The two divisional games between the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017 served as a microcosm for the Raiders’ season, both reeling the fans in with optimism, while serving them equal doubt and despair.
The Raiders’ playoff hopes have effectively ended after Sunday’s massacre at Arrowhead, but the reality is that this was a team doing just enough against mediocrity throughout the year just to barely keep its head above water.
It would only be a matter of time until the water level rose too high, sinking the 2017 Raiders into the abyss.
Going into Thursday Night Football against the Chiefs back in October, the Raiders were coming off four straight losses. They had been punched in the mouth against Washington and were still dazed a month later. During those four weeks of play, the entire offense was stagnant. What we saw in the first two weeks of the year, epitomised with Marshawn Lynch’s dance on the sidelines, was long gone.
Instead, the offense had morphed into a place that can only be described as “struggle town,” whereby a first down would be seen as progress. It was predictable and stagnant to watch. Things needed to change, and on Thursday Night Football, change happened. Amari Cooper had suddenly become a weapon out of the slot. Jared Cook was being used as a feature in the offense over the middle of the field.
The “dink and dunk” style had dissipated for a swashbuckling vertical attack that would have made the late Al Davis proud.
It wasn’t always pretty. There were plenty of deep shots that were not even close, the running game (without Marshawn Lynch) was non-existent, and of course there were way too many drops by the receivers. Despite “looking” the best it had all season schematically, it still took a myriad of penalties for Derek Carr to finally hit pay dirt on a untimed down to beat Kansas City. At the time, the aggressive nature of the offense would tease Raider Nation into thinking that it would be the blueprint going forward.
The reality though was that the last-gasp winner papered over the cracks in what was and still is an unimaginative and predictable scheme. The Raiders were gifted with facing Paxton Lynch and Geno Smith in back to back weeks at home. Even with extra defensive help, the offense would do just enough to keep the team alive for another week. It was only a matter of time before they were exposed as pretenders.
At Arrowhead on Sunday, the Raiders had a chance to sink or swim. The past fortnight gave them this opportunity, and with Marcus Peters out through a team-imposed suspension, the offense was primed to dominate.
Instead, the entire team produced arguably its worst performance in the past two years. The running game was abandoned. Carr looked skittish in the pocket and missed a number of uncharacteristic throws. Receivers would still drop balls, and in Johnny Holton’s case, fumble them after the catch as well.
Even the defense who was playing faster the past fortnight looked completely a miss against a Kansas City team coming off six losses from their past seven games. The Raiders were down 26-0 in the fourth quarter, and yet the “dink and dunk” approach remained.
Even so, the Raiders once again kept fighting, drawing within eleven points, before an interception on a dropped pass ended any hopes of a comeback.
The AFC West has been in shambles this season, and despite everything the Raiders could do not to win the division, this Sunday’s game was a chance to remove the Chiefs from contention, and to elevate their own playoff aspirations. With a Cowboys minus Zeke Elliott and a ‘home’ game in Los Angeles still on the schedule, a win over Kansas City would have primed the Raiders to be in the driver’s seat to claim their first AFC West title since 2002. But when it mattered most, they floundered.
When first looking at the schedule release in April every year, the author first checks when the Raiders are on primetime. Come Christmas, the narrative was expected to be the Raiders rolling into Philly to challenge for the number one seed in the AFC.
With Carson Wentz’s ACL tear making Philly’s road that much tougher, the headline going into Lincoln Field may be centred around the off-field situation of both teams, leading to an all familiar tune that Raider Nation has heard through many December’s of ineptitude: The Raiders, Jon Gruden, Monday Night Football. You can figure out the rest.