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Until Sunday, Tony Sparano liked to refer to the Oakland Raiders he coaches as “kids,” as in “the kids played well,” or “the kids worked hard.”
Sunday was another matter. They didn’t play well, their work product was too sporadic to be taken seriously, and they didn’t look anything like kids. They reverted to the Dennis Allen Raiders in a comprehensive way, losing 41-17 to The Manning and in doing so undid almost all the advances they seemed to be making under Sparano.
“Advancements,” of course, being poor substitutes for actual wins. The Raiders took their ninth successive beating this year, and going back to last season the streak is 15. And with only one game left against a team with a losing record (St. Louis, at a sprightly 3-6), they will not see an unmotivated team again this year.
Unless, of course, they decide to become that themselves.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Raiders diced up by Manning, fall to 0-9]
The argument whether the Raiders still care about their work is mooted Sunday, because other than their first and last offensive drives, they didn’t have the ball long enough for anyone to know. In 13 drives, they held the ball for more than two minutes twice, and 10 of the other 11 were three-and-outs. Their drives ended punt, punt, touchdown (after a Justin Tuck blocked pass and pick), punt, interception, punt, punt, fumble, punt, interceptions, punt, punt, punt.
They couldn’t run the ball (30 yards, the third-lowest total of the year after themselves in Week 1 and Jacksonville in Week 2, and stopped trying altogether after their one TD. Quarterback Derek Carr threw 47 times for 192 yards, averaging barely four yards per attempt, and half of those came on the last drive of the game after even the seagulls had left in disgust.
By then, the seagulls and a putative sellout crowd had already seem the quintessentially modern Raider play – Carr under pressure, flipping the ball to avoid a sack where it is caught by tackle Khalif Barnes, who can’t catch the ball by rule, but does anyway, tries to advance it and gets it stripped by Denver’s Malik Jackson and recovered by Denver’s Chris Harris, Jr., at the Oakland 18. Three plays later, a 10-point deficit becomes 17, and “Look out below!” becomes the order of the day.
Put another way, let’s let Barnes explain it.
“It was just instructive I think,” he said. “I wasn’t going to bat it down or anything. I know I’m ineligible, but I just grabbed the ball and tried to take off and then I got smacked in the back by somebody. I thought the ball didn’t come out until it hit the ground, maybe it did. It came out? All right. There you go. I got smacked.”
ALERT! ALERT! GO TO DEFCON TWO! SEASON METAPHOR AT 11 O’CLOCK HIGH!
But that’s cheap. The air had been sucked out of the Coliseum bowl well before then. Even the 97-yard scoring drive against Denver’s disinterested defense at the end of the game marked the fifth time this year the Raiders scored in the last two minutes of a game to make that day’s loss seem nominally better than it actually was.
In short, the Raiders, who weren’t quite as improved as they wanted us to think, are now back at square (and altitude) zero, as bad as they have been since the worst of the Allen days. Sparano sounded and looked defeated, at least as near as anyone can tell given his penchant for sunglasses indoors and hats pulled down near the eyebrow, and the players – well, they can’t not know the deal by now. One more lost season, one more futile run up the muddy hill.
Mark Davis was not seen in the locker room afterward, no doubt having his calls no longer returned by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, but this is a year that has been demonstrably worse than the two before it, and if you few remaining faithful Raider fans think it unfair to draw any conclusions against a team as accomplished as Denver, well, the sample size for institutional failure here is no longer small. Even if you want to proclaim the Hue Jackson year as a bold step toward relevance, remember that team lost four of its last five to miss the playoffs, then turned over the operation to a new regime that is now 8-33.
And that’s not a metaphor. That’s Raider World in a nutshell, and the men who are enduring this as they present it to you are no longer kids. Not even the kids are kids at this point.