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9:35AM

Raiders did so much to lose and just enough to win

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Raiders did so much to lose this one. Then they did just enough to win.

Those complaints about the NFL, that it’s dull, that the anthem protests have ruined the game, that the fans don’t care? Well, the head coach of the Raiders, Jack Del Rio, certainly cares. The sport enthralls him.

For the very reasons that were present Thursday night at the Coliseum, tension, passion, frustration and then, with 0:00 left on the clock, exhilaration.

“That’s why we love this game,” said Del Rio. “We talked about love, loving each other, loving the opportunity to compete, loving the challenges that are part of what we do. Love to be in the theater when you’re putting your neck out there for the whole world to watch.”

At least the part of the world that included the 55,090 in the stadium and the millions in front of television sets.

The winning play was the last play of a game that early in the fourth quarter seemed like Oakland’s last chance.

But headed for a fifth straight defeat, the Raiders turned things around and headed elatedly to the locker room with a 31-30 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Derek Carr, who had completed 28 passes for 415 yards, completed his 29th for two more yards and a touchdown to Michael Crabtree just across the goal line, and then Georgio Taveccio kicked the extra point.

The Raiders somehow managed to get the victory, despite having allowed KC to go 99 yards in three plays for a touchdown — so much for field position. Despite being thwarted when, inexplicably and stupidly, hometown guy Marshawn Lynch left the bench, shoved an official and was ejected. Despite being burned by scoring pass plays of 64 and 63 yards.

The win was absolutely vital. “Yeah,” said Del Rio. “It’s been vital. It was vital last week. It was vital the week before. It’s vital to win in this league.”

Especially when the Raiders appeared destined to lose to a team they rarely beat.

The closing sequence was chaotic, offensive pass interference against Crabtree that nullified an apparent touchdown with three seconds to go, defensive holding with time expired, defensive holding again and finally the completion for the touchdown.

The purists tell us the only thing that matters in a sport is the score, but that would be like only watching the final act of “Hamlet” where they’re carrying him. Sure, getting the victory was paramount, but the way this one played out, with excellence and mistakes, with leads that couldn’t be held and passes that could be held, was so much a part of the tale.

The Raiders go in front, 14-10, their punter Marquette King kicks a ball that is downed on the Chiefs’ one and almost before anyone knew it, three plays, 1 minute 32 seconds to be exact, KC was ahead, 17-14.

Then there was Lynch, Beast Mode. He hadn’t done much, two carries for nine yards, when midway through the second quarter there was an unnecessary roughness call on KC that seemingly kept alive an Oakland drive. But Lynch, from the sideline, dashed onto the field and into an altercation. Next thing you saw, he was manhandling an official, the Raiders had first and 25 and he had a seat in the locker room.

“I was disappointed,” said Del Rio.”We were in good shape. Next thing I knew he was being tossed.”

It was the tossing by Carr, his second game after returning from a broken bone in his lower back, that meant more. He passed for three touchdowns including the game winner.

“We’re going to find a way,” said Del Rio of the Raiders' grit. “Our guys came in with a great mindset, and we were determined to leave here with a victory.”

They did. “It was huge,” said the said the coach.

And incredibly exciting.

8:57PM

Are Warriors bigger than 49ers, Raiders?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — This always was NFL territory. The 49ers were an original, created in 1946, the first major league team in the Bay Area, home grown, home owned.

The Raiders also began here, in 1960, and they put Oakland on the map and in the minds of a sporting public back east that previously didn’t know Jack London from Jack Spratt. If you lived in Oakland, or San Leandro, you no longer had to explain, “Near San Francisco.”

The Niners reinforced their standing as the region’s team of choice with five Super Bowl wins. The Raiders became as notorious as they were successful, and suddenly black became the color of choice.

So popular was football you’d see kids throwing and catching one in the parking lots before baseball games of the Giants and Athletics.

Has there been a shift in preference? When asked to rank the teams in order of importance, the decision was Niners first, Giants next, Raiders third, Warriors fourth, Athletics fifth and solely because hockey, as exciting as it might be, didn’t have the weather or conditions required, the Sharks sixth.

But now I wonder. Yes, the Niners finally won a road game Sunday, beating the Bears in Chicago, 26-20, thus keeping the Faithful faithful. And here in Oakland, after a morning rain, the Raiders drew 55,010 fans to O.co Coliseum, where, unfortunately, the team showed with a 34-20 loss to Kansas City that it’s not as good as hoped. 

Indeed, football is big. But bigger than the Warriors, the sports story of the late fall in Northern Cal — or maybe everywhere? With their remarkable season-opening win streak, now up to an NBA record 22, after they beat the Brooklyn Nets, 114-98, Sunday? With their wonderful talent named Steph Curry who, with apologies to Tom Brady or Cam Newton, may be the single most exciting athlete in the land, and unquestionably is the most exciting around here?

