Last week was the first week I missed publishing a column this season. It was part I forgot about the Saturday kickoff and part my disgust with the team. It’s one thing to miss the playoffs but it is another to miss it off an overtime national loss to your rivals. If the Raiders can pack it in so can I.
Things got worse when I heard Derek Carr was starting versus Miami. No disrespect to Carr as he is by far the best Raiders QB that I have seen. It is not his fault the Raiders have collapsed the past two seasons. However, he hadn’t been the solution either.
Marcus Mariota really provided a spark when he entered the Chargers game. I get you don’t lose a starting job to injury. Yet, the Raiders have routinely replaced QBs after injury. That is a commitment to excellent. The best players play.
It would’ve been nice to see Mariota play again after a full week’s practice. He gave the Raiders an added element with his legs. That is a weapon I wanted with the season on the end, especially in the red zone. Plus, they would’ve won the Chargers game minus Gruden’s conservative call in the red zone.
Still, Mariota doesn’t play safety. He couldn’t have bailed out a defense that gave up a game winning touchdown to Miami in a matter of seconds thanks to a blown coverage and unnecessary roughness call.
Yet, the difference was Miami having the balls to change quarterback. Tua is their guy long-term but Fitz helped them a little more and matched up a little better. With their backs against the wall, the Raiders went the QB with nothing to lose. Vegas did not.
The loss to Miami hurts even more since the Raiders lost to Miami a few years ago too. After that, the season unraveled as did the Jack Del Rio era. That Dolphins team made the playoffs. They were bad a few seasons in between but here they are making the playoffs again. Basically, they made the playoffs more recently than the Raiders and they rebuilt and turned it around faster than Vegas too.
Don’t forget former Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie is with Miami. The kicker in this is that Lynn Bowden Jr. for a fourth and then that fourth for Raekwon McMillan. So yeah the Dolphins are ran better than the Raiders.
Moving forward, the Raiders close their season in a division game versus the Broncos. It is basically a meaningless game besides the historic rivalry element. The Raiders will also start Carr and reports indicate they have no plans to move on from the QB who put up one of his best seasons statistically.
That’s cool and all but even Carr’s best year is only good for 8-8? Either the roster is so bad that Carr is the only reason they are 8-8 or Carr is really just an 8-8 QB who can be extraordinary with great weapons around him. Both options scream the roster isn’t enough.
It’s also what many of us screamed before the season. The only real selling feature of this team was Ferrell, Jacobs, Mullen and Crosby getting another year better. Abram, Ruggs and Arnette were supposed to be instant spark plugs. Joyner and Brown were supposed to be healthy. All of that made this team a sleeper playoff pick.
Unfortunately, none of that really happened. We should’ve expected that based on the team making a change at d-line coach despite that group playing great last year. Look at the track record developing picks. Did any of those 2-3 years players actually get better? Maybe Key or Morrow but that is about it.
Look at injury histories Joyner, Williams and Brown. We played ourselves thinking this year would be different.
My issue with the Raiders is they are chasing ghosts trying to remake Gruden’s glory years. That’s fine but they got to stick with it. Those Raiders teams were filled with experienced veterans providing competition. This team cut a lot of veterans opting for young players getting reps. That is fine but it is not a commitment to excellence. Play the best players regardless of age, salary or draft position. That’s what the Raiders do.
Why did the Raiders never try and add a veteran safety? There was so much starting experience at the position in free agency. They never added a pass rusher via trade until Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley. One was lost and the other hurt. The season was also getting away from them at that point. Yet, the Raiders kept fielding the same group expecting different solutions.
Every time we thought the Raiders found an identity they did something to undercut that. One week we thought this team would get driven by Jacobs. The next week we thought they could win off big plays with Carr and company. Another week it was everything thru Waller.
We fooled ourselves into thinking they could win in many ways. The truth is, they were just doing whatever they could to win. It’s fine for just Win Baby but it’s not how you build a culture that demands excellence.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say we are doing whatever it takes to win but you aren’t signing and playing the best guys. You can’t say your building something when in year three you still don’t have an identity or even a great foundation. Jury is still out on Jacobs, Crosby, Ferrell, Mullen, Arnette and more. However, Littleton, Joyner, Brown, Nassib, and more have not been as advertised.
Frankly, Gruden himself hasn’t been as advertised. He has a worse record than Jack Del Rio. We are also asking ourselves the same questions as when JDR left. Is Carr enough? Who is the No. 1 receiver? Where is the pass rush, dbs and lbs? Is Jacobs really a workhorse?
We expected answers to these questions three years later. Joke is on us because maybe Gruden always was just a .500 coach. A coach who can help guys reach their potential shouldn’t be the end all be all of roster decisions. Gruden deserves some credit for getting this mediocre team playing hard but the proof is in the pudding. The Raiders need to get better from top to botfom.
Thus, the Raiders got one more week to prove they are building something. Prove you are getting better and establishing an identity. Prove you can beat a lesser team no matter what. Prove you can dominate physically and take what you want on offense That’s the Raider way.
This game also has meaning for guys like Maliek Collins and Nelson Agholor playing for their next contract. It means something for guys like McMillan and Joyner trying to prove they can be part of the solution. It matters for fans like us who want to end the season with our pallet cleansed from another late season collapse.
Let’s hope this team can end the season on a win. Sure, many of us didn’t think we’d make it to the end of the season with COVID. However, this new market team needs to give the fans the ending they deserve with a win over the Broncos. Show the world that we really aren’t too far from breaking through. Otherwise, another loss might signal time for yet another rebuild, retool or re whatever you call it.
Point is, we can’t except this 8-8 mediocrity. We also can’t fool ourselves into thinking this team is much better than the record indicates. The truth is the Raiders are probably a middle of the pack road with an above average QB and coach. That still doesn’t mean they shouldn’t beat up on the Broncos and get their young players ready for a playoff run next year. It’s what fans across the Raiders’ three homes deserve.
The fact is the Raiders need to win today not for the playoffs but for themselves and the culture. Get back on the path to excellence instead of enabling the mediocrity. Stop selling hope and just win. Stop making excuses and make excellence. This is the first game of next year as far as I am concerned. Well, I guess it is a new year!