OAKLAND – Entering Sunday, the Raiders had less than a one percent chance of making the playoffs. That was before legitimate wild-card contenders Kansas City and the New York Jets won prior to the team’s afternoon kickoff.
Sunday’s 30-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday afternoon dropped the Raiders’ playoff prospects to zero. Pittsburgh’s simultaneous win meant it wouldn’t have mattered what result the Raiders produced. For the 13th straight year, this Raiders season won’t have second life.
Finality hit this roster hard. Silence pervaded following this loss, yet another where the Raiders competed hard, wavered some and eventually lost a close decision.
A hard reality clearly set in.
These guys weren’t blindsided. Head coach Jack Del Rio didn’t abuse the team’s low playoff odds the past few weeks as a motivational gimmick. He was honest about it being unrealistic following a critical loss to Kansas City.
That didn’t make Sunday any easier to handle.
“It’s still disappointing,” running back Latavius Murray said. “Like I just said, we wanted to win the division, that was our goal and we didn’t do that. We wanted to play in the postseason and we came up short. We’re not happy with that. We’re not satisfied at all.”
That sentiment comes straight from someone who experienced 0-10 and eventually 3-13 last season. The Raiders have doubled 2014’s win total. They expanded a young foundation, added veteran talent and are widely considered a team on the rise. They have a franchise quarterback and a top-flight pass rusher. They have young skill players and have invested heavily in both lines. Optimism abounds about head coach Jack Del Rio’s leadership and general manager Reggie McKenzie’s recent drafts.
This year’s Raiders expected more. Del Rio had them convinced that anything was possible, and falling short in competitive games will be considered opportunities lost over experience gained.
“Yeah, it could’ve been different,” Woodson said. “But ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda.’ You know how that goes. But the team has gotten better. The team, I think, is under great leadership under the direction of [Head Coach] Jack Del Rio, and this team will be a team to look out for, trust me.”
Football players live in the moment, and put a year’s worth of work into 16 games for the hope of playing a few more for a real shot at glory. All those offseason workouts and trips to the gym and early-morning film sessions are the rabbit chased by these greyhounds.
Even with two games remaining, the death of this season’s dream should be mourned.
“It hurts. It hurts. It hurt my heart,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “I know how much work I put into this. I know how much work our team puts into this, our coaches. How much we sacrificed during the week and even during our offseason. Sometimes we joke around that there really is no offseason because everyone’s ultimate goal is to go to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. That’s always my goal. I compete because I want to be the best and I just have to keep working at it.”
Players can’t help but think about what ifs. What if they would’ve won more home games, or performed better in the clutch. Sometimes it’s a play here and there that could’ve changed a game or kept the Raiders in the hunt and playing for something these past two weeks.
Bottom line is that the Raiders aren’t quite ready for primetime yet they’ll look back with regret. Time will offer perspective and, with so many key components under contract, an eye will point to the future and 2015 will look like a required stepping stone if the Raiders move on to prosperous times.
“We’ve made a ton of progress,” Woodson said. “For this team, in critical situations you can’t beat yourself. It’s hard enough to go out there and play the other team, but when you make mistakes that are hurting you and are self-inflicted, it’s hard to overcome. As this team grows and gets better, we’ll get better at those type of things.”