The talk all week leading up to this past Sunday's matchup against the New England Patriots revolved around two things:
First, the Raiders had to control the ball on the ground, impose their will on New England's defense, and keep Tom Brady off of the field.
Second, all eyes would be on Richard Seymour, who was playing his first game against his former team since being traded before the 2009 season. He figured to lead the charge on defense and stymy Brady, his former quarterback on three Super Bowl teams.
The first part the Raiders were able to somewhat accomplish.
For those that did not watch the game, the game was a little closer than the 31-19 final tally would indicate. The game simply hinged on a few unfortunate plays and costly errors that swung the Patriots' way.
In the first half, the Raiders went blow for blow with the Patriots. On their first drive, the Raiders methodically drove the ball down the field until a penalty on Jared Veldheer stunted the drive; forcing Sebastian Janikowski out to notch a 28-yard field goal.
New England answered with a touchdown drive, only for the Raiders to come back with a long touchdown drive of their own, capped off with a one-yard Michael Bush touchdown run.
The Patriots returned the favor. When the Raiders got the ball back, however, they looked set for another scoring drive. But with the ball a few yards from the end zone, Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell threw a costly interception that permanently swung all the momentum in New England's favor.
Before the end of the half, the Patriots were able to put another three points on the board, sending both teams into the locker room 17-10.
The Raiders showed no signs they could stop New England's offense and it was the Patriots who would receive the ball first in the second half. At this point, the Raiders' offense was pinned against the ropes and had to go against their game plan.
Thus, on the first task, the Raiders receive an "A" for effort. The game simply spun out of control and their ball control offense was rendered moot. Still, they outgained the Patriots by nearly 100 yards and won the time of possession battle.
As for the second item, this is where Oakland dropped the ball.
It wasn't just the inexplicable decision of the coaching staff to, more often than not, have Joe Porter lined up against Wes Welker instead of Stanford Routt. After all, why sign Routt to that hefty contract if he is not going to be used against the opposing team's best receiver?
It wasn't just Rolando McClain, once again regressing and assisting in allowing New England to run for 183 yards on the ground, behind the "dynamic" duo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley.
As he sometimes does, he looked slow in reacting and took terrible angles at the ball carriers. These were not the kind of games the Raiders envisioned when they selected him with the eighth overall pick.
It wasn't just the injuries the Raiders had on both sides of the ball, though these certainly didn't help. Marcel Reece showed why he is one of the most important cogs of Oakland's offense.
The Raiders as a team had 160 yards on the ground, but the ground attack didn't look elite as it did some other weeks. Attribute that to Reece's absence, whose blocking skills, especially in the second level, are extremely underrated.
Two injuries in the secondary to Michael Huff and Chris Johnson, especially when facing a team with so many passing options, obviously put the Raiders at a disadvantage. Also, don't forget Matt Shaugnessy.
It wasn't just the lack of a pass rush, though, we are now getting warmer. Very similar to the game against Buffalo, the Raiders were unable to muster any pressure upfront, and in each game were simply able to tally one meaningless sack once the game was slipping out of reach. Players like Kamerion Wimbley, Tommy Kelly, Trevor Scott, and Richard Seymour proved to be non-factors.
Richard Seymour. After the much ballyhooed meeting between Seymour and his former team, the first drive of the game proved to be the only time the announcers called his name. He was charged with two personal foul penalties, one an unnecessary roughness and the other a tug on the opponent's facemask.
It is hard to say whether or not emotions got the better of Seymour, and I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. The fact is, this is now the second straight year where Seymour has cost his team with flags thrown his way.
Last year, the Raiders were 5-4 going into the bye, coming off a thrilling victory against the first place Kansas City Chiefs. The team was beginning to be taken seriously in league circles.
However, they faced a tall task in Week 11: the eventual conference winning Pittsburgh Steelers. Trailing big early in the game, Seymour unleashed an open-hand smack that landed Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisbeger and his back. Seymour was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and was ejected from the game.
This year, the Raiders were 2-1 heading into their meeting against the Patriots. A win here would have given Hue Jackson and his squad instant credibility. Instead, Seymour, who many of the players look for to set the tone in the game, and to his credit he often does, commits two big fouls on the first drive of the game.
From that point, the players and the home crowd, showed little emotion. It was almost as if they were resigned to their fates. The Patriots were simply the better team.
Is the pressure of being the only veteran leader on a young Raiders' team too much of a burden for Seymour? After all, he is unaccustomed to being on a losing team after spending many years in New England, a team that was stocked with veteran leadership. This is a question I'm not sure we can answer just yet.
What I do know is that the years the Raiders are successful is when they have strong leadership; players who can put the teams on their back or make a play when the chips are down.
In the early 2000s, I remember Rod Woodson coming up with big interceptions in key moments. I remember Charles Woodson forcing fumbles when the team needed the ball. I even remember a number of games that Rich Gannon was able to lead the team on a game winning drive with some clutch plays down the field.
Last year, in that game against the Chiefs, Jacoby Ford made some huge spectacular catches. Yet, you want to be remembered more as a player who consistently makes these plays and not just for a play you made. This is what separates the Lynn Swann's from the David Tyree's.
There are a few viable candidates of players who can step up when it matters. Players like Darren McFadden, Lamarr Houston, Denarius Moore, and Michael Huff I feel all have this capability. Whether they can get it done remains to be seen.
A word that is thrown around when analysts talk about this team is identity. I think the Raiders as a unit now the kind of understands what kind of football team they are. They are going to run the ball down your throat, sprinkle in some plays through the air, keep the defense off balance, and try to pressure the quarterback.
As individuals, I don't know if the Raiders have any clue who they are. That, to me, was the biggest difference between the two teams this Sunday. Players like Brady and Welker know that when things aren't going their way, they can tap into their reserves and make a play when their team needs it. Every member of the Raiders seems to be waiting for someone else to do the job.
The Raiders lost to the better team. Could they have won this game? Absolutely, but they didn't. The team is 2-2, around the same mark many people expected at this point. As I said after the loss to the Bills, how they react to the losses will be crucial. Next week, the Raiders face a strong Houston Texans team that stands at 3-1.
As Hue tells his players, it's next man up. This applies to opponents as well.
We are a quarter of the way through the regular season, and there are twelve weeks left. The Raiders have shown they can hang with the better teams from the AFC. If they can continue growing from each experience and each player can dig deep within themselves, there is no doubt this team will continue to be talked about in January.
The journey continues next week in Houston.
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