Time to accept the Raiders for who they are, not who they were
That freewheeling, caution-to-the-wind team that owned the fourth quarter is gone and they’re not coming back.
Unless you’re the Patriots, Steelers, Seahawks or Packers, assuming their quarterbacks remain intact, the NFL is an iffy proposition. The Saints have Drew Brees and even they had a couple of down years.
How much did we really know the 2016 Raiders, anyway? As much as coaches say you get what you earn, the Raiders were on house money at 12-4 by almost every statistical measure based on their offensive and defensive performance.
It’s time to understand the 2017 Raiders for what they are — a flawed team on both sides of the ball that has somehow remained in contact in a surprisingly pliable AFC West.
Yet a team that remains within striking distance of the postseason despite a 5-6 record. If Kansas City were to lose to the Jets, the L.A. Chargers beat the Cleveland Browns and the Raiders handle their business against the New York Giants, it would be a three-way tie atop the division at 6-6 with a quarter of the season to go.
And the Raiders have all three teams remaining on the schedule.
Jack Del Rio would pick 12-4 over 5-6 with five to go any day, but if the Raiders emerge atop the division or make the playoffs, this team will have a permanent place in his heart.
It was an encouraging first-game for defensive coordinator John Pagano, although Simian’s late flurry raises at least some concern.
But it’s not entirely fair to bash the Raiders for squeaking out wins when that was exactly what they were lauded for a year ago, although in a more exciting style.
Just because that win came in a way less appealing to the eye — quarterback Derek Carr engineering some sort of miracle in the fourth quarter — doesn’t make it any less of a win.
Whether you like it or not, the way the Raiders went about beating Denver was much closer to the way Del Rio would like to play than what you saw a year ago.
More runs than passes.
A defense that gets off the field on third down, gets after the quarterback and puts itself in position for an interception or two.
Heck, they even got one against Denver, with NaVorro Bowman stealing one in the end zone while flat on his back.
That’s not to say the Raiders are better or worse, just different. They were unassailably better in terms of record a year ago, but totally reliant on Carr completing a magical season.
Yet it was not a well-rounded team, and up to this point, the Raiders aren’t anywhere near that in 2017, either.
While it’s impossible to get overly enthused about the defensive performance based on Lynch’s play at quarterback for the Broncos, the game shouldn’t have been as interesting late had it not been for two factors.
First, place kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missed a 35-yard field goal attempt with 5:50 to play that would have removed all drama, giving the Raiders a 24-14 lead.
On one late Denver scoring drive, Karl Joseph had a pass bounce out of his hands for a 15-yard gain to Cody Latimer — negating what would have been a second interception for a team that had zero through 10 games.
The Raiders made it harder on themselves, no doubt, starting from the point where Michael Crabtree carried a grudge all the way to an ejection because Aqib Talib knows he can get his goat by literally yanking his chain.
It’s not as if the Black Jack Del Rio gambling spirit has been totally eclipsed, based on the way Carr beat a Cover Zero over the middle by lofting a perfect pass to Cordarrelle Patterson for a 54-yard catch-and-run when the Raiders could have instead worked the clock.
The options for Del Rio were to continue to search for that lost formula, or have offensive coordinator Todd Downing adjust on the fly, play it closer to the vest and get Marshawn Lynch more carries even if there isn’t necessarily a ton of yards to follow.
There was some extremely cautious optimism regarding the defense against Denver. Carr was efficient when it mattered and made it work missing some important pieces. There was some physicality and toughness which manifested itself.
When the Crabtree-Talib fight broke out, it was reasonable to wonder if the Raiders had imploded.
Instead, they’re a legitimate contender among three teams that appear to be wheezing to the finish.
It beats the alternative.