The Oakland Raiders have reached the bye week with regrets. They believe they’re far better than a year ago, yet they've completed six weeks with an identical 2-4 record.
That’s a disappointment several Raiders admitted during a period meant for introspection. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s emergence, a solid defensive effort and quality special teams play doesn’t surprise these Raiders.
One thing, however, sticks in their craw.
“I’m surprised our record isn’t better,” free safety Charles Woodson said. “I feel like we’ve had chances to win games, yet here we sit at 2-4. Our record is what it is, but we were in position to win a couple games that we lost.”
Head coach Dennis Allen’s primary objective was to take a young, impressionable franchise and teach them how to win. After losing three winnable games in six weeks, that’s clearly a work in progress.
“What we’ve got to do is learn how to, in those tough situations, in those critical moments, we have to learn how to train our minds to make those plays and take advantage of those opportunities that we have, so that we can win games,” Allen said. “I think our guys are of the mindset that we’re going to be able to get that done.
“Our guys have confidence that we can win football games. I told the guys yesterday, we’ve got a good team in there.”
The Raiders can only be successful when healthy. They aren’t deep enough at key spots to weather injury plagues, which is why things fell apart Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. The offensive line is the worst, and it’s weighed on offensive potential. Running back injuries hurt the Raiders against Washington. The Raiders can’t afford significant losses, even against lackluster teams. The Raiders hope to regain health during the bye.
“Everybody deals with injuries in the National Football League,” Allen said. “We’re not going to use that as any type of excuse. We’ve got to go in and do our job and execute.”
Playoff talk came about this week as Pryor tried to instill confidence in a team four games back in the AFC West and two behind in the final wild-card spot. The playoffs may be unrealistic, especially if the Raiders continually underwhelm in the clutch.
The Raiders have wilted without a finisher’s touch. They’ve faded in big moments and flopped their way through competitive games.
“Finishing games is our Achilles’ Heel right now,” cornerback Tracy Porter said. “We start games fast now. In the beginning it was a problem for us. Roles have reversed, but we have to get over the hump we have to play four full quarters of solid Raiders football that we know we can play. We want to start a game fast and finish a game strong. That's the biggest thing we have to work on right now."
Allen believes repetition will turn that tide.
“The more opportunities that we have to be in those situations, the better that we’re going to respond” Allen said. “Like I talk about every week, everything is a learning experience. What we’ve got to do is learn from those experiences and be able to take advantage next time. The critical thing is: you’ve got to put yourselves in those positions. We’ve put ourselves in those situations, now it’s time for us to make those plays when we get those opportunities.”
Lifetime Raiders are used to losing. Allen is leaning on veteran imports to help buck that trend. Woodson, Usama Young and Tracy Porter have won Super Bowls. Six other defenders have playoff experience, and stretch across all position groups.
It’s a different story on offense, as no skill player has experienced a winning season, and just three linemen have played in the postseason.
“I think we’ve got a lot of veteran players that understand what it takes to win,” Allen said. “We need some of these young players to step up and make the plans when they get the opportunities in those critical moments in those big games. When they do that, then we’ll have the success that we believe we can have as a football team.”
Most everything with these Raiders involves a learning curve. This team was assembled on a budget, with significant turnover on both sides of the ball. The Raiders are still learning to play together when it matters most.
“That takes time and we’re still growing as a unit,” Porter said. “It's going to come, hopefully sooner than later because we're definitely trying to make that playoff push. We've dug ourselves a hole at 2-4. It's not the end of the world and there are still playoff hopes for us, but we have to get things turned around in a hurry.”