Well, that was fast. Raiders fans hit the exits so early Sunday afternoon they seemed confused, sort of like they were trying to escape the gridlock of L.A.
But a 33-13 blowout loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener can lead to strange behavior. It disappoints, confuses, upsets. It certainly incites questions about the supposed warm and fuzzies. Like, what happened to the upgraded coaching staff, the bigger front line, the more experienced young quarterback, the much-needed addition of two sure-handed wide receivers?
Maybe next week. Or maybe not.
Derek Carr (hand), Nate Allen (knee), Charles Woodson (shoulder) and Justin Ellis (ankle) were injured at different times and to varying degrees, with their availability uncertain for this week’s visit by the Baltimore Ravens.
Yet even when healthy, the Raiders resembled a team closing out another miserable season instead of kickstarting a promising new era.
“Not the kind of performance we expected to have out there today,” said coach Jack Del Rio, a Bay Area native, which makes his home debut even more painful. “That’s a very disappointing, embarrassing effort. I’ll take full responsibility. Offensively, we’ve got to be able to run it, be able to protect our quarterback, be able to protect the ball. The quarterback ended up being hurt. We didn’t run it well. And we didn’t protect the ball. Defensively, we did not leverage or tackle. It just wasn’t very good.”
It could have been worse. For a while there, the Raiders trailed 30-0 and were threatening to equal the 55-0 season-opening loss to the Houston Oilers in 1961. Their first points of 2015 weren’t scored until backup Matt McGloin combined with fullback Marcel Reece for two meaningless touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The crucial information here is the identity of the quarterback, the fact it was McGloin throwing the two touchdown passes instead of Carr. A stinker of an opener is bad enough. An immediate future without your most talented quarterback is a potential season-ender, though Del Rio was quick to note that X-rays were negative and he was awaiting a more detailed medical report.
But Carr is the player the Raiders can least afford to lose for any extended stretch. A starter his entire rookie season, the former Fresno State standout led all first-year players in pass attempts (599), completions (348), passing yards (3,270) and passing touchdowns (21), all without the presence of any receivers remotely as talented as newcomers Michael Crabtree and rookie Amari Cooper.
Not that Carr was enjoying a particularly prolific afternoon before his injury. While Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton repeatedly exploited the Raiders’ secondary with deep throws over the middle, Carr completed 7-of-12 passes, mostly on short throws in the flat, for a mere 61 yards. He found Crabtree once for 10 yards, hit running back Latavius Murray four times for 21 yards and connected with Cooper twice for 30, including a catch-and-run for 24.
Whether Carr would have found a rhythm in the second half with his highly touted rookie receiver – the AC/DC combo is supposed to make sweet music – became a moot point when he scrambled around the left end for 9 yards and was hit on the right hand while extending for a first down. After Bengals cornerback Adam Jones knocked the ball loose, it went out of bounds, depriving the Raiders of the first down and chasing their quarterback out of the game.
While McGloin rushed onto the field for a futile fourth and 1, Carr tested his hand by throwing short passes to an assistant on the sideline. A few minutes later, he retreated to the locker room and wasn’t seen or heard from again.
“That was a huge blow,” Cooper said afterward. “He’s our starting quarterback, the leader of our offense. We need him.”
Carr’s early departure dampened a mood that went from upbeat and festive to unsettled and concerned not long after the Bengals drove the length of the field and scored on the opening possession. After Dalton had exploited gaps in the coverage and thrown for 202 yards in the first half, the sellout crowd booed as the Raiders walked toward the locker room trailing 24-0 at intermission.
The loudest applause of the afternoon was inspired by the halftime ceremony honoring the late Ken Stabler. After John Madden addressed the fans, several former Raiders players and coaches lined up and placed a white rose on the familiar No. 12 jersey that rested on a bench near midfield. Afterward, as a video tribute to the late quarterback played on both scoreboard screens, fans were encouraged to sing along to “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Then, all too quickly, the past gave way to the present, which, unfortunately for the Raiders, meant more of the same. The team that won a total of 11 games over the last three seasons continued to look … like a team that won 11 games over the last three seasons. Blown coverages, dropped passes, too many penalties, absence of a vertical game, a woeful running game (63 yards), all despite the additions of Aldon Smith, Crabtree, Cooper, Del Rio and his new staff.
“The bottom line is we’re paid for production on game day, and it wasn’t near good enough today,” Del Rio said, adding that the Raiders will sign another quarterback if Carr’s absence is expected to be lengthy. “We had a lot of opportunities to turn the game and play better football, and we just did not get it done.”