Programming note: Watch Raiders Press Conference Live with Tony Sparano today at 2:00 p.m. on CSN California, or streaming live right here.
In a press conference announcing his promotion to interim head coach, Tony Sparano said the Raiders had forgotten how to win.
While Sparano didn’t apply that statement to Sunday’s 31-28 loss to the visiting San Diego Chargers, the result proved him right.
The Raiders watched a seven-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate into the hot October air, doing nothing to stem the tidal wave that, almost predictably, washed their hopes away.
It left these Raiders dejected. There was no talk of moral victory, only an effort that wasn’t good enough down the stretch.
Don’t let anyone tell you different; the Raiders wanted this one.
They did their best to purge the Dennis Allen era.
They spent 10 days focusing on renewed hope for the future, and victory would’ve been the perfect tonic for a team in positivity withdrawl.
“It’s not about wanting this one game more than any another,” outside linebacker Sio Moore, in rare form after a heart-wrenching loss. “It’s about wanting it. Period.
We had the desire. We just have to make sure we execute in situations. You don’t let that team off the hook. That’s unacceptable. I’m sick about that.”
Moore wasn’t the only one. Austin Howard sat near his locker in full gear 45 minutes after the game, staring into the ether.
Center Stefen Wisniewski was beside him, trying in vain to figure out what went wrong in those final 10 minutes.
They’ll replay specific moments, like a fourth-quarter three-and-out when they needed to run the clock down to nothing.
The defense will rue letting Branden Oliver loose down the stretch when he bullied his way toward the game-winning touchdown.
Derek Carr will certainly like a redo on his deep pass that became an interception, even if he says he’d throw it again tomorrow.
Without retracing each mistake, there were opportunities for the Raiders to win this game. They just couldn’t finish. That was a trademark of the Dennis Allen era, and it prompted Sparano’s honest commentary a few days ago.
The Raiders have forgotten how to win. Sparano, however, said theory doesn’t fit here.
“I don’t think it applies to this game. I can honestly say that,” Sparano said. “I said (the Raiders had forgotten how to win). I would say that is the truth if I felt like it was the truth here today. I don’t really think that’s how it played out at the end of this thing.
"But we have to win one of these games. We put ourselves in position to win a game. We just didn’t do it.”
Despite a significant record/talent disparity, the Raiders didn’t enter Sunday’s game hoping to keep it close. Sparano has done an excellent job of changing the mindset in Alameda, and their improved play should give him street cred in the locker room and keep the army focused despite dismal results.
They also know that one positive step doesn’t guarantee another one.
“We have to build on this,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “The last two times we had close games we came back the next week and didn’t play anywhere close to what we’re capable of playing. It’s going to hurt for tonight and probably tomorrow a little bit, but we have to turn our attention to the Arizona Cardinals because we have a pretty solid football team coming into our house. We have to figure out a way to win these close games like this.”
Sparano is happy his team saw some positive results and understands the level of commitment required to play better on Sundays.
“They’re starting to figure out that the amount of work that went into the last week is what is required,” Sparano said. “Some of the things that we really emphasized showed up in this football game. We just have to continue to win a few more of those battles.
"I think they understand that a little bit better right now. We’ll figure it out and we’ll get ourselves in a situation where we can win one.”
It takes a breakthrough to remind a group how to win again. It’s been so long, nearly a year now, and Sparano is trying to refresh their memory through hard work and commitment to the cause. It takes more than that. In the NFL, especially when you’re fighting an uphill battle, players have to come through in the clutch.
The first part is change of mindset. The Raiders didn’t enter Sunday’s proceedings trying to merely compete with a top-flight opponent.
“We didn’t walk into this place to play a good game, play a competitive game, or any of those things,” Sparano said. “We came here to win a football game. There are no moral victories; there are none of those things.
"But I did tell the men that I was proud of them. This group, from what they’ve been through the last two weeks, came out today and played with a lot of energy, a lot of passion.”