With the days and the NFL season getting shorter, the chances of the Oakland Raiders making the NFL playoffs this year flickered down Sunday to barely burning.
Gloom surrounded the Raiders’ 34-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Literally, it required stadium operators at O.co Coliseum to turn on the lights during a game for the first time this year. Figuratively, the Raiders are now two games out of wild-card position with only four left to play.
You can surmise that element of dreariness clogged the normally healthy psychological outlook of Raider quarterback Derek Carr. He threw three fourth-quarter interceptions, and the Chiefs ran them back for 162 yards. They meant three touchdowns for the K.C. team that had been down by one such score, before they began to pick the low-hanging dangled in front of them by the Raiders.
“Sometimes those things are going to happen,” Carr said. “It just sucks that they all happened all back to back like that.”
In the first Separation Sunday of the rest of their lives, the Raiders may have heard shortly after kickoff the news about some of the other games around the league of interest to them.
The wild card-contending Jets trailed all day to the Giants until they beat their rivals from the other side of MetLife Stadium at the final jump. The Buffalo Bills helped the Raiders and themselves by beating the Texans.
Pittsburgh beat Indianapolis later, but the biggest game of the day for the Raiders did not require them to check their cell phones for updates. The prime matter of their concern stood right in front of them, wearing the white shirts with the red numbers. Now they’re looking at the back of the Chiefs’ jerseys, from two games behind in the wild card standings.
Cops stood with dogs in the concrete stairway at the north end of the stadium, reflecting issues of international tragedy and concern. In light of Paris and San Bernardino, three interceptions in the fourth quarter doesn’t matter much, unless it is your livelihood and happiness that are at stake, which is the case for Derek Carr, the Raiders, and their fans.
One little win Sunday and the Raiders would have been well-positioned insde the wild card race. Now they’re outside and in need of prayer, or help from their friends around the NFL who still must play the Steelers, Jets, Chiefs, Texans and Bills.
It didn’t have to be that way for the Raiders. They were leading, 20-14, early in the fourth quarter, and they had driven to the Kansas City 33. That’s when Carr tried to throw when he should have hid in the sacking Kansas City pass-rushers sought to apply to him.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Carr explained. “Seth (Roberts, the wide receiver) popped wide open, did a great job. I was going to throw to him, and I got hit when I went to throw to him.”
Josh Mauga, a Kansas City linebacker, caught the ball instead of Roberts, and he ran it back 66 yards to the Raider two-yard line. Two plays later, Alex Smith threw a bomb from the one. Jeremy Maclin caught it for a score. Excited by his catch, Maclin threw the ball with great vengeance into the barrier that separated him from the Black Hole of the hardest core Raider fans. They responded with a beer shower directed at Maclin.
Carr’s other two interceptions were not entirely his fault, but they hurt him and the Raiders and the kindly folk in the Black Hole just as dearly. The second one, Raider receiver Michael Crabtree stumbled on his route and the ball wound up in the mitts of KC’s Marcus Peters. He ran it back 58 yards to the Raider 13 before Maclin caught another TD in front of the mob in the Hole, this time without extracurricular incident. The third interception bounced off the outstretched arms of the diving Amari Cooper and into those of former Raider Tyvon Branch who sprinted 38 yards and dove to the pylon for the touchdown.
Kansas City began the season looking as if it had eaten too much of the hometown barbecue. The last six weeks have been different. Leaner and meaner, the Chiefs have won them all, by an average score of 32-13. One of them was a 29-13 pasting of the division-leading Denver Broncos. Two others came over playoff contenders such as Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
Now, Kansas City holds the pelt of the Raiders. And many more skinnings such as this one and Oakland knows its playoffs hopes will be dead, as well as its aspiration to bring to a conclusion its 10 straight years of non-winning seasons.
The day’s grey grimness played out across the face of the Raiders coach, Jack Del Rio, whose team is flailing while the goals of a division championship, the playoffs, and a winning season, wash out one by one, across the Alameda Channel.
“I think we’re disappointed that we didn’t close the way we wanted to,” Del Rio said of Sunday’s game, although he added that nobody is giving up or turning on each other. “I think one thing about this group, there’s no pulling apart. It is a tight group. We will remain tight. We will come back to work and expect to be stronger the next time out.”
Soon, in what was once a season of hope, there will be no next time.