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9:12AM

S.F. Examiner: Defenseless Raiders prove change comes slowly

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

This is a warning to the Raiders. If you want to draw fans to that $2 billion stadium out on The Strip where Sinatra and the Rat Pack used to hang out, you’d better get your act together. Las Vegas isn’t Oakland.

They want winners there.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

8:40PM

Raiders Carr just wants to win — like Al Davis

By Art Spander

NAPA — This was Al Davis talk, but from Derek Carr. Davis has been gone four and a half years now, and yet for the Raiders, for a player like Carr, it was as if Al still was parading around the field in training camp reminding us to just win, baby.

Carr wants nothing else, even in preseason games. “Anytime I put on a jersey,” said Carr, “my whole mindset is, ‘What do I need to do to win?’”

Most likely be on the field for more than a dozen plays, or something like that, to which most NFL starting quarterbacks are limited in the first or second week of what, in truth, are practice games.

No reason to take a chance with injuries, and conversely you’ve got to give a chance to the backups.

So for Carr, there’s impatience. Ten plays last weekend against Arizona, although with Matt McGloin throwing a couple of touchdown passes, an Oakland victory. Thursday night, it’s the Packers at Green Bay.

“There’s something where, like, if you lose,” said Carr, “it stings, because you’re a competitor.”

And unquestionably, in his third year, a leader — the leader. As a quarterback is supposed to be. Someone who understands the plan and people, and no less importantly himself. Someone as adept at dealing with the media as with a safety blitz.

The Raiders closed camp early Tuesday afternoon, not long after Carr, enthusiastic — as always — and reflective gave what would be the final session behind the podium for Napa 2016. And, according to some rumors, the final ever.

If the Oakland Raiders indeed are to become the Las Vegas Raiders, as Al’s son, Mark, is planning — scheming? — then, according to the predictions, training camp would be switched to Reno. Not that anyone associated with the Raiders would discuss it.

“Man, I’m just . . . I didn’t even think of that until you said that,” Carr offered. “That’s how focused we are on football. I love Napa. I love the Bay Area. If it is, I loved it. If it’s not, I look forward to coming back.”

It was the belief of the late Bill Walsh (whose first job in pro football was as an assistant to Davis in 1966, when Al was the Raiders' head coach) that a quarterback needs three years to develop: in the rookie year mostly watching, in the second year playing when he could succeed, in the third year becoming the starter.

Now rookies, such as Jared Goff with the Rams this season and Carr back in 2014, instantly are first-string, learning in the school of hard knocks and one-sided defeats. Peyton Manning himself endorsed the method with the man who succeeded him at Indianapolis, Andrew Luck.

“You’ve got to get out there and find out,” in effect is what Manning advised.

Carr definitely did. That first year, the Raiders lost their opening 10 games. For someone who prizes a win in preseason, the pain still lingers from the difficult beginning. Yet, Carr rarely gets down.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time,” he said of his attitude, “it’s real. It really is. I just love people, being around people. But there’s one percent of the time when you wake up and your body hurts or something bad happened with a friend or family member, and it bugs you. I’m human.”

But he recovers quickly enough.

“I just remind myself who I am,” said Carr, “my foundation, what I believe and who I am. That’s how I go about it, because I want to make sure I’m always the same for my teammates. Like when we were 0-10, it was hard. But I tried every single day to be the same guy. So, as they saw that when we were losing, when we started winning and I was the same guy, they knew it just wasn’t a game.”

He meant his behavior, not football, which is just a game — and more.

“When I came out of (Fresno State), I felt very prepared,” said Carr, “When I hit the NFL, there hasn’t been anything that was said to me that didn’t make sense. It’s all about experience, though. It’s just a matter of experiencing those things, those blitzes, those coverages.

“It made sense to me why they were doing it, but I had never seen it before so it wasn’t in my memory bank. Those two years of experience are what really gave me the most knowledge.”

We’ll find out whether, in his critical third year, they also give Carr the winning edge.

8:14PM

For Raiders, no success ‘without a Super Bowl’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Wait ’til next year. Or the year after that. Or the Twelfth of Never. The Raiders aren’t there yet, perhaps aren’t even close to being there, meaning the postseason, where they last played 13 years ago, a virtual lifetime in the NFL.

Are they better than last season? Their record would indicate as much. Even after getting beaten by the superior Green Bay Packers, 30-20, Sunday in the rain and chill at O.Co Coliseum, and being eliminated from the playoffs, the Raiders are 6-8. And wins in their final two games, unlikely since one is at Kansas City, would make them 8-8, which would be their best record since 2011.

They had a new coach this season, Jack Del Rio, and after defeating the Jets in early November had a 4-3 record. Where would they go from there? Nowhere, it turned out. At least figuratively. Progress, sure — from three wins a year ago, it was inevitable they would progress. Still, that doesn’t placate the fans, drenched and deflated, who toughed it out. Or the veteran defensive back Charles Woodson.

Someone wondered if the season could be described as success, what with victories over the Jets and, a week ago, the Denver Broncos. Woodson had a ready response. “There is no success,” he said, “without a Super Bowl.”

