No miracle: Raiders’ D comes to play

At one point Sunday, Balls almost expected NBC’s Al Michaels to scream to the national television audience, “Do you believe in the Raiders’ defense …?! Maybe!”

Calm down, Bubba. It was only a preseason game they played against the Arizona Cardinals at O.Co Coliseum. But if it’s true the first half of the third preseason game is the only one that means anything — for most starters, it’s their final tune-up for the real season — then defensive coordinator Ray Norton and coach Jack Del Rio have to feel better right now. The much-debated defense allowed 115 yards and three points before the reserves began to take

“The defense played really outstanding football, in particular in the first half,” Del Rio said after the 30-23 loss. “We provided a real short field for the offense.”

The turnaround started with a Khalil Mack-instigated pass rush that had quarterback Carson Palmer on the heels from the start. In the first half, the linebacker had three tackles, two sacks, two tackles for negative yardage and four QB hits. If that didn’t convince everyone that he had to play near the line of scrimmage for the defense to be most effective, then nothing could probably.

“Terrific,” Del Rio called the Mack attack. “He played very well. We got some good pressure on the quarterback, and he was part of that. He had a couple sacks and a couple of other plays. He was really very stout in the running game for us.”

The pressure up front even made the secondary look better. Well, everyone except cornerback D.J. Hayden, of course. The human torch escaped one pass interference penalty that the on-field officials overturned, then he was called for another that set up a gift-wrapped touchdown.

CARR HAS FLAT: Quarterback David Carr had his moments — 18 completions, 34 attempts, 213 yards, connections with rookie Amari Cooper that excited the crowd — but the pass game also lacked chemistry at times. His final play undermined whatever progress was made in the game — a blind pass off his back foot that was picked off in the flat and returned for a touchdown.

A year ago, that’s called a rookie mistake. Now it’s a just plain dumb one.

“I learned from that, obviously,” said Carr, whose unit scored 15 points but no touchdowns. “That late in the down . . . Hey, the timing wasn’t there — just throw it away and we’ll live to play the next.

“As an offense, we’re pretty upset right now because we wanted to score a lot of points. We felt we left a lot out there.”

Bigger things are expected of Carr in his second season, but realistically, that may be too much to ask right now. Better to run the ball consistently and take the load off him. But after the offense gained a total of one yard on the ground in the first half, it’s a good bet that he’ll have to throw a lot again.

“Our run game?” Del Rio said. “I didn’t see anything from our run game.”

CB OR NOT TO BE?: If you don’t believe the concerns about the secondary, then hear out ex-Raider George Atkinson, ol’ Black Death himself.

“They’ve got to do something about the cornerbacks,” Atkinson told Balls before the game. “Those guys worry me.”

Atkinson didn’t name last names, but he did mention first initials, and they sounded like D and J.

Otherwise, Atkinson likes what he sees thus far.

“There’s a different vibe here this year.” Atkinson said. “There’s more energy. I expect improvement this year, but let’s wait until the regular season starts.”

(MID)WESTWARD, HO: The St. Louis Raiders? Hey, in this crazy game of musical NFL franchises, don’t rule anything out yet.

As part of his stadium project in Inglewood, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has plans for a state-of-the-art entertainment center that could allow NFL Network to move out of his cramped facility in nearby Culver City. League higher-ups are so enthused about the possibility, Kroenke may have enough votes to move out of St. Louis despite plans for a new stadium there on the taxpayers’ dime.

If popular owner Peter Spanos doesn’t get his way in San Diego — and it appears less than 50-50 that he will — the Chargers will head north with Kroenke. In that case, Raiders owner Mark Davis could be left to choose between Santa Clara or a new riverfront home in St. Louis, and that should be no choice at all.

LEGEND OF ‘VORRO: The 49ers’ NaVorro Bowman wasn’t just good but All-Pro dominant against the Denver Broncos on Saturday night.

Here’s the best part: Bowman played without a brace on his surgically repaired left knee for the first time since he went down 19 months earlier.

“I took that chance and I felt great,” said Bowman, who played the entire first half. “I’ve been practicing without it. I just want to keep crossing those hurdles and keep taking the next step.”

The 49ers are desperate for leaders on the field and in the locker room. If Bowman and the coaches don’t push too hard too soon, this can be his defense if not his team.

DAILY HAYNE: The early success of 49ers rookie Jarryd Hayne makes Balls wonder if more rugby players will try a similar path in the future.

“You could tell he’s real comfortable with the football,’’ Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “You could tell running the ball he looks real comfortable. He was catching punts … and running. He looks real comfortable. I’d like to think if you could play rugby, you could play football.

“(Rugby) is a lot more running and contact. You hit without pads over there. So, if you can play rugby, you can play football, in my opinion.”

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE …: Lester Hayes?

Paul Ladewski

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