Oakland Raiders Valiant Effort Falls Short Vs Falcons
Justin Smith – Oct 16, 2012
That one really hurt. While not many people gave the Oakland Raiders much of a shot to do anything against the 5-0 Atlanta Falcons in their house at the Georgia Dome, the Raiders had different plans.
The Raiders struggle on the East Coast, after the bye, and on the road. The Falcons are nearly unbeatable at home, they're undefeated, and playing stellar football. The Raiders were last in the NFL in sacks; they had no interceptions coming into this game.
Matt Ryan was second in the NFL in QB rating and TD passes. He was completing almost 70% of his throws. A blowout was in the offing, with the Raiders weaknesses playing directly into the strengths of the Falcons.
A funny thing happened, though. The Raiders made adjustments during their bye. They got more aggressive in their defensive scheme. They put people in position to make plays and stopped playing scared.
As a result, the Raiders forced Ryan into an interception by Joselio Hanson on the Falcons first possession of the game and were poised to take the lead. All bye week, coaches and players talked about the running game being ready to break out.
It sure looked that way as Darren McFadden hit his run for seven yards; but then the Raiders, starting an unfortunate trend that looked to be behind them, got a penalty on the next play and were backed up. McFadden got the ball on a delayed hand off; and had it stripped by Jonathan Babineaux. The Falcons recovered and Ryan’s interception meant nothing as the Falcons got the ball back seconds later.
The Falcons promptly drove down into field goal range and Matt Bryant missed his first of the year, a 42 yarder he shanked wide left, leaving the Raiders with good field position. They had a short drive that ended at the Falcons 40 yard line. It was time for Sebastian Janikowski to earn that big money contract.
Only Shane Lechler came out instead. You could hear the collective screams of Raider Nation “what are you doing!?!? Seabass!! That’s why we pay him!! Kick a FG!” Instead Lechler, who can boom kicks but has no finesse from close in and kicks a lot of touchbacks, did it again. The Raiders gained 28 yards of field position; and left their Pro Bowl, NFL record breaking FG kicker on the bench.
It was a dubious decision, and one that would prove costly. You do not give up points when playing a superior team on the road. You just don’t.
The Raiders did.
After a deep pass to Roddy White was extended by a questionable roughing the passer call on Matt Shaughnessy – who played well all day – the Falcons had a first down at the Raider 39 yard line, the perfect down and distance for aggressive coaches to take a shot.
Fill in cornerback Michael Huff knew that, and played the deep ball perfectly, undercutting the route like the safety he usually is and intercepting the pass at the two, saving the Raiders and giving them their second INT on the day.
Backed up on their goal line, quarterback Carson Palmer was unfazed. In a throw that invoked Ryan’s heave to White two weeks earlier against Carolina that led the Falcons to an improbable last-second victory, Palmer threw a beautiful strike down the right sideline, dropping the ball perfectly into Denarius Moore’s hands for a 47 yard gain. The Raiders were in business.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, coming off the nasty hit from Ryan Mundy that left him with a concussion and strained neck, made an appearance a few plays later. He took the pitch on an end around, outran John Abraham to the edge, and then ran over a safety or two on his way to a twenty yard gain. It was a run that showcased his speed, but also his aggression and toughness, something very good to see after the nasty hit he took two weeks ago.
Alas the Raiders committed yet another penalty – their fourth of the game thus far, eclipsing their game average for the season in the first quarter alone – and were forced to settle for a field goal. As Janikowski boomed a 52 yarder that would’ve been good from 65 it was tough not to question why coach Dennis Allen opted to punt rather than have Janikowski attempt a 58 yarder earlier on.
The Falcons got the ball to start the second quarter and had had enough. Ryan led a fast-paced no huddle attack down the field to a touchdown in about five minutes, and the Falcons led 7-3.
The Raiders responded with another Janikowski field goal; but blew yet another goal to go situation with poor execution and play calling.
