Memo to Raider fans: Make your social plans for January. The NFL playoffs won’t intrude, because your team won’t be in them.
Two weeks ago, everything seemed to be coming up roses for the Raiders. They had just beaten the Kansas City Chiefs and, while they were taking a week off and getting healthy, the Chiefs had lost their fourth game and fallen into a tie with the Raiders for first place in the AFC West.
But since then, the Chiefs have won twice and the Raiders have been badly outplayed in two straight games. They were never in the game in a 35-3 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Two days ago, against the 5-5 Miami Dolphins, the score was close for most of the game only because of two sensational plays by rookie receiver-kick returner Jacoby Ford, who returned the opening kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown and later stole what should have been an interception from Miami safety Chris Clemons and raced 52 yards for a score.
But, in between, the Raiders did nothing and, in fact, only had the ball for slightly over 18 minutes. The score could easily have been something like 43-10, which would have more accurately reflected what was happening on the field.
So, what happened to the Raiders during that bye week? Did somebody slip tranquilizers in their, uh, milk?
More likely, the opposition got better. Two of the teams the Raiders beat on that three-game winning streak were Denver, now 3-8, and Seattle, now 5-6. The 8-3 Steelers are a much better team and the Dolphins, though they were only at .500 coming in, are in the tough AFC East and accustomed to playing at a high level, which the Raiders clearly are not.
Now the road gets a lot tougher for the Raiders. The only way into the playoffs is to win the AFC West, but the Chiefs only have to win two of their remaining five games to get to 9-7. The Raiders would have to win four of five to reach that.
And, oh, yes, the Raiders are now third in the AFC West. The San Diego Chargers, making their usual late-season run, are at 6-5.
The Raiders go to San Diego on Sunday. The Chargers have never lost a game in December under Norv Turner. This won’t be the first.
The other thing that has happened to the Raiders is that teams have learned that the way to stop them is to take away the running game. Pittsburgh did it first, then the Dolphins.
It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is. Jason Campbell looked terrible against Pittsburgh. Bruce Gradkowski had decent stats Sunday, but only because of Ford; he did not play well.
The only game left on the schedule that looks like a certain win is Denver at home on Dec. 19. The other four are at San Diego on Sunday, against Jacksonville on the road on Dec. 12, Indianapolis at home on Dec. 26 and the Chiefs in Kansas City on Jan. 2. They have to win one of those to finish at 7-9 and end the streak of double-digit losses.
But they won’t be closer to the playoffs than their TV sets.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.