In the end, the Oakland Raiders had no one to blame but themselves.
On the final day of the regular season the Raiders had a wide-open door to the playoffs but tripped over their own feats and fell flat, losing 38-26 Sunday to the San Diego Chargers at O.co Coliseum.
Even if the Raiders had scored the victory, the officials seemingly would have called a penalty and brought it back, anyway.
It was just that kind of game and that kind of season.
Needing a victory over the Chargers and a Broncos loss to the Chiefs in Denver to win the AFC West, the Raiders watched the Chiefs do their part but couldn’t get a victory themselves. The 8-8 Broncos earn the division title and go to the playoffs because of a tiebreaker – better record vs. common opponents -- over the 8-8 Raiders. Earlier in the day, the Raiders had seen their wild-card hopes also disappear.
Sunday’s outcome in Oakland was a hard one to stomach for Raiders players, coaches and fans.
After winning three straight games to improve to 7-4 on Nov. 27, the Raiders stumbled badly down the stretch, losing four of their final five games including Sunday’s against a San Diego team that already had been eliminated from the playoff picture a week ago.
The season was filled with missed opportunities – second-half leads slipped away vs. the Bills, Broncos and Lions – key injuries, too many penalties, some strange in-game coaching decisions, too many field goals in the red zone instead of touchdowns and interceptions in bunches by a quarterback acquired in midseason who was to have been the missing link to the team’s first AFC West title since 2002.
Though the season began with promise and a vow by head coach Hue Jackson that the Raiders would be the “bully” in the AFC West, things began to unravel when dynamic running back Darren McFadden – the team’s catalyst in a run-oriented, physical offensive scheme – was injured in the seventh game and never returned to the field.
In his absence, and with the acquisition of Carson Palmer to replace injured starting QB Jason Campbell, the Oakland offense never was the same. Meanwhile, Oakland’s defense was horrible against the run and gave up big yards and points consistently in the second half of games.
On Sunday, in the loss to the Chargers on the first day of 2012, the Raiders’ loss was typical of many in 2011.
Each team scored six times Sunday, the difference being the Chargers scored five TDs and the Raiders scored two. And, just before halftime, the Raiders even mismanaged the clock and failed to give kicker Sebastian Janikowski a chance for three points.
The Raiders – who set NFL season records for most penalties and penalty yards – again committed crucial mistakes (eight flags for 64 yards) that wiped out positive plays. It was a flaw they could never correct.
Oakland still had life late in the fourth quarter, but allowed the Chargers to drive 99 yards for a touchdown with just under seven minutes to play to fall behind by 12 points, just after the Raiders had cut the lead to five on Palmer’s TD pass to Kevin Boss. On Oakland’s next possession, Palmer was picked off by San Diego’s Antoine Cason after the Raiders had reached the Chargers’ 34-yard line.
From that point, the Chargers ate more than four minutes off the clock to effectively kill Oakland’s chances for a comeback, and its hopes for the postseason.
Palmer finished 28-of-43 for 417 yards and two scores, with receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (nine catches, 130 yards) having a big day. Michael Bush rushed for 66 yards on 19 carries.