Unfortunately for the Oakland Raiders, there are only columns for wins and losses in the NFL standings.
There are no separate categories for moral victories, almost-wins and we-sure-looked-better-this-week performances.
So, after Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta – delivered on Matt Bryant’s 55-yard field goal with one second left in the game -- the Raiders are now 1-4.
Though Oakland showed much improvement across the board Sunday after coming off a bye week, in the end the Raiders were just Victim No. 6 to the unbeaten Falcons.
The Raiders played Atlanta tough in the first half, holding a 13-7 lead, entered the fourth quarter tied 13-13 and then looked as if they might send the game into overtime when they came back to tie the game on Darren McFadden’s 2-yard run with 44 seconds left, followed by Sebastian Janikowski’s extra point.
The touchdown capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive by Oakland. The Raiders’ drive, however, was matched by Atlanta, which drove from its own 20 with 40 seconds remaining to the Oakland 37 yard-line, the final 13-yard gain coming on a Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez pass that set Bryant up for his kick after the Falcons called time out with six seconds on the clock.
Bryant – who had missed to the left earlier on a 43-yard attempt in the game – had plenty of distance and accuracy on this one, and the Raiders' return of the ensuing kickoff, despite a few laterals, went backwards.
For the Raiders, however, there was much forward progress made on the field since their last game, a blowout loss to the Broncos in Denver on Sept. 30.
After working on several aspects of their game during their extra week of practice, Oakland played consistently better on defense, in particular, holding one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL more than six points below its per-game scoring average.
Oakland allowed the Falcons just 45 yards on the ground and stopped Atlanta on 7-of-9 third-down plays. The Raiders had been without an interception the entire season, but picked off Ryan three times.
And on offense, the Raiders running game was much more effective. The Raiders committed to their ground game, running 32 times for 149 yards – an average of 4.7 yards per carry. McFadden rushed for 70 yards on 27 attempts and had one big gain wiped out by a penalty. Backup Mike Goodson had a big day with 59 yards on just four carries.
The Raiders, too, were able to convert 5-of-13 third-down plays – not great, certainly, but much better than their league-low of 23 percent coming into the game.
However, despite the improvements, the Raiders couldn’t come up with the win which, in the fourth quarter, looked as if it might be theirs for the taking.
With the score tied 13-13 with about 3 minutes left in the game, the Raiders had the ball at the Atlanta 28 after moving from their own 10-yard line on five plays.
But, on third-and-6, Palmer’s short pass to the right side intended for Denarius Moore was picked off by Asante Samuel, who returned it 79 yards for a touchdown and a 20-13 Atlanta lead.
It was a devastating turnaround for the Raiders, who answered the score with one of their own, but then couldn’t stop Ryan and the Falcons from setting up the final game-winning kick.
The Raiders’ next chance to get back into the win column will come this coming Sunday in Oakland against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.