John Madden, bless him, walked onto the Coliseum field at halftime to honor the late Ken Stabler. I applaud the football legend for his remarkable restraint, resisting urges to criticize a deplorable stinkbomb of a team that mass-hijacked our better senses Sunday and insulted all historic figures ever associated with this franchise. It was such a disgraceful, crappy debut performance by the 2015 Raiders, we’d be happy to call the moving vans and point them southward.
To Los Angeles?
No, toward Hades — where they’ve probably belonged all along.
Normally, an ugly regular-season debut doesn’t evoke outbursts of palpable, refund-worthy disgust. But if a 33-13 loss to the Bengals was owner Mark Davis’ way of exhibiting that his franchise deserves a long-term future in Oakland, he wasn’t listening to the boos in the first half, the boos at intermission, the boos in the second half and boos from a smattering of no-lifers who remained at the merciful end, wondering why the Raiders couldn’t cover the friggin’ tight end … why Jack Del Rio’s defense kept allowing long scoring drives that would have collectively stretched to Cincinnati … why so many stupid penalties sabotaged early momentum … why Amari Cooper was dropping passes … why an enraged Pacman Jones was allowed to tear off Cooper’s helmet and ram his skull with it without being ejected … why they couldn’t run the ball … why they couldn’t pass the ball … why they couldn’t tackle … and why Matt McGloin is the best they can do for a backup quarterback when Derek Carr injures his hand.
Maybe Oakland and Alameda County officials know more than we think they know. Why would any public official pledge a cent toward a new stadium for a franchise capable of descending to such depths? On Madden’s famous video game, current version, the worst score for an NFL team entering the season was 72, with New England at a league-best 91. I’m giving the Raiders a 50 on Madden ’16. To hear Del Rio after a forgettable coaching debut in his native East Bay, the rating should be lower.
“Not the kind of performance we expect to have out there. I thought our fans were real excited about the opening of the season, as we were, and it’s a very disappointing, embarrassing effort,” he said. “I take full responsibility.”
If we’re going to do a twist on an old movie — “Blame It on Del Rio,” though “Wayward From Hayward” also works — what exactly went wrong? The defense was abysmal, allowing the Bengals four touchdowns and a field goal on their first eight drives, which covered a collective 320 yards on 40 plays. That would be eight yards per play, geeks. They ran and passed as they pleased and always had a nakedly openly target in tight end Tyler Eifert, who caught nine balls for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Um, isn’t this Del Rio’s defense?
“Defensively, we said [the Bengals would get] nothing cheap. Their tight end is still running open,” Del Rio said. “We said we weren’t going to leverage tackles. On the first possession, we had four leverage issues.”
Here we thought the only leverage issue involved stadium politics. If these outings continue, Davis will have no leverage anywhere because his team will not be delivering legitimate NFL football to its new zip code. The offense, equally wretched, now could be without Carr. He was popped on his throwing hand by Adam Jones — yes, the notorious Pacman is still wreaking havoc, including the Cooper play that should result in a league suspension if Roger Goodell has had his morning coffee — and Carr didn’t return after leaving with 5½ minutes left in the second quarter. An X-ray on his throwing hand turned up negative, Del Rio said, but the locker-room gloom suggested the second-year quarterback and purported passing-game savior could miss time. That’s terrible news for a team that has had 18 starting quarterbacks in a dozen years and now would return to McGloin, who nearly didn’t make the roster.
It doesn’t matter who’s quarterbacking the Raiders if Cooper can’t hold onto the ball and if the running game is ineffective, with heralded Latavius Murray managing just 44 yards rushing. If Jones’ plan was to intimidate Cooper, which came after a 60-yard run by Raiders fullback Jamize Okawale that was nullified by a hold call on $44 million center Rodney Hudson, it seemed the rookie already may have been rattled. When the Raiders tried to establish the passing “arsenal” early, Cooper let the first pass whistle through his hands, didn’t grab a catchable ball the next time he was targeted and was whistled for pass interference on his third play. The mistakes threw Carr out of his rhythm and disheartened fans who thought Cooper, dripping with national hype as the No. 4 pick in the draft, would give the Raiders their first deep threat in eons.
“I was blocking him on a long run and he got on top of me after the play and ripped my helmet off,” Cooper said of Jones.
Were they trying to be dirty with him? Was he rudely awakened to the NFL? “I mean, it’s football. It’s a physical game so you kind of expect it,” Cooper said. “That’s what they’re supposed to do.”
And you, Pacman? Haven’t you been in jail enough in one lifetime? “Whatever you saw happen, that’s what happened,” Jones said. “I’m here to play football. I don’t back down from anybody and I’m not out here trying to start anything. I don’t want to hurt my team in any form or fashion, but I have to make sure I protect myself, too.”
A likely story.
In every way, the offense was offensive. “Offensively, we’ve got to be able to run it,” Del Rio went on. “We’ve got to be able to protect the quarterback. We’ve got to be able to protect the ball. The quarterback ended up being hurt. We didn’t protect the ball — we were minus-2 in turnovers.”
All of which had to humor Hue Jackson, the Bengals offensive coordinator. Where have you heard that name? Jackson was head coach of the Raiders in 2011, when they went 8-8, the only season since 2002 in which they’ve managed to avoid a losing record.
Rub it in, Hue? “Well, it’s satisfying to win,” he said. “This place will always be special to me because of Al Davis. Coach Davis was tremendous to me and gave me an opportunity with this organization. … There were some emotions there, no question. I’ve experienced a lot of blood, sweat and tears here in the past. At the end of the day, it’s a great, great day to be a Bengal.”
And the Bengals seemed to have a good time in the process, maybe because they like Hue but also because they like themselves. Jeremy Hill rushed for a touchdown, then turned his back to the Black Hole and did a dance with his butt pressed against the goalpost support. “It’ll be funny whenever I put the video out there,” he said.
As for the Raiders, they are in shambles already, reduced to keeping the fans interested with lame in-game entertainment. Would you believe they had two kicking contests starring some CBS late-night doofus who issued a warning to Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski over the big screen — “Sea Bass, I’m coming after you!” — then shanked a kick in full football garb?
That was only a little better than watching Aldon Smith, who had one fewer tackle (two) than he has had DUI-related arrests (three) and surely isn’t worth the public relations headache, much less another inevitable NFL suspension. When so much must go right for the Raiders this season, nothing did.
“I’m truly shocked,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “I thought we prepared well. I thought we had a good game plan. Obviously, we didn’t execute that game plan, and they came in and they executed theirs way better than we did.”
“It’s not something you expect,” said linebacker Malcolm Smith, who not long ago was a Super Bowl MVP for the Seahawks. “You want to go out there and look good for your fans and for your teammates. It’s just disappointing.”
“It was embarrassing,” said McGloin, “to get beat like that.”