This from a 37-year-old who entered the league in 1998, was drafted by and played with the Raiders, moved to the Green Bay Packers where he got that Super Bowl and then in 2013 returned to Oakland. This from a man who has battled and survived and, even Sunday, after another bruise to his sore right shoulder, missed only one scrimmage play before re-entering the game.

“But,” added Woodson, “progress has been made.”

The Raiders have fallen — or raised — themselves into the category called teasers. As opposed to finishers. The Raiders are out there making big runs, big receptions, big defensive stops — and big mistakes.

As in the first period Monday, when they — meaning quarterback Derek Carr — threw two interceptions and fell behind 14. After which they pulled ahead, 20-17. After which they gave up two touchdowns and a field goal.

Is it a lack of experience, of understanding how champions compete, or a lack of talent? Is it a failure in the coaching or a failure in comprehension? Is it bad breaks or bad play?

For seasons the Raiders have been heavily penalized, a legacy of the late owner Al Davis, who often said he didn’t care about discipline. And while there has been improvement in 2015, the penalties remain a major negative. Time after time Monday, the Raiders were called for pass interference, illegal use of hands or holding. In all, the Raiders had 10 penalties for 95 yards, the Packers six for 75 yards.

On a third and sixth, a pass is knocked down, a flag is thrown and the Packers — or the Chiefs, or the Steelers — have a first down. “Just play with better technique,” said Del Rio about the calls. “I saw a couple examples where guys were trailing and did not play with proper technique. That will be called every time. Wasn’t even close.”

Nor were the two quick interceptions by Carr, who, in his second year, has not attained a level of consistency needed by winners. In the middle of the first quarter, Micah Hyde picked off a Carr pass at the Oakland 36. Four plays later, the Pack led 7-0. One play later, a 43-yard interception return by Damarious Randall made it 14-0.

“The first interception,” said Carr, “I tried to sneak it in without the guy seeing me, and he turned his head around and caught it. The second just got high on me. It did. I wish I had the play over. I’d love to bring it down, obviously, but that’s where I wanted to throw it. It was just high.”

After the one-two punch, Del Rio brought Carr to his side, not to criticize but to reassure. “It was just, ‘Things like that are going to happen, I believe in you,’” Shaw said of the coach’s advice. “‘You already know these things. Just go out there and be yourself.’”

For now, Carr being himself is not good enough. He’s an individual on the verge. The Raiders are a team on the verge. But so far that’s not enough.

“In critical situations,” said Woodson, the wise and relatively old man, “you can’t beat yourself. It’s hard enough to go out there and play the other team. As this team grows, we’ll get better at those type of things.”

For that we must wait. ’Til next year, or well after that.

9:45PM

49ers' loss of Crabtree is Raiders' gain

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Halfway across the country, his former team was losing another game and maybe, considering the dismay of 49ers fans, losing face. But Michael Crabtree seems unconcerned with any sort of retribution.

On his best day as an Oakland Raider, maybe his best day as a pro football receiver, 12 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, he spoke only of progress, the Raiders' progress — not his own.

Everything is going beautifully for the Raiders, who have escaped their seasons of agony. On Sunday, with Crabtree getting open and with second-year quarterback Derek Carr getting him and others the ball — and throwing four TD passes — the Raiders beat the New York Jets, 34-20.

Impressive stuff for a franchise so long trapped in misery, a franchise that no matter how successful it is in the Bay Area will always be the NFL stepchild to the Niners. Now the Raiders, still playing in the O.Co Coliseum while their future is debated, are flying high while the Niners, beaten 27-6 by the Rams at St. Louis, are by comparison a disgrace.

Crabtree, 28, is a link between the two franchises, in more than one way. Entering the 2009 draft early after setting records at Texas Tech, he was on the board when the Raiders instead opted for Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland, another receiver. So the 49ers took him with the 10th pick overall.

Then after years of mixed production, last spring he was a free agent. The Niners no longer wanted him, but the Raiders, who had blown the opportunity once, signed him. So far, so very good. He’s not only become a target, he’s become a mentor to super rookie Amari Cooper.

Preparing to leave the locker room after getting into his civilian clothes, Crabtree, wearing a backpack, was halted by a phalanx of media. He probably deserved a better location for a debriefing, but this is sport, not Hollywood or Washington. Informality is a constant.

“We have a lot of weapons,” said Crabtree, trying to spread the glory. Indeed, there’s Taiwan Jones, who caught a Carr pass near the sideline and slipped and sped by what is supposed to be a great Jets pass defense — hey, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are the corners — for 59 yards and a TD. Andre Holmes caught two for touchdowns.

“The Jets' defense challenged us,” said Crabtree. “We have a lot of guys who want those extra yards. There’s a will to win. We try to make something happen.”

This was a second straight win in for the Raiders, who now have a 4-3 record. This was a chance to flummox a team that a week earlier had played competently against the best team in pro football, the Patriots, losing only 30-23.

“You see where we’re getting better,” said Carr. “I have to go back (to the video) and compare/contrast. But you see the growth, obviously.”