Yes, I was at O.Co Coliseum for the Raiders. I also watched the Niners, and I contended that despite the problems with Jed York, with Colin Kaepernick, with the departure of Jim Harbaugh, they still are worthy of the main headline. It was a losing debate. “You’re wrong,” said the Chronicle’s Ann Killion. “The Warriors are the team.”

Raider Nation still is very much with us. The Black Hole remains (although after Sunday‘s loss it’s as blue as the color of the Warriors’ road uniforms). Niner fans cling to the memories of Montana, Young, Rice and Lott, believing the past is prelude to the future. TV ratings for both 49ers and Raiders are solid. And yet...

The football teams are mediocre at best. The win over Chicago put the Niners at 4-8. The loss to the Chiefs — “The game got away from us,” said Oakland coach Jack Del Rio — left the Raiders at 5-7. Neither is going to the playoffs.

But, ah, the Warriors, perfection, 22-0. Never been done before. Ever. Historic. Fantastic. The defending NBA champions very well could win a second straight championship. The team of Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Milpitas and Marin. The Warriors resonate. But how much?

Basketball, like baseball and hockey, suffers from a multiplicity of games. Right now, certainly, each Warriors game has a place of its own, as anxious fans wonder if the next one will be the one they finally, inevitably lose. This is rare. This is wonderful. This is keeping us attentive.

This is transforming one of 82 into one of a kind, similar to what happens in the NFL. Each game has a special significance. The Raiders came into Sunday at 5-6, the Chiefs 6-5. A Raider victory would have changed the season for each team. We buy into that “Any given Sunday” idea because, yes, any given Sunday, or Monday or Thursday, does have an effect on a team, on a season.

So you heard Del Rio, after the Raiders squandered their lead by allowing KC three touchdowns on a combination of Derek Carr interceptions and long returns, say, “Tough way to finish. Promising afternoon. It just got away from us.”

He meant the game. We could also interpret it to mean the season. “The last four drives,” sighed Del Rio, “were three turnovers and a missed field goal.”

Those descriptions also apply in basketball. The missed field goals and turnovers by the Warriors didn’t hurt them. For the opening five weeks and 22 games of the 2015-16 season, nothing has hurt them.

They have become the darlings of pro basketball, the darlings of the Bay Area. But are they bigger than the 49ers or Raiders? Easier to say how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

9:09AM

Raiders weren’t going to let Chiefs out of the deep end

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — That “O’’ in Oakland? No longer does it equal the Raiders’ win total for the year. The streak is over. The streak ended here, at the O.co Coliseum — maybe they should change it to the 1.co Coliseum — on a Thursday night of rain and success.

Go ahead and say it, the drought has ended, for Nor Cal, for the Raiders.

It was inevitable. The football, that is, not the downpour, although the forecasters said that too was coming. The way Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano said a win was coming.

Teams don’t go through a 16-game NFL schedule without a victory. Sure, the 2008 Detroit Lions did, but since the 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs, an expansion doomed to failure by the system, the Lions were the only team.

Somehow, the Raiders were going to win one.

And they did against the Kansas City Chiefs, who had won their previous five games in a row and were tied for the AFC West lead.

They did by sweeping ahead 14-0 early in the second quarter. By letting that lead go and then, on a 9-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Derek Carr to James Jones in the closing minutes, going back in front and winning 24-20.

“We’d been getting close,” said Sparano, who was coaching his seventh game since replacing Dennis Allen. “We’d been getting better in practice. I saw a different look in this team.”

And now there’s a different look with their record. One win may not seem like much, but to the contrary it’s huge when you’ve lost 10 out of 10 for the season and cobble that to the six straight defeats that concluded last year.

Not since Nov. 17, 2013, 368 days if you’re counting, had Oakland come out ahead.

“Those losses had been hard,” said Carr. He took over as starter from the veteran Matt Schaub before the first game. So since last year at Fresno State, he was always on the losing side. Until Thursday.

There was unabated joy in the Raider locker room. Such yelling and shouting. It was as if they had won the Super Bowl, not merely a scheduled game. “All that frustration that we’ve gone through when something goes wrong at the end,” said linebacker Sio Moore.

Moore and rookie Khalil Mack, also winless as a pro, did a bit of unprofessional celebrating — in the Chiefs' backfield — slapping hands after sacking quarterback Alex Smith on the K.C. 48 with 28 seconds. But before a penalty could be called for delay of game, Oakland wisely signaled time out. One more play, an incomplete pass, and the Raiders owned the ball. And the win.

“I was so caught up in the moment, man,” said Moore, who’s in his second year. “That was an error I’ve got to clean because in another situation — in all seriousness — that can make the difference. I do apologize for putting the guys in that situation. I can’t let emotions get the best of me.”

