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8:52PM

Raiders' defense hasn’t been good for a month

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The season is coming apart, shredding, disintegrating. To think a month ago they — we — were talking about the Raiders going to the Super Bowl. What a laugh. What a mistake.

Four losses in a row now for Oakland. On Thursday they play the Kansas City Chiefs, who finally lost their first game Sunday, the same day the Raiders dropped their fourth in a row. Nobody this side of the ’72 Dolphins wins them all — and K.C. usually owns Oakland.

What the Raiders own is a 2-4 record. Which is exactly that of the Los Angeles (yes, I keep wanting to refer to them as San Diego) Chargers, who edged Oakland 17-16 on Sunday, on a field goal by Nick Novak with 0:00 on the clock at the Coliseum.

The time remaining is irrelevant. The Raiders' inability to move the ball when necessary, or to halt the Chargers when necessary, is very relevant.

The Raider locker room was full of platitudes. You’ve heard them all. We’re going to keep fighting. We just to correct the little things. We need to take care of the details. We’re better than that.

Derek Carr, starting once more at quarterback, made that last observation. Then after a moment, he suggested, “Maybe we’re not.”

Never mind the qualification. They’re not.

The Raiders have gone from the top, all the preseason predictions, the early season self-assurance, to the bottom. They started out making plays. Now they’re making errors.

Now they can’t get the first down on third and short. Now they can’t stop the other team on third and short. Or long.

Carr, who missed the last two games with a lower back injury, wants to take the blame, and a couple times he was at fault, overthrowing a ball that was intercepted two minutes into the game and then missing Marshawn Lynch early in the third quarter, the ball bouncing off Lynch’s outstretched hands and being picked off by Hayes Pullard on the San Diego 11-yard-line early in the third quarter.

Still, how to do you stick it to one man, if the most important man, when you have the ball almost 11 minutes of the third quarter and score zero points? Or when the Chargers move 78 yards on 11 plays in four minutes for that final, painful field goal?

The Raiders' defense hasn’t been any good for a month now. “Comes down to the end,” said Oakland coach Jack Del Rio. “Which team makes the plays. We had our chances.”

And squandered them, which is what losing teams do, or they wouldn’t be losing teams.

The best player on the field for the Raiders was the punter, Marquette King. He kicked four times and averaged 55 yards. Fantastic. And of little consequence when you can’t keep the other guys from running or passing.         

Well, make that passing. The Chargers rushed for only 80 yards. They threw for 268. Philip Rivers, their quarterback, kept connecting on third and short. And third and not-so-short. Rivers sure is over the hill, isn’t he?

“You get them pinned back,” said Del Rio of King’s punting effectiveness, "we have to get a stop. We didn’t get it done. They milked it.

“They won the game. They earned it. So we’re on a short week.”

Up next are the Chiefs on Thursday night, three days after a defeat. The Chiefs, who inevitably find a way to beat Oakland. Or is it Oakland that beats Oakland?

Hard to knock Del Rio for going for it on fourth and two on the Chargers 41 in the fourth quarter, even if the Raiders couldn’t get the two yards. All that great punting wasn’t worth much, so might as well gamble.

Asked what’s missing from the offense, Del Rio wouldn’t deal in specifics. “Just productivity,” he answered. Well, no kidding. If you can’t gain two yards on fourth down, can’t score a point when you’re controlling the ball most of the third quarter, you definitely are not productive.

On the last offensive series, before King punted 58 yards (whoopee), the Raiders had an illegal formation penalty followed by three go-nowhere plays, including the hook and lateral.

“We’re working hard,” said Del Rio. Our team is a proud team.”

Right now, however, it is not a very good team.

9:02AM

S.F. Examiner: Chargers replace Raiders as team that finds a way to lose

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

The Raiders could have lost — they kept moving the ball but couldn’t get a touchdown — maybe should have lost. But not against the San Diego Chargers.

The Raiders used to be the Chargers, finding ways to lose. Now they find ways to win.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

8:36AM

Niners couldn't quell the noise, or the Chargers

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA — This was the 49er year in microcosm. And in memoriam. A season that might have been unwound painfully in a game that should have been. And wasn’t.

