With just under eight minutes to go Sunday, Raiders’ defensive tackle Tommy Kelly stripped the ball from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Teammate Aaron Curry scooped it up and rumbled 6 yards for a touchdown.
The score: Raiders 27, Lions 14.
It was all falling into place. While Oakland was about to break its two-game losing streak, Tim Tebow and the Broncos were finally running into reality – and the New England Patriots – in Denver.
By early evening, the Raiders would be back in a first-place tie in the AFC West with two games to go.
There was just one thing wrong with the script: the Raiders defense.
Oakland couldn’t hold the lead as Stafford guided the Lions back from the dead – or supposedly dead – throwing touchdown passes of 3 yards to Titus Young and 6 yards to Calvin Johnson in the final three minutes to give the Lions a 28-27 victory.
A last-second, 65-yard field goal attempt by Sebastian Janikowski was blocked by Ndamukong Suh to shut the door on the Raiders.
The question is, does this loss mean an end to the Raiders’ playoff hopes?
Certainly not mathematically. Oakland (7-7) remains a game behind Denver (8-6) with two to play. But can Oakland rebound in the next two weeks, with a game at Kansas City on Christmas Eve day – the same Chiefs who knocked off the unbeaten Packers Sunday – and a matchup with the Chargers at home in the season finale on Jan. 1?
By losing Sunday, the Raiders also let slip away an opportunity to tie Cincinnati (8-6) for the final AFC wild-card spot.
Wrote Bill Williamson of ESPN.com: “The defeat was absolutely crushing for the Raiders.”
After losing the previous two games to Miami and Green Bay while falling behind 34-0 each time, the Raiders were able to get on the scoreboard first, as Louis Murphy scored on a 12-yard reverse and Janikowski followed with the PAT for a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
The teams then traded scores through the first half, with the Raiders getting a 43-yard TD pass from Carson Palmer to Darrius Heyward-Bey and a Janikowski 46-yard field goal to go into halftime up 17-14. After Janikowski hit a 51-yard kick and Curry scored his TD in the fourth quarter, the Raiders looked well in command.
Most everyone in the sold-out O.co Coliseum was already started to chalk up the win.
Longtime Bay Area columnist Ray Ratto (@RattoCSN) sent out a “Game over” tweet when Curry scored, then had to follow it up late in the fourth quarter with, “By the way, earlier tweet declaring that Raider game was over lacked the words, ‘Unless the Raiders turn into the Raiders.’ Editing error.” A later Ratto tweet, an hour or so after the game: “Yes, I was spectacularly wrong on Raiders; didn’t see how any team could do what they did, the way they did it.”
Though Palmer had perhaps his best day since being acquired this season – completing 32-of-40 passes for 367 yards and a TD with no interceptions – the Raiders offense often stalled. Oakland converted just one-of-nine third-down opportunities. In addition, penalties again were costly, with 10 for 86 yards.
Now, the Raiders face a trip to Kansas City to play the 6-8 Chiefs – who beat Oakland 28-0 in Oakland earlier this season.