So, we had every opportunity to really do a good job of trying to win the game, whether that was get further ahead after the first half or come from behind and close the game out somehow, someway on offense at the end of the game. I don’t think anybody here is discouraged about the fact that we’re not close.”
The team needs to avoid the knockout blow while delivering one of their own to the opposition. This is where the bye comes in handy. It’s not ideal to go into a hiatus of games 1-4. Self-reflection, self-correction, and self-determination are must-dos for the Raiders.
“I think now it’s about, what do we need to do in practice?,.” McDaniels said. “What do we need to do carry it over to the games to be able to really make the plays that are winning plays at the end so that we have an opportunity to close out a lot of these close games? Because that’s what the NFL is, it’s a lot of close games every week. And when you start learning how to win them, and finishing them, you start to get a confidence and swagger about yourself, and then when you get in the next one, you feel good about it.”
What won’t be ideal is if Las Vegas comes out of it’s hiatus against the Houston Texans on October 23 still rife with the inability to execute or close. Attention to detail is the new age Raiders way and the bye week serves as ample time to review film, making corrections, and engage in repetition after repetition to improve. A drastic course correction from McDaniels isn’t likely on the horizon — not with this team being in games and not getting blown out. But something needs to change otherwise he’ll sound like a broken record with his “learn to win” phrase.
Looking ahead, post-bye, the Raiders are on a collision course with: The Texans (1-3-1), New Orleans Saints (2-3), Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3), Indianapolis Colts (2-2-1), Denver Broncos (2-3) and Seattle Seahawks (2-3). That’s a combined 11-17-2 as of this past Monday. It’s a schedule that could parlay itself into a run of victories — or losses. The Raiders will determine that.
“So, I don’t think there’s any shortcut. We got to eliminate the bad stuff. Too many penalties,” McDaniels said of what ailed Las Vegas this past Monday night. “We didn’t turn the ball over, which is a good thing, but too many penalties, untimely penalties on our end that allowed either them to put us in a hole offensively or kept drives alive for them, or in some cases give them an opportunity to extend a drive and score touchdowns. We got to clean some of that stuff up, obviously, because that doesn’t help either.”