After all the chaos, the rumors, the questions, the Niners had a chance to quell the noise, if only for a few days, and no less significantly end their losing streak.

That they could do neither seemed appropriate in their next to last game of a season that will climax for the first time since 2010 without a winning record.

And possibly, since they now are 7-8 and play one more, with a losing record.

The Niners lost Saturday night. Again. Lost on a 40-yard field goal by Nick Novak in overtime. Lost to the San Diego Chargers, 38-35. Lost after leading 21-0 in the second quarter and 35-21 in the fourth quarter.

Lost after setting a team rushing record of 355 yards. Lost when for the 15th time in 15 games they failed to score a touchdown in the final regulation period. Or in overtime.

For a while, it seemed the Niners would have one last hurrah, a shout to echo through the dreadful silence of bewilderment, of wondering where Jim Harbaugh would be coaching, or asking why general manager Trent Baalke and team president Jed York couldn’t patch together the differences that in part turned a Super Bowl franchise into a supreme disappointment.

But a team that had a reason to win, the Chargers, chasing a playoff spot, found a way — or ways — to beat a team that already was eliminated from the postseason, had no particular reason. Except pride.

“We kept fighting,” said Harbaugh. “We did the best we could.”

There’s that one game left for the Niners, here at Levi’s Stadium, the $1.3 billion home for what evolved into a two-bit team, Sunday against Arizona.

After that Harbaugh, whose arrival in 2011 gave San Francisco the lift and the direction to become winners, will depart.

Where, to another NFL team — the Raiders? — or his alma mater, Michigan, only he knows. What everyone knows is the Niners have slipped from the their perch near the summit, and their fall could be a tumultuous one. 

Already below Seattle, they could drop below Arizona and St. Louis, an also-ran with aging linemen and a quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, apparently more qualified to use his legs than his arms.

Kaep rushed for 151 yards, including a spectacular 90-yard touchdown run, the second longest by a quarterback (to Terrelle Pryor’s 93-yarder) in NFL history. Frank Gore, 31, whose time is nearly finished in San Francisco, picked up 158. 

But for a fourth straight game, the Niners couldn’t pick up a win. Even after a great beginning.

“There’s no way to explain it,” said Bruce Miller, the Niners fullback.

To the contrary, there is.

The Niners, because of their numerous problems — only Wednesday, defensive lineman Ray McDonald was terminated because he was being investigated for sexual assault — their frequent injuries and their well-publicized dysfunction, were in survival mode from the start.

And they were unable to survive, whether the game Saturday night where the less-than-capacity crowd was less than effusive, or the full schedule. Losing to the one-win Raiders a couple of weeks back should have been the indication that the Niners were a mess.

Football is a sport of emotion as well as strength. People can say what they wish, but deep down a player must be driven. A bad break here, a tough call there, and everything comes apart. It did for the Niners Thursday night. And in other games.

Gore, who was returning after a concussion, had his finest game of the year. “There’s a man,” said Kaepernick of his main running back. Absolutely, 158 yards on 26 carries, highs for 2014.

Yet, the man wasn’t given a chance in so many other games. And now the end as a Niner is near.

The Niners' strength had been on defense. But NaVorro Bowman had a knee torn up in the NFC Championship a year ago and never played. Aldon Smith was suspended for legal troubles, including firearm violations. Patrick Willis missed the last month with turf toe. The strength became a weakness.

“I’m going to try and forget it,” defensive tackle Mike Purcell said when someone asked him if he would remember the game.

Niner fans will seek to do the same.

“We just didn’t finish,” said cornerback Parrish Cox. “We want to finish the season strong. But I don’t know what it is.”

Harbaugh may know, but he wasn’t talking.

“It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot to say right now,” he said after his penultimate game as coach.

Except, in a few days, goodbye.

10:26PM

Raiders' best game still not a winning game

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — He’s a kid, a rookie, a cornerback on an NFL team that five games into a painful season has changed coaches and even though winless well into October perhaps on Sunday finally changed direction.

“We all feel like we did something today,” said TJ Carrie.

What the Oakland Raiders did, at last, was compete, keep a game in doubt, show they are anything but hopeless.

What the Raiders didn’t do was win. As they haven’t won this season. The San Diego Chargers came from behind and beat Oakland 31-28 at O.co Coliseum. Even with professed Raider fan Tiger Woods in attendance.

