Oh, those Raiders. So many penalties. “After the flags, guys come up to me on the sidelines, and say, that’s what happens when you play for the Raiders,” mused quarterback Carson Palmer.
Oh those Raiders, blown out by Green Bay, giving up a late lead to Detroit, ranked fourth-worst in the NFL in total defense.
Oh those Raiders, still capable for the first time in nine seasons to both finish with a winning record and make the playoffs.
With all the mistakes, with all the stumbles, with all the injuries — who knows if Darren McFadden will play again this season — the Raiders arrive at game 16 on their schedule, Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at O.co Coliseum, still a contender.
A victory, and the Raiders (8-7) end with a winning record for the first time since 2002. A victory, and a situation or two going their way — the clearest would be a Denver Broncos loss to Kansas City — and the Raiders get to the postseason for the first time since that same year. When they also went to the Super Bowl.
“To a man,” Raiders rookie coach Hue Jackson said, “we all understand. This is as big as it gets.”
At least for this week. And wouldn’t that be something, the Raiders and 49ers both qualifying for the playoffs after neither had done it the previous eight seasons?
Jackson is a whirl of energy and adjectives. His enthusiasm surely has helped the Raiders as much as his optimism may have hurt them.
He all but promised Oakland would be better than it is, especially on defense, but adversity and overstatements disappear in a head-shake of acceptance and a smile.
Not that he’ll ever change.
“You still haven’t seen this team play its best football game,” Jackson said. “If we can get healthy, play well, the sky’s the limit.”
Palmer, out of football when he refused to honor a contract held by the Cincinnati Bengals, was grabbed in a trade for two high draft picks after Jason Campbell broke his collarbone, Oct. 16, against Cleveland. From nowhere, Palmer is on the doorstep of getting somewhere very important.
“This is why you play,” said Palmer, who in his eight seasons with the Bengals made it to the playoffs twice. “These types of games, especially when you get to play them at home, are why you do what you do in February, March, April and May when nobody’s watching.
“You know every kid wants to play in the NFL. The next dream is to play in a game like [Sunday’s against San Diego]. And the next dream is to be in the Super Bowl. This is a big moment for this team and our fans.”
Palmer, still adapting, has thrown 15 interceptions as opposed to 11 touchdown passes in his nine games with Oakland. He remains unflustered.
“You can’t dwell on the last play,” Palmer said. “You’ve got to move on.”
With Jackson’s unpredictable tactics — “You’re never in a position where he won’t call a certain play,” Palmer insisted — the Raiders are thinking about what’s ahead, not what’s behind.
“But,” added the quarterback, “you can’t put too much emphasis on ‘We have to win, we have to win.’ It’s just another game.”
They have to win.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.