The Oakland Raiders will enter December in first place in the AFC West with a chance to earn their first playoff spot in nine seasons.
On Monday, however, Raiders players and coaches were throwing up the caution flag to their fan base.
Don’t get too excited yet, they said.
“If I’m not mistaken, there are five games left,” defensive tackle Richard Seymour told the Sacramento Bee. “Nothing is won at this point yet.”
Head coach Hue Jackson echoed Seymour, saying, “we have to stop reading the hype.” Yet at the same time, Jackson believes his team is growing as the season progresses.
Even without key players such as Darren McFadden and Jacoby Ford, Oakland has shown improvement over its recent three-game winning streak that has the Raiders at 7-4 as they get ready to play at Miami Sunday.
In his news conference, Jackson said the Raiders’ passing game is getting better each week as Carson Palmer gets dialed into the system, finds his rhythm and gets to know his teammates, and Oakland is starting to play smarter football by cutting down on its penalties.
“We’re growing in the passing game,” Jackson said, adding, “This guy’s a proven passer, he knows how to throw the ball and he’d be the first to tell you there’s throws that normally are layups for him that he needs to get better at, too.
“But at the end of the day I think we’re growing all across this football team.”
Palmer, after being acquired in October, has started to post some good numbers. When the running game stalled a bit in Sunday’s win over Chicago, Palmer threw for 301 yards and a TD. And in the two previous games, wins over Minnesota and San Diego, he had QB ratings of 107.9 and 125.0 as he was 17-of-23 vs. the Vikings and 14-of-20 vs. the Chargers.
What the Raiders have lost in the running game with McFadden’s injury, they’ve gained in the passing game with Palmer.
Jackson also has been preaching to his players about cutting down on penalties, a longtime problem.
Perhaps the Raiders turned a corner Sunday in their win over the Bears, when the most-penalized team in the NFL was flagged just six times for 44 yards. This, just a week after Jackson begged NFL officials for fairness when his team was penalized 12 times for 117 yards in a win over the Vikings.
“I think our guys recognize that it’s something that’s hurt us and that we have to play with a little more focus and intelligence when it comes to doing things that could cost us,” he told reporters Monday.
As Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group noted, the Raiders have been flagged 109 times for 936 yards. The penalties have been a sore point with Jackson since training camp, and a constant source of discussion with his players.
Seymour told McDonald the message has been heard, and players are trying to play smarter.
“We can’t continue to make the same mistakes we made earlier this season,” he said.