After executing a couple of nice runs – one of which was called back for holding on Willie Smith, one of two big runs his grabby paws negated on the day – and an electrifying screen pass to Mike Goodson – who’s really showing some speed and shiftiness now that he’s 100% - the Raiders were in a goal to go situation.
Yet as they have all season going back into the preseason, they failed to capitalize. Greg Knapp’s playcalling has been questionable at times, but is downright scared and weak in goal to go. After a nice run on 1st and goal got them to the one and Palmer threw an incompletion, Knapp had a choice. McFadden had been running angry all day and blowing Falcons backward; so naturally Knapp called a stretch run to the left from the half yard line.
It failed, as have ALL the stretch run plays he’s called from the one thus far – I count four – and the Raiders left points on the board as they settled for a field goal. The Raiders had received a stellar defensive effort and two turnovers, yet still trailed and could not make the Falcons pay.
The Falcons had the ball poised to extend their lead from 7-6 in the last few minutes of the half.
Only the Raiders didn’t get the memo; they stayed aggressive on defense – a theme that really played out well for them on Sunday – and on a blitz by Phillip Wheeler he flattened Ryan, who was just releasing the ball. It floated through the air right to safety Tyvon Branch, who returned it to the Falcons 28 yard line.
This time the Raiders didn’t waste any time, with Palmer hitting Moore in the right flat and Moore juking and jiving to a 25 yard touchdown. The Raiders led with under two minutes left, and were able to hold the Falcons off the board to go into half up 13-7.
Although they should’ve led by more than that – the failure to attempt a 58 yarder that history says would probably have been good and to score a touchdown in goal to go took at least seven more points away – the Raiders dominated the first half on both sides of the ball. The only concern, really, was letting a good team like Atlanta hang around – they really needed to jump on their opportunities.
The Raiders got the ball back to start the third quarter with the perfect opportunity to extend their lead and take control of the game. But as they have all season, the offense went dormant, and for three straight series Knapp invoked the forty-year old offensive philosophy of run, run, pass. I’m sure it will surprise no-one to learn all offensive momentum gained in the first half was sucked away by this conservative, scared and predictable play calling and the Raiders went three and out all three times.
Meanwhile, Atlanta wasn’t setting the world on fire themselves. The Raiders continued to play stout defense in the pass game, getting pressure on Ryan and playing surprisingly good coverage on the outside, and Philip Wheeler especially over the middle against Tony Gonzalez.
They did kick a field goal halfway through the quarter to draw within three, and on the subsequent drive, John Abraham – a Raider killer whenever he plays them – steamed around Jared Veldheer – who had one of his worst games in recent memory – and stripped the ball from Palmer. Ray Edwards recovered and rolled toward the Raider end zone.
Had the result of the game been different, what happened next would’ve been the most important play of the game. Darren McFadden, a good seven yards behind Edwards when Ray Ray began his jaunt, turned on the afterburners and dragged Edwards down at the Raider two with a textbook tackle – he even tried to strip the ball.
This became important because the Raiders, who’s run defense had been stout all game and stuffed Michael Turner repeatedly – turned in a monumental effort on a three play goalline stand during which they stuffed Turner twice and forced an incompletion. Atlanta, looking like they would take the lead and momentum, was instead forced to kick a tying field goal and the Raiders defense got another victory on the day.
You couldn't shake the feeling, though, that the Raiders had let points slip away and it was going to cost them against a team like the Falcons. You can't let good teams hang around without putting them deeper in the hole.
The two teams both traded uneventful drives until midway through the fourth quarter. With the game still tied at 13, the Raiders put together a nice drive, with Goodson once again having an explosive play to get into Falcon territory.
On third down from the Atlanta 28 yard line – with the Raiders easily in field goal range to take the lead – Palmer looked Moore’s way again. Why not? Moore had over 100 yards and a touchdown and had played lights-out all day. Why not? Because Assante Samuel was lying in wait, that’s why.