Carr said he told Crabtree, the vet, the family man, that he played with “daddy strength.” It was an interesting analogy.

“When you’re a father,” said Carr, “there’s an extra strength that you have, and he played with that today.”

When teams win, everybody is satisfied. Praise bounces around like, well, a football after a punt. Still, you sense a feeling of accomplishment and a degree of humility from the Raider players. They have accepted the principles of new head coach Jack Del Rio that it’s a team game, and as great as any individual might be, the group is what counts.

Crabtree, also schooled by Jim Harbaugh with the Niners, has bought into the concept. “It’s not just about one guy,” said Crabtree.

Del Rio said he likes what Crabtree has brought to the Raiders. “Michael has been a real pro,” said the coach. “We love having him. He’s come in from day one and really hit in our locker room. He’s been a great teammate, does everything we ask.”

Crabtree had an Achilles injury in 2013 that kept him out of much of that season with the Niners. And in 2014 some said that he had lost his explosives, with only two 100-yard reception games after recovering. His highest single-game yardage total in 2014 was just 85.

But he had the 102 Sunday against the Jets, so it’s apparent the Raiders made a wise decision in signing Crabtree.

“He works his tail off,” said Del Rio. “He’s been a greater example for Coop. And he’s making plays. He’s doing more than just being a mentor. He’s having a nice year for us.”

9:00PM

Raiders control ball, Peyton — and still can’t win

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — This is what happens to teams that aren’t quite there, teams that show progress but often don’t show results, teams that are difficult to embrace but even more difficult to criticize.

You want terrible? Look at the Detroit Lions, getting booed at home, benching first-rounders for bench-warmers. The Lions are terrible and readily identified as much. In contrast to the Oakland Raiders, who as young teams with new coaches do so frequently, entice and tease and then trip over themselves. Clunk.

Not many boo. Instead, they gasp.

The Raiders on Sunday played arguably their best defensive game in years. They controlled the ball — having it for 34 minutes of the 60. For the most part they controlled the great Peyton Manning, who threw  two interceptions and no touchdowns passes for a mediocre passer rating of 62.3, compared to the appreciably better rating of 82.1 by Raiders second-year quarterback Derek Carr.

But as we’ve been told forever and a day, the only number that matters is the final score. The rest is eyewash, material for talk shows and feature stories. At an O.Co Coliseum filled with passion and hope, the final score was Broncos 16, Raiders 10.

That’s the fewest points the Broncos scored this season. No less importantly, after two missed field goals, a lost fumble and a killer interception, a pass returned 74 yards in the fourth quarter when the Broncos were in front only 9-7, that’s the fewest the Raiders scored this season.

Yes, could have, perhaps should have. But didn’t.

The Raiders, with mistakes small and large, so encouraging and then, wham, so disappointing, are not yet capable. “They were supposed to win,” said Carr. “We expected to win.” But they were not yet ready to win.

Sebastian Janikowski set a team record for the number of games played as a Raider, 241. But he had one field goal blocked and another go wide from 40 yards. “Sometimes it happens,” said Seabass.

And Carr lost a fumbled snap on Oakland’s first play from scrimmage in the second half, and then on a misread — “We didn’t execute,” Carr said in a statement that indicted nobody — with the ball on Denver 31, Carr’s throw was picked by Cliff Harris Jr. and returned 74 yards for a TD.

“I always take full accountability,” said Carr, who in his words and actions seems more mature than someone in only his second year as a pro — but in his football occasionally plays exactly like someone in only his second year as a pro.

The game is one of overcoming errors. The best, the veterans, have their problems but not very many when matched against others. In Green Bay on Sunday, Aaron Rodgers even threw an interception. But it was his first in a home game in three years. The longer you go the fewer mistakes you make, and so, the longer you go.

Manning has gone longer than most. He’s 39, the same age as Raiders safety Charles Woodson, who after seasons of facing him finally had his first interception off Manning. But Peyton wasn’t unnerved. Upset, yes, but not unnerved. He’s in his 16th season. He learned long ago to soldier on. Learned how to win, or more directly learned how to enable his team to win.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio knows about both losing and winning and, as the former Broncos defensive coordinator, knows all about Manning. Del Rio particularly coveted a victory over his former team yet understood why the Raiders couldn’t get it.

“I thought we gave ourselves a chance,” said Del Rio, which only sounds good. Oakland, after consecutive defeats, now is 2-3. The Broncos are 5-0, and that stat far outdoes Manning’s interceptions and lack of TD passes.

Woodson was asked in a game when the opposing offense, Denver, was held to three field goals — the touchdown, remember, was a pick six, or interception return — if he would expect a win.

“Yeah, I suppose,” he said, trying to be elusive. “Defensively, we came out. We felt like were prepared and could do some things against them. We were able to, limiting those guys, but we just weren’t able to do enough.”

That’s the inevitable summation from a team that falls short, a team that competes, that excites, that tempts and then, because for one reason or another, ends up losing.

A team like the Oakland Raiders.

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