CARSON, CA-Let’s tell the truth: The Oakland Raiders are not a very good football team. They should be when you consider the team invested $125 million in its franchise quarterback and dropped $100 million to get the guy they wanted as their head coach. Clutching a 1-4 record after losing to the Los Angeles Chargers 26-10 at StubHub Center on Sunday, the Raiders look like a pretty anemic bunch.
“It was a tough one today,” said Raiders $100 million coach Jon Gruden.
It was a tough one indeed. But then again, when a team starts its season losing four of its first five games, navigating the waters is going to be rough until the ship starts sailing right. It’s been a while since the Raiders have had their ship on course. In regarding to this game, the Chargers outgained the Raiders 412 to 289 in total yards and put up more first downs (34-25) to beat their AFC West Division rivals. So, it’s back to the drawing board for Gruden’s team.
“They hurt us with screen passes,” Gruden said. “They got one to the tight end, they got one to [RB Melvin Gordon III], and quick screens to the receivers on the perimeter. They converted some long yardage situations where we had them way behind, I believe, in the down and distance. They had some holding calls where they were second-and-20 and they found a way out of trouble. [QB Philip] Rivers played great, he extended plays today. I think the two turnovers we had and the none that they had is a big factor as well.”
What’s wrong with the Raiders is that the team is mired in an identity revamping stage. And they have been for a while. The Raiders will be waving good-bye to the Bay Area at the end of the 2018 NFL season and taking their talents to Las Vegas next year. That’s not the concern for the Silver & Black. Not now.
Winning ballgames, dominating opponents in intimidating fashion has been a staple for the Raiders for decades. That’s nothing but sweet memories of the past. Forget about that 2016 season when the Raiders went 12-4 and made it to the postseason. That seems like more of an abbreviation than the norm for the legendary franchise.
In 2017, the Raiders went 6-10. Oakland got out of the gate this season, losing their first three games before picking up their first victory with a 45-42 win against the Cleveland Browns. The last time the Raiders produced winning seasons consistently was during the 2000 (12-4), 2001 (10-6), and 2002 (11-5) seasons. Other than that, it’s been a revenue of football failure on the field for the Raiders.
Changing zip codes won’t cure what the Raiders have blundered their way to. During this longtime misstep, the Raiders, historically cloaked in mystery, darkness and zealous gladiators smashing people in the mouth have been reduced to wishing upon a star and reminiscing about past glory. Since 2002, the Raiders have had 14 non-winning seasons.
That may explain Oakland feeling desperate enough to sign their former head coach to that 10-year, $100 million contract he signed. However, that won’t change the fact that the Raiders look every bit like a lost ship sailing in the abyss somewhere. Some people may dismiss that negative energy and point to Gruden’s .622 winning percentage as a head coach as a reason to believe things will get turned around for the Raiders.
Those same individuals will likely also talk about Gruden being a Super Bowl-winning coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Tony Dungy’s team) as earned pedigree. That’s all well and dandy, but after being out of the game for 10 years and inside of the television booth, Gruden will struggle to re-capture that magic he had before he walked away from the game.
Part of that challenge is finding out just who the Raiders are as a team. The Raiders lost the heart and soul of their identity when they traded away All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack prior to the 2018 NFL season. With that single move, the Raiders officially handed the keys of their car to quarterback Derek Carr.
One might argue that Carr was already driving the franchise in the way that general manager Reggie McKenzie wanted all along. But with the Raiders agreeing and signing off on that huge contract they gave to Gruden, the value and team leader position flew over to Carr once Mack was sent packing to the Chicago Bears.
It’s easy to see why. Just last year, the Raiders and Carr agreed on a bombastic five-year, $125 million contract, at that time making him the highest-paid player in the NFL. Like teams around the league, the Raiders made their quarterback the face of the franchise with his deal. Carr inked his deal after he passed for 3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2016. In 2015, Carr went for 3,987 yards and 32 scoring tosses.
He went over the 3,000-yard (3,496) marker last season but tied his career-high in interceptions in a season with 13. Carr is still putting up big numbers this season (No. 5 quarterback in the NFL), but his team is still knee-deep in the won-loss column.
“You have to tell me to calm down before you have to get me going, that has always been a problem of mine,” said Carr. “It’s not a problem, more of a weakness. I just always try doing too much. It is not out of a bad heart it’s just that I want to win so bad. Sometimes, it gets me caught up like on that bad play with the interception. I will have a whole bunch of reps before I am doing the right thing. I tell myself calm down and do the right thing and then we move the ball and score a touchdown. If we didn’t get the ball back, that would have hurt a lot but to get the ball back and say let’s just do what we have been doing and let’s score. I definitely press and it’s me trying to force something when I don’t have to do that.”
As for Mack, you don’t have to feel sorry for the master of disaster for too long. The Bears signed their new star to a reported a six-year, $141 million contract with $90 million in guaranteed money. The Bears are already reaping the dividends of their investment as Mack has played lights out through the team’s first month of games, ranking No. 2 in quarterback sacks.