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Raiders’ Rewind: Another Letdown

Hibernation of offense leaving Josh McDaniels looking for answers with two games left

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels calls in a play during Saturday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

One doesn’t need to be a football scholar to know 10 points — even in the elements — isn’t going to cut the mustard often in the NFL.

So it was no surprise to hear Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels speak about just that in his media session on Monday after his team fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-10 this past Christmas Eve.

“So, 10 points on the road is tough to win when you’re doing that, it puts a lot of pressure and stress on the defense. I thought the defense did a decent job for the most part,” McDaniels said in his opening statement. “At the end of the day, just hard to win with 10 points. It’s just difficult to do that. Like I said, I didn’t think we went in there and the conditions affected us, that’s not the case. I thought we played decent in that regard, but just didn’t have enough to show for it.”

Las Vegas showed plenty on a frigid Saturday evening in Pittsburgh. But the majority of it was impotent offensive football that saw the Raiders score 10 points in the first half and get blanked in the second. McDaniels’ squad led 10-3 going into halftime and instead of answering the Steelers field goal and late touchdown, the Raiders went quietly into the cold bitter night.

Quarterback Derek Carr struggled mightily in the inclement weather that featured single-digit temps with wind gusts. The ninth-year signal caller finished with three interceptions and one touchdown while going 16 of 30 (53.33 completion percentage) for 174 yards. That’s par for the course when it comes to the Raiders quarterback throughout his career as he remains winless (0-6) in temperatures under 37 degrees. Carr’s accuracy was amiss as was his receiving targets hands as it was a sad melody of unfortunate circumstances. But McDaniels isn’t going to dogpile on his quarterback.

“There’s a lot of reasons obviously for that. It’s never on one person,” McDaniels said when asked about Carr’s struggles that has him throwing nine touchdowns and nine interceptions that last five games. “That’s our responsibility, my responsibility. At the end of the day, the passing game and the production of the passing game usually has a lot to do with how we protect, the routes we run, the ability to read the coverage together, throwing and catching. There’s a lot that goes into that. I know that statistic gets applied to just one person, but certainly there’s other factors.”

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, top, is sacked by the Pittsburgh Steelers Cameron Hayward during Saturday night’s game.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Yet, McDaniels made it clear performances like the Christmas Eve debacle aren’t acceptable if Las Vegas does have championship aspirations. Because at this time of the year, regular season tilts won’t all be in climate-controlled environments and the postseason road tends to go through cold-weather teams, too.

“So, I mean, look that’s not good enough,” McDaniels added. “And for us to be able to win at this time of the year and be productive, offensively you have to throw the ball better than what we’ve thrown at times here in the last month and a half. We’ve been able to win some in spite of that, overall, but clearly that’s not the goal. The goal would be to be more productive than what we’ve been.”

Las Vegas has two more games left on tap and both are matchups against supremely talented squads in the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Both have locked clinched their respective divisions (the NFC West and AFC West) and are firing on all cylinders. Unlike the Raiders, who seam to take two steps forward, stumble, and roll back down the hill starting anew.

While it may seem a bridge too far-type scenario to see Las Vegas leading either San Francisco or Kansas City at the half — stranger things have happened — changing the broken record of lost leads is something that continues to elude McDaniels’ crew. He’s not going to finger point the defense, which has held up its end of the bargain before finally breaking in the face of an absence offense.

“So, we have a lead, we have to create a bigger lead, and that’s just the way that the league goes,” McDaniels said. “And if you don’t, then you’re going to have to play great defense the entire game and hold them to single digits and all that to win, and that’s difficult to do.”