For 10 weeks, teams have been getting the best of the Raiders, although the way Oakland played defense in losing 13-6 to the Chargers last Sunday was verification that they were improved — if without results. Until Thursday night.

“I don’t know how to explain the feeling,” Moore said about finally winning a game. “It’s a good feeling to see through the culmination of weeks all the work that we’ve been putting in.

“We decided when we came in at halftime (with a 14-3 lead) that we weren’t going to let them get out of deep end of the pool, and we were going to finish it out.”

The Chiefs made it to the shallow end, but then the Raiders swamped them again.

Oakland scored first on an impressive eight-play drive, Latavius Murray bulling the final 11 yards. Then Murray dashed 90 yards two and a half minutes into the second quarter, and Oakland had its first 14-0 lead since the Twelth of Never.

“They blocked us,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, “(he) hit the hole, and we just weren’t able to catch him.

From two touchdowns back, Kansas City did catch the Raiders, however, and the guess was it would yet another Oakland defeat. Not at all.

“We learned a little something today,” said Sparano. “Learned something about ourselves. Today they just refused to give up the rope. My hat is off to the people in that locker room. Greatest feeling in the world is to see them smile. Helluva bunch of guys. They don’t stop playing. We don’t always do it right, but they play hard.

“Today the offense took the football down the field and did it in the old-fashioned Raider way. They ran it. They ran it. And we made a big play. It was a heck of a thing to watch, and if you didn’t learn anything from it, I apologize to you.”

No apologies needed this time. Only kudos.

8:21PM

Niners' Harbaugh takes on critics and doubters

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Jim Harbaugh was having his way a few minutes after his team had its way. There’s no direct line from A to Z with Harbaugh, whose very existence seems designed to keep everybody off balance.

With Jim you buckle your seat belt, button your lip and go for a ride that is never unexciting. Or unenlightening.

Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers were 22-17 winners over Kansas City on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, and the story could even stop right there, since coaches invariably say the only thing that matters is the final score.

If the coach isn’t Jim Harbaugh.

A couple weeks back, former defensive star Deion Sanders, now employed by the NFL Network, said publicly there are people on the Niners, in uniform, in executive positions, unhappy with Harbaugh. To which the immediate response is, “So?’’

Except every time Colin Kaepernick throws an interception or Frank Gore fails on third-and-one, the issue is tossed out there again. The idea is to get attention, right? And what gets more attention than another tale about the non-conformist leader of arguably the most popular team in Northern Cal?

Even if we’re told there’s no basis for the reports.

“All this noise, I don’t understand the whole thing,” said kicker Phil Dawson. “It’s certainly not consistent with the noise you hear outside the locker room. There is zero problem in the locker room. We believe in our coach and love playing for him.”

Dawson is in his second year as the Niners’ placekicker after a long career in Cleveland. Against the Chiefs on Sunday, he made field goals of, in ascending but not chronological order, 27, 30, 31, 52 and 55 yards, 15 points of the team’s 22.

Harbaugh, who sees his athletes as semi-mythical, pointed out that Dawson and others who contributed to the victory — Kaepernick, Gore, defensive back Eric Reid — should be so satisfied with their performance they can look at themselves in the mirror and say, "I’m a football player.’"

Of course they’re football players, or they wouldn’t be in the NFL, but Dawson, his nearly bald head shaved clean, isn’t certain he needs such self-congratulatory methods.

“At 39 years old,” Dawson said, “I don’t enjoy looking in the mirror very much. I’ll pretend to be a football player without looking in the mirror.”

The Harbaugh advice, of course, is figurative. He’s big on machismo, on individual success evolving into team success. Beat the guy across the line, and the team beats the opponent. Grrr.

The Niners are 3-2 now, and while expectations may have been for better, against the Chiefs they played effective defense and competent offense. And they’re still without two of the NFL’s best defenders, NaVorro Bowman, recovering from that knee injury, and Aldon Smith, on a nine-week suspension. If and when those two return, San Francisco might be pretty good.

Harbaugh knows what he has and what he doesn’t have. What Harbaugh himself has is an overwhelming desire to prove his capabilities. Just when you think you know the man, he’ll get you. Or his team will.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Niners, trailing 17-16, had the ball four-and-one on their own 29. They lined up to punt, naturally, but, sneaky devils, called a running play up the middle. The first down eventually led to Dawson’s fourth field goal and a 19-16 lead.

“Yeah,” said Harbaugh, tempering a boast. “Thought it was an important call, important play in the game. Strong important win for our team. Thought it was a great team win.”

It was a grind-out, we’re-stronger-physically-and-mentally kind of win that Harbaugh relishes, the sort of victory that registers not only on the scoreboard but the opponents’ psyches.

Harbaugh certainly was questioned again about the Deion Sanders contention that will live as long as the season does.

