If this was “The Autumn Wind,” as celebrated in poetry that is said to define Raider Nation, it seemed to be blowing southward Sunday … toward Los Angeles. Not an hour after a bad loss that only could be viewed as a significant setback, the gusts whipped so wickedly through an empty Coliseum that all the seagulls flew away, leaving only some hot-dog wrappers to be swirled. The scene was ominous and a little spooky on an afternoon that was dismal in some ways, disgusting in others.
Let’s begin, as we take in a 30-14 loss to the Vikings that throws a once-promising season into 4-5 limbo, with the disgust. Two days after the Paris attacks, on a high-alert weekend when the NFL demanded that the Raiders and all host franchises increase security measures and law enforcement presence inside and outside stadiums, an idiot fan was allowed to jump out of the stands and romp downfield following a Minnesota field goal in the game’s final minutes. He crossed the goal line, stopped in the end zone, performed a come-and-get-me dance and then started running in the opposite direction, making a mockery of several late-arriving, out-of-shape, lunging security cops who resembled so many moonlighting Paul Blarts as they flailed helplessly, two falling to the ground. It took a Minnesota special-teams player, Antone Exum Jr., to corral the clown and press his body into the turf until three armed sheriff’s deputies cuffed the miscreant and hauled him away.
It was, of course, the absolute wrong time for a security breach. And it cast further aspersions on the sensibilities and general brainpower of Raiders owner Mark Davis, who should be held accountable for the idiot’s prance and has some explaining to do. If Davis was completely committed to Oakland, wanted the paying customers to trust his vows and truly cared about their well-being, he would have made damn sure that the stadium’s security people — even if hired by the Coliseum Authority — were at their optimum level of vigilance throughout the day. What happens during a home game, including everything within the parameters of the fan experience, is on him.
The folly points to Davis spending too much time on Southern California relocation and not enough time on what’s still happening in Oakland — specifically, home games attended by 50,000-plus crowds spending top dollar to watch NFL football. It was damaging enough the other day when Davis, with San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos, announced their new alliance with Walt Disney Company chairman and Hollywood clout king Bob Iger, who will bring heft to their proposed joint stadium in Carson. “L.A. is a big puzzle we want to get right,” Davis told the Los Angeles Daily News. “The goal is to get it right in L.A. There is a lot to offer and connect into, and Bob Iger helps tap into those opportunities.” Davis’ comments came less than two weeks after he stood inside the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland, for a town-hall forum conducted by the NFL, and told 450 ralliers that he was working 24/7 to find funding for a new East Bay stadium.
“It can be done in Oakland if everyone pulls together,” he promised that night. “We’re trying to get something done.”
He is talking from both sides of his mouth, obviously. For now, Davis needs to fix his security issues before the Raiders return to the Coliseum next month — for what could be their final three games in Oakland. It would have been nice, if this truly is the last season of The Autumn Wind here, if they’d followed through on a 4-3 start and made the playoffs in a diluted AFC. And maybe they still will. But they laid a stinker in Pittsburgh, their defense exposed by Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. And Sunday, they couldn’t stop Adrian Peterson, who averaged 7.8 yards per rush in a virtuoso 203-yard performance, including an 80-yard crusher for a touchdown with 1:50 left. That came after Derek Carr, whose gunslinging continues to be interrupted by mistakes against defenses geared to stop the big play, threw an end-zone interception that was tipped to the ancient Vikings cornerback, Terence Newman, by a leaping Andre Holmes.
It was that kind of afternoon, each rally suppressed by a downer. The Raiders fell behind early, came back behind two Carr TD passes to take a 14-13 lead, only to immediately relinquish the lead on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 93-yard kickoff return for a score just before halftime. You feel like the Raiders are letting a cool story slip away.
“That’s the reality of it,” Charles Woodson said. “We were right there in this game, but that was a tough blow right before halftime. We went out and kept the game close, then the top gets blown off late in the game. We’re close. But we’re not close enough.”
Jack Del Rio, old-school coach, wants to win with a running game and a defense complimented by a big-arm passer. But the running game is sporadic, and the defense is a dumpster fire. I’m afraid Carr may be undone by the team’s other issues, which is a shame; when he’s clicking with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, it’s a work of art.
“They tried to take away the big-play opportunities, trying to play it safe,” Carr said. “They made us go down the field with long, long drives. We expected them to do that.”
And they can expect more of the same in the final seven games. The good news is, it’s hard to shake Carr’s confidence, even at age 24 and less than two years into his pro journey. “When you lose, it’s hard. You just have to rely on your foundation,” he said. “You have to rely on what you believe in. This team — everyone believes in one another. I just continue to be the same person. You’re never going to see me too high or too low in my attitude or how I go about my business.”
Del Rio did not shower Carr with superlatives after the scoring passes were offset by two picks. “I think he’s a good player. He’s not always going to be perfect,’’ he said. Don’t make too much of that. The head coach is in the queasy section of a roller coaster that may end up at 8-8, just short of the postseason.
“They played better than we did today,” Del Rio said. “They coached better. They played better. They earned it. We’ve got to take our lumps and deal with it and move on.”
The coach and quarterback will be fine.
The owner? I’m much less certain.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.