Palmer, who has taken full responsibility for the loss and is almost inconsolable today, said he knew Samuel was there but didn’t think he was baiting him. He threw the pass and Samuel returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. Palmer even had a chance to make an open field tackle at the Raiders 20 – great hustle from the QB – but Samuel turned him inside out on his way to the score that gave the Falcons a 20-13 lead with only 2:40 left.
Cue the Raiders quitting, another interception or turnover or penalty, and a game the Raiders should’ve won turning into a blowout in the final seconds.
However, challenged during the bye week to prove this franchise has changed, that they don’t give up, don’t quit – as it looked like they may have in Denver two weeks ago – and that proper adjustments and changes were being made to right the ship, coach Dennis Allen and Palmer himself simply said “no quit; let’s get this done.”
And Palmer then, in a sign of mental toughness and heart that impressed just about anyone you talk to, put the crippling interception behind him and led the Raiders on a drive to tie the game.
As a long-time Raider fan, drives like this simply don’t happen. A turnover, penalty, or some kind of freak occurrence stops them from scoring a deserved touchdown to tie a game they deserve to win.
But Palmer wouldn’t have any of it. He stood in against the rush, stepped up, overcame a holding call and a drop, and rammed the ball right down the Falcons throat in an impressive eight play, 80 yard game-tying drive that took only two minutes.
It should’ve taken 2:10.
With 40 seconds left and two timeouts, Matty Ice cooly marched the Falcons down the field to put Bryant in position to win the game with a 55 yard field goal. The Raiders had outplayed the Falcons in every phase; they forced three interceptions and held the Falcons to under 50 rushing yards all game.
Yet here they were, in a position to lose, due to penalties and costly mistakes at the wrong times in the game. Here they were about to lose a game; not get beaten. They had cut down on penalties this season and were 2nd in the NFL coming in. They committed 12 for over 100 yards in this game, often at terrible times. About to lose; not get beaten.
And of course Bryant made the kick. Nevermind that, at his age and based on the fact he rarely kicks long field goals at all anymore he probably misses it 8/10 times, he made it.
Going into Atlanta and losing a game like that hurts, but the Raiders can take away some really positive things from this contest. Like knowing they didn't play their best and still dominated an unbeaten team on the road.
And never mind the three interceptions; it was how they were picked that’s important. The first was on a crossing route over the middle that Hanson jumped – a great instinctive play we haven’t seen much this year. The second was savvy veteran Huff realizing down & distance and playing against a long ball – and playing it perfectly. And the third was a direct result of pressure on the quarterback – a floater that popped out of Ryan’s hands when he was decleated.
The Raiders pass defense was horrifying for two games leading up to this one, and Ryan was the second rated passer in the NFL. Yet it was the Raiders who made Ryan look bad, and only an unlikely – though absolutely stellar – kick at the end of the game gave the Falcons the victory.
The Raiders zone blocking run scheme, heavily criticized, looked to be improving as the Raiders rushed for 159 yards – though Mike Goodson still seems to run better within it and be better suited for it than McFadden.
And Dennis Allen, despite the increase in penalties and the questionable decision – made even more so by the final deficit – to not attempt a makeable field goal early, won his sixth challenge in six tries dating to the preseason, made excellent team adjustments in the bye week, had the team fired up and ready to play, and never let them quit in this game.
Yes, there were encouraging signs, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it was discouraging to see the new era Raiders lose the same old way: Through a lack of discipline and mistakes at terrible moments.
The Jacksonville Jaguars come into O.co Coliseum in Oakland next week with a record of 1-4, identical to that of the Raiders. The Raiders showed yesterday they can play well with anyone for sixty minutes, and if they keep that play going they have a chance to right the ship. After Jacksonville comes KC and Tampa – a 4-4 record at the halfway point isn’t out of the question.
Of course, a victory yesterday would’ve gone a long way, but at least they showed up and fought to the very end. Two weeks ago, it wasn’t clear they had it in them. Now? Don’t expect them to be an easy game for anyone the rest of the season.
Like Raider Nation Times
How Would You Grade the Raiders Live Mock Draft?