It was the Raiders’ best game of the season, on offense. Quarterback Derek Carr, also a rookie, threw four touchdown passes. Darren McFadden ran for 80 yards. So encouraging.

But the Chargers, 5-1, as compared to the Raiders, 0-5, controlled the ball, had it 37 minutes of the total 60, gained 423 yards. It is a cliché that defense wins. In this case, for the Raiders, unable to halt Charger drives, especially the final one that climaxed with a Branden Oliver touchdown with 1:56 remaining.

A new coach for the Raiders, an interim coach, Tony Sparano, who was chosen to replace hard-luck Dennis Allen two weeks ago. An old result.

The players are the same. They seemed more spirited, more aggressive, more upbeat. But they were no more successful.

There are two requirements to create a winning football team, a defense and a quarterback. Without a defense, you virtually never get the ball — and when your time of possession is 15 fewer minutes, as it was for the Raiders, they virtually never had the ball. Without a quarterback, well, he touches the ball on every offensive play.

The Raiders appear to have the quarterback in Carr. He has started every game, and if Carrie, the cornerback, who got beat often enough, said he learned something, so did we about Carr. He’s poised. He’s aggressive. And he has a fantastic arm. Hey, on the third play from scrimmage he unloaded a 77-yard beauty to Andre Holmes for a touchdown. Shades of Peyton Manning.

“I thought our quarterback made some big plays,” said Sparano. He also made some mistakes, getting called for intentional grounding and then in the last minute, on a meticulous drive that seemed destined to produce a game-tying field goal, throwing a ball to the Charger 10 that was intercepted, ending not only a chance for victory but also a record.

Since the merger of the mid 1960s, the only rookies to throw four touchdown passes without an interception in a game were Robert Griffin III and Trent Edwards.

“He’s getting better and better,” said Sparano of Carr, who played collegiately at Fresno State. "On that first touchdown, they came with pressure, we expected the pressure, the guys handled it pretty well, but Derek kept through the progression and getting the ball to the right guy. That’s progress.

“The play at the end of the game, it’s second and very short (1 yard), we felt like we’d make the first down, took a shot and that kid (Jason Verrett, also a rookie, from Fairfield, about 35 miles from the Coliseum) made a great play.”

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, as expected, made a ton of great plays. He threw three touchdown passes and has 15 in six games, with only two interceptions.

“We thought about blitzing him,” Sparano said about Rivers. “We blitzed him a couple of times early. We got to him a couple of different ways, but with Philip, as I said earlier in the week, if you don’t tackle him he’s a guy that buys time. He’s going to hurt you in those situations, and he hurt us in one or two of those situations today. You have to pick your poison a little bit with him.”

They’ll find no antidote in Carson Palmer of Arizona, next week’s opponent. The Cardinals are 4-1, and Palmer, who was with the Raiders three years ago, has recovered from his injuries.

“That’s the best team in the league according to some,” Sparano said of the Cardinals, and then switching to San Diego, “That’s one of the best teams out there today, and our kids played hard. We have to be in these kind of football games and finally one of these kind of games. That’s how we turn this thing around.”

They turn it around by shutting down the opponent, by playing the sort of defense the Raiders have not displayed for years.

Carrie could be part of that renaissance.

“His impact,” Sparano said of Carrie, ”was in two areas. I felt him challenging the ball on defense. I felt him around the ball. And then on special teams, on kickoffs (3 for 85 yards) and the punt returns, he really did a nice job.

“Look at TJ. Look at (rookie linebacker) Khalil Mack flying around and Gabe Jackson and these kids. It’s a good place to be right now.”

Did he mean for the Raiders or, as was the case for the Chargers and their dominant time of possession, the opposition? For Oakland there weren’t enough stops. And at 0-5, there certainly aren’t enough wins.

9:50AM

SF Examiner: Chargers no strangers to falling short in postseason

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner


This is the conundrum for sports fans: Is it better to have a bad or mediocre team — the Raiders and 49ers immediately come to mind — that numbs you into a state of indifference, or one like the San Diego Chargers that raises hopes and then inevitably collapses?

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2010 SF Newspaper Company