Oakland — Less than four minutes into the Oakland Raiders third loss in as many weeks, the hosts found themselves staring at a 14-0 deficit on Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum.
It was an unenviable spot for EJ Manuel, who was making his first start in the place of the injured Derek Carr, who spent the afternoon patrolling the sideline in a black Raiders shirt and grey gym shorts.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” Manuel said after the 30-17 loss. “I’ve been in every situation you can think of in this league, for the most part. So, it wasn’t something to get me rattled or our offense rattled.”
The first-quarter debacle began immediately, as the game began with Joe Flacco gashing the Raiders defense for a 54-yard strike to Mike Wallace on the first play from scrimmage.
That connection between Flacco and Wallace set up the first touchdown for the Ravens. The second was the result of a forgettable moment for tight end Jared Cook.
On the Raiders opening drive, Cook hauled in a three-yard pass before promptly fumbling the ball, which was scooped up by Jimmy Smith who rumbled in for a 47-yard score.
“Damn. I mean early in the game like that — to give them a freebie — you don’t want to give anybody a freebie in this league,” Manuel said. “But it is what it is.”
After the early letdown, the Raiders began to stabilize, collecting a first-quarter field goal and heading into the locker room trailing 21-10 .
Manuel, who went 13-for-26 for 159 yards and one touchdown, pulled the Raiders to within seven points, 24-17, with 3:46 to go in the third quarter, but the club was never able to get any closer than that.
A turning point in the game arrived just before the midway point in the fourth quarter. After Manuel missed Cook on third-and-three at the Ravens’ 44-yard line with 8:58 to go, head coach Jack Del Rio opted to punt rather than let his offense go for it.
“Hindsight is always 20/20 on things like that,” head coach Jack Del Rio said after the Ravens responded with a six-minute-and-26 second drive, capped with a 44-yard field goal.
“You’re thinking you’re going to pin them inside the 10. We didn’t,” Del Rio continued. “You’re thinking the defense will give us a stop and get us the ball back. We didn’t.”
Following the punt, the Raiders ran a lone offensive series.
“A fourth-down call with nine minutes left in the game, 10 minutes left in the game, was that the difference today?” Del Rio said. “I don’t think so.”
Unsurprisingly, Manuel backed Del Rio’s decision to put the game in the hands of the punt team and the defense, rather than letting the offense turn in a momentum-shifting play.
“Any time coach makes a decision, we ride with him,” Manuel said. “We’re a team. Whatever decision he makes, we feel like it’s the best for our team.”
Asked about his club’s mindset amid the three-game slide, Del Rio admitted that the stress of losing is piling up.
“I think you’d have to have a little bit of a question about the confidence level,” Del Rio said. “You just went out there and didn’t get it done for three weeks in a row.”
Veteran linebacker Bruce Irvin dismissed the notion that the team is dealing with a crisis of confidence.
“Coming into the year you were all telling us how good we are,” Irvin said. “I don’t know if we believed it or not but it be like this. It’s not the first time I’ve been in a situation like this. It’s our fifth game. We have 11 more games. We have time to turn it around, but it’s all if we want to or not. We have to come into work and take this [expletive] serious or we’ll continue to lose.”
Quartet of Raiders exit early
Four Raiders left Sunday’s loss early. Antonio Hamilton and Cory James are both dealing with knee problems, Jamize Olawale is dealing with a concussion and Marquel Lee hurt his ankle.
“We’ll learn more about those guys as we go,” Del Rio said. “But those are all four [who were] not able to return.”
Any given Sunday
With the much-hyped Raiders now sitting at 2-3, Irvin insisted he’s not shocked by the tumultuous opening five weeks.
“It sucks but it’s the NFL,” Irvin. “It doesn’t matter what team it is — Cleveland, Buffalo. It’s the NFL. Anybody can come in and beat you on any given day.”
Local legend lights the torch
Recently-retired boxer Andre Ward lit the Al Davis torch before Sunday’s loss, on a afternoon which marked the sixth anniversary of the passing of the longtime Raiders owner.