Raiders played better, but not well enough
Mark Purdy is a columnist
for the San Jose Mercury News
FOXBOROUGH — The Raiders defied the odds Sunday. They made the Patriots perspire.
As two-touchdown underdogs, the Raiders took the game to the final minute. Passes were completed. First downs were accomplished. Tackles were made. And the Patriots, who have not lost at home in the regular season to an AFC opponent since 2008, experienced some pain on the way to a tough, 16-9 victory over the professional football players of Oakland.
The question is, should we shower them with buckets of silver and black confetti for the effort?
And the answer to that question is: No.
After all, what we saw Sunday was probably what we expected to see all along from the Raiders of 2014. They turned up at Gillette Stadium and played the way that pros should.
“That should be the standard we’ve got to be at every week,” said Raiders coach Dennis Allen, in seeming agreement.
Why was it better this time?
“Maybe it comes down to guys understanding where we’re at,” Allen said, “and that we’ve got to do something to get things turned around.”
So where are the Raiders, then?
“Well,” said Allen, “we’re 0-3.”
In a bottom-line league, it’s as simple as that.
“If we play the type of football we know we can play,” said defensive end Justin Tuck, “we can beat anybody.”
Except for more than two seasons under Allen, they haven’t. Sunday was a large improvement over the embarrassment against Houston one week earlier. But the brutal reality is that the close-but-no-cigar result for the Raiders likely had no effect on Allen’s future job status. Yet we did discover that his players, when up against it, will play hard for him and his staff.
Credit Allen and his assistants for coming up with a good game plan to beat the Patriots — namely, chewing up time on the clock offensively while keeping Tom Brady away from long-yardage plays and forcing New England to kick field goals. And the Raiders did a fairly good job executing it.
Yet when the “moment of truth” plays arrived, as Allen put it, the Raiders just couldn’t quite get to the ultimate truth.
Defensive back Charles Woodson used his veteran savvy to — almost — intercept Brady.
Wide receiver James Jones used his athletic skills and leaping ability to — almost — catch a pass inside the 3-yard line with 1:50 left that could have led to a tying touchdown.
With 59 seconds left, running back Darren McFadden blasted through a hole into the end zone from the 6-yard line and — almost — scored a touchdown that also could have led to a tie game. But the 6 points were nullified by a holding call against rookie lineman Gabe Jackson. The flag was shaky. But it was probably the sort of call that referees look closely for in the red zone.
Quarterback Derek Carr then zipped a ball to receiver Denarius Moore who — almost — caught a pass at the 10-yard line. Instead, with a Patriots’ defender’s hand stuck into the mix, the ball bounced off Moore’s chest and pin-balled crazily into the hands of New England defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. His hey-look-what-I-found interception effectively ended the game.
“I guarantee we put a scare into them late,” said Carr, searching for positives. “And that’s for sure. No one expected that, but we did. Now, we’ve just got to finish it. It doesn’t matter if there was a holding call, it doesn’t matter what happens. It doesn’t matter. We lost.”
As a rookie, Carr continues to show good pocket presence and command of the huddle. But he wasn’t delighted after the interception. Television cameras caught him barking some undetermined emotional words in Moore’s direction. Should he have made the reception? Carr, asked about his outburst later, was more measured.
“It’s just the heat of the game. It was just frustration because I fought so hard,” Carr said. “It was tight coverage and I couldn’t see exactly what happened . . . I’m going to be hard on myself and say I should have made a better throw because I didn’t see it happen. All you can do is handle what you can control and maybe there was something I could have done better to help us win.”
Woodson also beat himself up, saying he should have had the interception. After an embarrassing loss to Houston a week earlier, he’d admitted that the Raiders “sucked.” This game was a far better effort, Woodson conceded. He’s also been around enough to know what was — and is — at stake in terms of job security for Allen.
“Any time you lost, a lot of people’s jobs are in question, players and coaches,” Woodson said. “You never want to see a coach lose a job on your watch. And I think every man in here would love to keep his own job and have the coaches keep their jobs.”