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Penalties, lack of execution and lack of pass rush sink Raiders in Jon Gruden’s return

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Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. (Aleah Fajardo/Special to S.F. Examiner)

OAKLAND — Derek Carr zipped a 32-yard gainer up the seam to tight end Jared Cook with just over eight minutes left against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night. It was part of what turned out to be a career evening for the Oakland Raiders tight end, as the Oakland Raiders, down by 10, marched down the field.

On the very next play, though, Carr — Oakland’s three-time Pro Bowler — looked for Jordy Nelson. Instead, he found Rams cornerback Corey Littleton at the 32-yard line. It was his second of three interceptions on the night, one he called “one of the dumbest plays you could ever have.”

At that point, Los Angeles had out-gained the Raiders 198 to 65 yards after the half. While the Rams repeatedly went to their best offensive weapon — Todd Gurley — Oakland’s Amari Cooper touched the ball twice. For 18 yards. Unable to generate push up the middle without Khalil Mack, Oakland couldn’t stop Gurley or pressure Jared Goff, falling 33-13.

“It’s just a bad feeling,” Carr said. “It just sucks.”

Oakland dominated time of possession early on — 11:57 to 3:03 — but committed 10 penalties for 145 yards in the first half, settling for a 13-10 lead at the break thanks to another pair of penalties that stalled a promising drive. Despite those penalties, the Raiders still managed 254 yards of offense in the first half, and there were signs that both the offense and defense had at least some promise.

“Honestly, a lot of it was first-game stuff,” Carr said. “A lot of it, guys are amped up. We actually get to play a full game … It’s Week 1 stuff. It’s never acceptable. I know that. I know how we demand it as leaders.”

The offense, up to that point, had not played anything close to a full game, wire-to-wire, together. That led to miscues. Add to that the fact that, after the break, the Raiders were constitutionally incapable of generating a pass rush, and the second half looked very different from the first.

Goff rarely felt pressure, as the Raiders generated an NFL-low five pressures. Arden Key made rookie mistakes. Gurley ran 16 times for 89 of his 108 total rushing yards after halftime, opening up the passing game for Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.

In contrast, Carr went 9-for-16 in the second half, but taking out a final, futile drive, he was 6-for-13 for just 53 yards.

“Our execution as an offense … there were bad throws, miscommunications, all that kind of stuff, stuff that usually actually does happen in a first game, but, you leave the consequence for another time,” Carr said. “That’s my fault. I’ve got to do a better job for our team, and I will.”

Carr started strong, altering plays twice at the line of scrimmage on the first drive before handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, who turned in a vintage Beast Mode second-effort run for a 10-yard touchdown with 10:23 to go in the first. During that drive, Cooper lined up in the slot, and took a reverse for nine yards. That was the last time he would touch the ball in the first half. Even with the Rams taking him away, Carr went 20-of-24 for 199 yards before the break.

While Paul Guenther’s defense forced a three-and-out on the first drive — including a breakup from Rashaan Melvin on third-and-two and pressure from rookie P.J. Hall — the Raiders couldn’t get any consistent pressure on Goff from the jump. On the Rams’ second drive, after a 54-yard punt by rookie Johnny Townsend, the Cal alum drove Los Angeles 50 yards in 1:13 and finished with a shovel pass to an in-motion Gurley for a score with 4:53 to go in the first.

Without Tank Carradine — who was inactive for the opener — Hall got time early, but the other rookies — Maurice Hurst and Arden Key — were brought along more slowly. The absence of Mack was at the very least, clearly evident, as Key struggled at times with the environment and the noise.

Oakland went for -11 yards on its second drive thanks to a holding penalty and an emergency check down that went nowhere. The Raiders started their next drive with a false start, before Carr was swallowed up by Michael Brockers over right tackle Donald Penn. Aaron Donald, though, was dinged for roughing the passer, as he dove into Carr’s legs. The drive was salvaged by a third-down conversion on an 11-yard drag to Cook.

Because of a pair of penalties — and lack of execution — Oakland had to settle for three points instead of seven on that drive.

After a Bruce Irvin strip sack deep in Raiders territory, Oakland marched up field and looked primed for a score, but again, execution issues prevented the Raiders from doing damage. An under-thrown 21-yard fade from Carr to Cook in the back of the end zone was picked off by John Johnson III.

“I just made a bad throw,” Carr said. “We get Jared one-on-one, we know what he can do. I just made a bad throw.”

The Rams drive down the field, with a pass interference by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie giving Los Angeles the ball at the 19. Rodgers-Cromartie, though, redeemed himself with a third-and-goal breakup on a dart from Goff, holding the Rams to a field goal to tie things up with 2:40 to go before halftime.

Oakland piled up 10 penalties in the first half alone, including a pair of holding calls on Kelechi Osemele on their final drive before the break. With an emergency long snapper (tight end Lee Smith) in — starter Andrew DePaola limped off the field with 6:07 to go in the first quarter — the Raiders settled for a 48-yard Mike Nugent field goal off the infield dirt to take a 13-10 lead into the locker room.

“We did some of the same stuff, but we just executed it better in the first half, to be honest,” Carr said. “They tried to do some things a little bit different, but nothing that mattered, really. They tried to put different looks for the run game, different looks for the pass game, but nothing that we didn’t prepare for.”

While the Raiders offense sputtered — gaining just 141 yards after halftime, with 54 of those coming on a final, meaningless drive — the Rams found a rhythm.

Los Angeles tied things up with 9:04 to go in the third, driving 60 yards before a Leon Hall end zone breakup forced them to settle for a 28-yard field goal.

After completing just seven passes over the first 43 minutes of game time, Goff went 3-for-3 for 55 yards at the end of the third quarter, driving the Rams 58 yards and finding Kupp for an eight-yard touchdown to take a 20-13 lead.

Fadol Brown got his hand on a Goff pass at the line of scrimmage on third-and-three at the Raiders’ 37 with 9:24 to go, forcing a 55-yard field goal, which Greg Zuerlein hit.

Then came Carr’s second pick. He saw coverage underneath, came back and tried to throw the ball away, but at the last moment, tried to pull it back with his hand and guide it to Nelson. It landed in Littleton’s lap. 13 plays later, the Rams added a 20-yard Zuerlein field goal.

Goff didn’t have to move much in the second half, standing tall in the pocket and completing 14 of 23 passes for 173 yards. He finished 18-of-33 for 233 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

Carr — with both outside receivers taken away by the Rams defense — depended on Cook, targeting him 12 times. Cook set career highs with nine catches for 180 yards.

“Not only did they have [Aqib] Talib and [Marcus] Peters on those guys, most of the time, they were doubling them,” Carr said. “Kind of a box deal.”

With just over two minutes to go, Carr, going to Cook again, was picked at midfield by Marcus Peters, who took it back 50 yards for the final score. He leaped backwards into the end zone, holding his crotch, in reference to Lynch’s own “HMD” celebration with the Seattle Seahawks. It was insult added to injury.

“He ended up getting a gift,” Carr said.

Carr finished 29-of-40 for 303 yards, and left the field to a chorus of boos. Of those 40 passes, nine targeted wide receivers.

“Now, we have film of our offense playing against one of the best defenses in the league,” Carr said. “We can take it and learn from it.”

After the game, a rank smell permeated the Raiders locker room and the adjoining hallway, wafting all the way up to the press box. A skunk had sprayed in the Oakland Athletics dugout. No word from the skunk on whether it was a commentary on the game.

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