The Raiders were scheduled to play one of those gotta-have-it home games on Monday night, the kind of game that players and fans had waited a long time for this late in the season. Beat the Houston Texans, and first place in the AFC West was theirs.
Except the game was played in Mexico City, a move that stunk like the air there from a competitive standpoint. As a result, the Raiders will play only seven real home games in the regular season. In a race as tight as this one, that’s no small factor.
“The worst place to ever play a sporting event,” as former U.S. national team soccer star Eric Wynalda recently called Azteca Stadium, per USA Today Sports.
Added sports medicine physician Jorge Avendano Reyes, “There can be headaches, dizziness, sensation of fatigue, accelerated heartbeat, hyperventilation. We can also have respiratory symptoms when we are exposed often to the pollution.”
Yeah, so much for those NFL safety concerns.
So why were the Raiders selected to be the guinea pigs for international expansion?
Mostly, because they don’t have a real stadium of their own. If they had one, owner Mark Davis would have some leverage to stand up for his guys.
While Davis continues his neverending search for a place to move the team, the visit allows him to score major points with the other owners around the league. The franchise can also further its brand and make a few extra bucks in the process, as the game will draw 30,000-plus more fans than it would at O.Co Coliseum.
Sure, it’s not like the Raiders will be in a hostile environment or anything. The fans will be into it — there hasn’t been an NFL game played south of the border since 2005 — and the majority will be dressed in silver and black. Yet Azteca Stadium will never be mistaken for the Black Hole, either, the dungeon that opponents have dreaded, regardless of win-loss records, for decades.
Meanwhile, the players have been warned to watch what they eat lest they become the next Duane Brown. He’s the Texans’ tackle who had a 10-game suspension overturned after he tested positive for clenbuterol in tainted beef that he consumed in Mexico last spring.
Win or lose, some teams don’t recover from road trips to purgatory. The players and their fans can only hope this one doesn’t turn their dream season into diarrhea because of a wayward owner who has his priorities out of whack.
HIGHER STANDARD: If and when the NFL puts an expansion team in Mexico City, Colin Kaepernick might have some interest.
Azteca Stadium sits at 7,280 feet above sea level, which means it’s a lot easier to get high there.
NEXT MAN DOWN: Speaking of Kaepernick, Santa Clara coach Chipwreck Kelly said the QB didn’t play “poor” in the 30-17 snoozer against the New England Patriots. Kaepernick completed 4-of-13 passes to wide receivers and was sacked five times, which kind of tells you where Kelly’s head is these days.
Here’s how the Phony-Niners stack up under Kaepernick and Blame Gabbert after five starts apiece:
Points/game: Gabbert 22.2, Kaepernick 18.6.
Yards/game: Kaepernick 327.8, Gabbert 291.4.
First downs/game: Gabbert 19.0, Kaepernick 18.0.
Sacks/game: Gabbert 2.0, Kaepernick 3.2.
Turnovers/game Kaepernick 1.4, Gabbert 1.6.
Of course, the only numbers that matter are wins and losses. The Phony-Niners haven’t won a game that Kaepernick started since Oct. 18, 2015. That was 403 days ago, for those snoring at home.
YOU MAKE THE CALL: So which was the highlight of the game — when center Daniel Kilgore hiked the ball off his left ankle or when he rolled it back on the ground?
Or maybe Kilgore thought that Kaepernick was taking another knee?
ENOUGH ALREADY: In the final 94 seconds, Kelly inexplicably called three timeouts despite a 13-point deficit and the visitors in position to score again.
Which means one of two things: Kelly either took the Patriots and gave 14 points or thought point differential was the first tie-breaker in the NFL draft.
CONNECT THE DOTS: On the weekend that the Patriots made a rare visit to Santa Clara, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey ran wild against Cal with several of their entourage in attendance.
JUST SAYIN’: Thirty-nine-year-old Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looked old and slow on Sunday, but until the rest of the AFC East provides some competition, old and slow will keep winning that race.
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