Programming note: Watch Monday’s Raiders press conference with head coach Dennis Allen live on CSN California and streaming live online right here at 1pm
What you need to know: These Raiders are different, assuredly better than they were a year ago. That’s been the company line. Progress is the product being sold around Oakland these days, as the franchise fuels optimism for the future.
The unofficial slogan is modest and direct: This team isn’t quite as good Raider Nation, but they’re assuredly better than last year’s 4-12 mark.
Here, buy a ticket. Buy a jersey. Buy some hope.
Chillpills were digestible because these Raiders have been competitive. General manager Reggie McKenzie’s revamped defense was a backbone for present and future success, with offensive skill players trying desperately to produce consistenly. Head coach Dennis Allen seemed to have this franchise headed in the right direction.
If only this team could finish the way it starts. Then things would be different.
That logic was sound. Notice the italics. And the past tense.
Sunday’s 37-27 embarrassing loss to the lowly New York Jets calls most every belief into question. The Raiders regressed on defense and made critical mistakes on offense and special teams. A third straight loss dropped the Raiders to 4-9, with little hope of winning one of three remaining games.
After the latest debacle, progress is harder to see and much harder to sell.
The Raiders showed a glaring lack of defensive depth Sunday, often looking outmatched and overwhelmed. The starting 11 is gassed, showing early fight before sputtering on an empty tank. That’s tough to comprehend, because defense was the main source of optimism not too long ago.
Allen concedes this group is worn down. He said so after a Thanksgiving loss to Dallas and again Sunday after a 10-day break offered no help.
That’s the reasoning behind so many missed tackles in the worst defensive effort this season. The Raiders made quarterback Geno Smith, who had eight picks and notouchdowns in six weeks, look like a competent player. They let a struggling offense score 17 more points Sunday than in the last three games combined.
Despite saying each week that problems need to be fixed, the same issues crop up again and again.
“It’s beginning to sound like a broken record,” outside linebacker Kevin Burnett said. “I think the players are tired of hearing it. I think the coaches are tired of saying it. We have two choices from here on out: Good or bad? What are we going to choose?”
The Raiders want to show grit and fight, which speaks volumes about the character in that locker room. There’s no doubt these Raiders have heart. They care, even after all this.
Frustration, however, is starting to mount.
“You work so hard and, more than anything else, you want to get rewarded with a win,” middle linebacker Nick Roach said. “It is hard, but there’s only one option. You can either keep taking it and keep losing, or you can try and do something about it.”
The Raiders hope to finish strong, but the talent and depth disparity -- masked so well early in the year -- is starting to show. The road will get bumpy. The Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers are a combined 28-12. Even the Chargers, beaten at home Oct. 6, are showing signs of late life.
And, if the Raiders finish 4-12 for a second straight season, different means were used to reach the same undesired end. No one, from the front office to the practice squad, wants that.
“I think we have some tough guys on this team and I don’t think they’ll quit playing regardless of where we’re at,” free safety Charles Woodson said. “Guys will continue to play. We have three games left, and they’re against division opponents. If we don’t play well, it could get embarrassing the rest of the way out.”
Play of the game: Marquette King has his second punt blocked this season, and this one came at a terrible time.
The Jets had just scored a field goal, but the Raiders offense went backwards. Then the Jets' Antonio Allenburst through the interior line and easily blocked King's punt. Allenburst got up, recovered in the end zone and scored a touchdown that suddenly put the Jets up 17 points heading into halftime.
The Raiders offense rebounded but the defense didn’t, leaving special teams points as a crucial barrier between the Raiders and a legitimate comeback.
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Janikowski becoming unreliable: Sebastian Janikowski missed another field goal attempt on Sunday -- this time a 52-yarder that sailed wide right from the right hash –- he’s had problems kicking from the left hash.
That’s no gimmie, but Janikowski is famous for converting long-range attempts. Any miss is strange for a kicker of this caliber, but the errors are really piling up.
He’s just 18-for-26 after 14 games. That’s a 69-percent clip, which is the worst conversion rate in the NFL. Even with his track record, Janikowski has become unreliable.
Sunday’s miss came at an inopportune time. The Raiders didn’t take advantage of Kevin Burnett’s interception in Jets territory. The Jets assumed possession in at their own 42, and quarterback Geno Smith threw a touchdown pass three plays later.
“Those are ones we expect for him to make,” Allen said. “That’s something that we’ve got to look at moving forward. Those are momentum builders or momentum killers. We thought field position in this game was going to be a critical factor, and when you give them good field position there, that was a big factor in the game.”
East Coast struggles continue: The Raiders lost their 13th straight game while playing three time zones away, a troubling trend that can’t get adjusted. The Raiders didn’t want to make excuses about long travel or 10 a.m. (Pacific) kickoffs.
They came out flat versus the Jets, but Allen countered that the Raiders had a strong start a month back against the Giants.
“Fast starts haven’t been our issue,” Allen said. “Putting ourselves in an early hole was hard to come back from.”
[RELATED: Pryor's cameo has adverse effect on McGloin]
Streater headed for 1,000?: Receiver Rod Streater had another productive Sunday, totaling seven catches for a career-high 130 yards. He also scored a touchdown from 48 yards out.
He has 280 yards over his last three games and 787 for the season. If he can duplicate that total over the season’s final three games, Streater would be the first Raiders 1,000 since Randy Moss had 1,005 in 2005.
Quote of the day: “We looked like the Bad News Bears out there. In saying that, I want to give a lot of credit to our offense. They never stopped fighting, and they really gave us a chance to stay in the game. Then, defensively, we went out there and basically peed down our leg. It’s just embarrassing. -- Raiders free safety Charles Woodson on a defensive debacle he considers among the most embarrassing of his career.
Injury update: The Raiders suffered a few injuries of significance against the Jets. Linebacker Sio Moore suffered a neck injury but returned to the game after. Defensive tackle Vance Walker and tight end Nick Kasa suffered concussions and they won’t be cleared to practice or play until they clear stages of the NFL’s protocol on concussions.
Running back Rashad Jennings must be cleared to play as well. He was held out Sunday with concussion-like symptoms after suffering the injury on Thanksgiving at Dallas. There’s also no timetable for other key players, including receiver Denarius Moore (shoulder), running back Darren McFadden (ankle) and right guard Mike Brisiel (knee).
Looking ahead: If the Raiders can’t be the lowly Jets, they’re going to have problems down the stretch. They face the entire AFC West before season’s end, and will be underdogs in each game.
A home date with the Kansas City Chiefs is up first, followed by a road game at San Diego and the season-finale against Denver. Even if the Broncos have the AFC’s No. 1 seed locked up -- rendering that game inconsequential – and Peyton Manning sits, the Raiders would still struggle against that juggernaut.
This stretch is now crucial for head coach Dennis Allen. If he gets beat soundly by every team in this portion of the season, showing just how far behind his Raiders really are in the division, he might be out of a job this offseason.