“The team doesn’t have to respond,” said Harbaugh in his own response. “The team has to do their job and play football. It’s my job to love them — those players, those coaches, everybody in our organization.

“It’s their job to love each other. They don’t need to respond in any other way than their job. The football team has done good. And the better you do, the more you do, then people try to trip you up. Whether you’re getting praised, whether you’re getting criticized or whether you’re having silence, all three have their obstacles. But also all three, any of the three, can add to the competitiveness, the determination. And our football is very determined and very competitive.”

Exactly like the head coach.

8:28PM

Do Raiders depend on McGloin or Pryor?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The reference was to education. The Raiders, the head coach, the quarterback, kept using the word “learning,” as if this season, going from bad to worse to “Please don’t use the word dreadful,” is something for which they’ll get a grade from the friendly prof down the hall.

While the Raiders are being schooled, so are the rest of us, learning first that the team probably needs a quarterback, that Matt McGloin doesn’t appear to be the man of future or the present and Terrelle Pryor doesn’t seem to be much of anything — at least in the eyes of those in charge.

Johnny Manziel, you say? Only if the Raiders can do more in the 2014 draft then they were able to do against the Kansas City Chiefs.

It was a brutal Sunday at O.co Coliseum, chilly, mortifying, at least for the majority of the 49,571 fans. Kansas City, as effective as the Raiders were inept, beat Oakland, 56-31, the Raiders allowing the most points in the history of a franchise that came into existence in 1960.

McGloin threw four interceptions and lost a fumble. Pryor, who was inserted now and then for no good reason or maybe for a very good reason, threw one interception. And there was another lost fumble on a kickoff by Taiwan Jones, making it seven turnovers for the Raiders.

Maybe they were lucky they only gave up 56 points.

“You can’t play a good team like that and turn the ball over seven times,” said Raiders coach Dennis Allen, now 4-10 in this second season of his regime. Yes you can. The implication was if you do that you’ll get buried. And the Raiders were buried.

The defense wasn’t much either. Kansas City, on a long kickoff return and a 49-yard screen pass, scored the first of its eight touchdowns just 22 seconds into the game. Running back Jamaal Charles tied a Chiefs record with five touchdowns. And he didn’t play a considerable part of the fourth quarter.

McGloin, the undrafted free agent, played most of the game. He completed half of his 36 pass attempts for 297 yards and two touchdowns. But those four picks, one returned for a touchdown, made one wonder if he has the right stuff to be a starter in the NFL.

“There are always difficult situations,” said Allen, a defensive specialist defending his two rookie quarterbacks. “But hopefully those guys can learn from those mistakes. It’s tough when you’re going through the learning process, because as the losses mount up it gets frustrating.”

The real question is whether Oakland dares depend on either McGloin, who began the season a fourth-string QB, or Pryor, the surprise starter in Game 1 but later injured, beyond this year. Do the Raiders rely either on a quarterback ignored in the draft or another who is more of a runner than a passer for the coming seasons?

Or do they start over, perhaps with one of the top college players who seemingly will be available?

Nobody in the organization will comment until the end of this season, but Allen, explaining the Pryor-for-McGloin-for-Pryor shift and juggle said, “Obviously we’ve got two guys that we want to be able to utilize, and we’ve got to find ways to get explosive plays.

“And we were able to get explosive plays today. We got a lot of balls down the field. We had a lot of explosive passes, as well as explosive penalties. We just weren’t consistent enough, and we can’t turn the ball over like we did. We have to do a better job on our red zone defense of making them have to kick field goals.”

But they were unable. They are unable. This team, glued together from bits and scraps, tormented by the salary cap, has shredded and shriveled in recent weeks.

The defense is worn and battered. The supposedly best offensive player, running back Darren McFadden, always is injured. McGloin is a notch down from the elite level. Pryor is unpolished.

“We had some good drives,” was McGloin’s analysis. “We had some poor drives. I’ll learn from it. We’ll learn from it. I’ll get better from it, and I know the rest of the guys will get better from it.”

Will he? Will they? This was the fifth game McGloin has started. It was anything but encouraging. He’s learning, but so are the opponents about McGloin. They step in front of his receivers. They chase him out of the pocket.

“I’m at a loss for words,” McGloin said of the turnovers. “It’s disappointing. But at the same time we were still in the game. It was 35-31 at one point with all the turnovers.

“There’s always passes you kind of wish you could pull back, but that’s part of the game. They did make some good plays, but some of those throws were poor decisions.”

McGloin, denying reality, insisted he isn’t auditioning for next year, when in effect, even while trying to win now, he and the other Raiders, young and older, are playing for their future.

“We’re going to learn from the poor decisions, the mistakes,” said McGloin. “As long as we know what they are, I can go away saying that the more experience I get, I’ll learn from it.”

If, indeed, it will make any difference to him or the Raiders.