For most of this season, Raiders games have followed a familiar script: Oakland’s offense plays well in the first half but then goes cold; the defense plays tough enough to win. In the end, winnable games slip away.
Losses to the Colts, Redskins and Giants might have been victories if the Oakland offense could have put more points on the board in the second half.
On Sunday, the Raiders flipped the script but got the same result, a 23-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans at O.co Coliseum that drops Oakland’s record to 4-7. Now the Raiders have just three days to get ready for Thursday’s Thanksgiving test against the 6-5 Cowboys, who are coming off a 24-21 victory over the Giants.
Based on the script, the Raiders should have come away with a fifth win Sunday, which would have kept them in the race for a wild-card spot.
With just under nine minutes to play in the game, the Raiders were trailing 16-12 when they took over on their own 25-yard line. Immediately, rookie quarterback Matt McGloin led them down the field. First, he connected with Rod Streater for 19 yards. After a 1-yard run by Rashad Jennings, McGloin passed to Streater again, this time for 13 yards. On the next play, McGloin passed to Jennnings, who took a short pass and picked up 15 yards to the Titans’ 27-yard-line. On first down, McGloin then withstood a Titans blitz and lofted a 27-yard strike to fullback Marcel Reece in the end zone for a touchdown.
A crisp, five-play, 75-yard march late in the game for a go-ahead score? It was an aberration. Surely, this time, the Raiders would win, based on the past performance of the Oakland defense.
Instead, the Titans moved the ball 80 yards in 14 plays, eating up everything but 10 seconds on the clock to score a TD and take a 23-19 lead – and the game.
This time, the defense fell apart.
“When you have a lead, we believe that it’s our responsibility defensively to go out there and protect the lead and hold them,” Oakland head coach Dennis Allen told the media after the game. “We weren’t able to do that.”
This time, the Raiders defense couldn’t come up big on third downs – including the TD pass, which came against a zone defense on a third-and-10. As noted by Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group, Oakland was one of the best third-down defenses in the NFL going into the game, having allowed just 33 percent conversions. But on the final drive, the Titans were 3-for-3 on third downs. In the game, they converted 10-of-18.
“It’s frustrating after a while, because as a defense we feel like we had them and we just let them go,” safety Brandian Ross told Corkran. “They’re in third-and-short, third-and-8, third-and-long, it seemed like they always just got behind us somehow.”
Allen took the blame for the zone defense on the final touchdown pass. But his defensive players took the blame for their failures in the second half to shut down the Titans with a victory there for the taking.
“It was one of those days,” safety Charles Woodson told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s disappointing. … To let a team drive down late in the game and get a touchdown to get the go-ahead score. We didn’t expect to have that happen. We felt like we’ve played much better than that.”
Now that McGloin has shown in two games that he has given the Raiders’ offense the quick-strike capability they lacked for much of the season with Terrelle Pryor, the Raiders’ D may find itself in similar positions over the final five games.
Oakland’s defense certainly will need to regroup by Thursday. The Cowboys have scored an average of 27.1 points per game. That makes them the fifth-best scoring team in the NFL. Stopping Tony Romo & Co. on third downs will be a key if the Raiders are to come away with win No. 5.