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The longest of shots

The Raiders don’t do upsets, which is only one of the reasons no sane person gives them a chance of winning Sunday against what might be the best team in the NFL.

As a player, Art Shell never had to worry about upsetting another team. He had to worry about being on the team that got upset.

But make no mistake, if the Raiders were to rise up and beat the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, it would be the biggest surprise win in the history of the franchise.

There’s a depressing reason behind it, of course. The Raiders are at the low point in their history, having won 15 of their last 58 games dating back to the start of the 2003 season.

Oakland is 2-20 against the AFC West during that span and has saved some its most embarrassing moments for San Diego. While Chiefs games tend to go down to the wire and the Raiders seem to have the odd competitive game against Denver, the Chargers have rarely had to break a sweat.

San Diego, 8-2, has the league’s most explosive team on offense, averaging nearly three times as many points per game as the Raiders.  LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers’ best player, has 11 more touchdowns in his last six games than the Raiders’ offense has scored all season. 

San Diego comes in as the first team to win back-to-back weeks in games in which it trailed by 17 points.

The Raiders are 2-8, and the only time they’ve had fewer wins 10 games into the season is 1962, when they started out 0-13 before winning the season finale.

Only Oakland’s fairly stingy defense in terms of points allowed has kept them within 13 points according to oddsmakers, who are uncannily accurate on this sort of thing.

The Raiders haven’t given up more than 17 points since a 34-20 loss in San Francisco (including a 49ers defensive touchdown). Coach Art Shell conceded Friday that rolling another 17 against the Chargers will be difficult.

“If we could do that, then on the other side we have ot make sure we do our share,” Shell said.

The “other side” has been the tricky part, with the Raiders well on their way to the most anemic showing in franchise history. Their high-water mark is 22 points against the 2-8 Cardinals. In 2002, the year they won the AFC championship, they had 22 or more 11 times.

It’s the sad truth that often times a team must be very bad to pull off a major upset, and the Raiders 2006 qualify.

Even in past years when the team was poor, it would be difficult to come up with a game that would rival beating the Chargers Sunday.

Two recent examples, both against Denver, fall short.

In 1997, the Raiders were 2-4, and hadn’t yet disintigrated into the mess that cost Joe Bugel his job after one year, when Denver came to town with John Elway at quarterback and a 6-0 record.

Napoleon Kaufman set a team record with 227 yards rushing on 28 carries including an 83-yard touchdown run on third-and-1. Denver would eventually go on to win the Super Bowl, the Raiders would finish 4-12.

In 2004, the Raiders traveled to Denver for a Sunday night game against the 7-3 Broncos. Oakland prevailed 25-24 with Kerry Collins throwing for 339 yards and four touchdowns in the snow, three to Jerry Porter and one to Ronald Curry. Langston Walker blocked Jason Elam’s potential game-winning field goal at the gun to secure the win.

In the end, it didn’t count for much. The Raiders finished 5-11 and Denver 10-6.

But it allowed both the team and their fans to feel good for a week, and spend the post game period and Monday recounting their successes for a change.

There’s no reason to believe the Raiders have it in them to take out the Chargers, other than the fact that it’s the NFL and sometimes things happen. And that the Chargers, regardless of what they say, could look at their two-game cushion in the AFC West, and well, sometimes things happen.

Friday’s news and notes:

– LG Barry Sims (abdominal strain), WR Jerry Porter (hip flexor), LB Isaiah Ekejiuba (foot) and LT Robert Gallery (dislocated elbow) did not practice and will not play against San Diego.

Corey Hulsey will start his fourth consecutive game for Sims. Chad Slaughter will start at left tackle. Porter, 10 games into a complete waste of a season, barely played anyway. Ekejiuba, a special teams player, has been inactive for the past three games.

– The Raiders won’t look at it this way, but it sure looked like the Chiefs that beat Denver 19-10 on Thanksgiving were a lot better than the ones who beat the Raiders a few days earlier.

Kansas City held out tight end Tony Gonzalez and guard Brian Waters against the Raiders to make sure they were they were ready for Denver, a sure sign that the Chiefs were merely paying lip service to the so-called “rivalry” game and were looking ahead to the Broncos.

Which only makes it worse that Oakland let a possible win get away.

– Profootballtalk.com’s latest Raiders rumor is that Al Davis is trying to sell a 30 percent stake in the team “with a path to take control of the organization upon his demise.”

Coming a few days after an earlier report in which suggested players considered Shell “a joke” and that there was “unprecedented negativity” coming from the locker room, you wonder how many people will come forward to write checks for 30 percent of the NFL’s closest thing to a disaster area, especially if Davis is dictating who is in control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3

Tynes goes wide left

KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ Chiefs field goal kicker Lawrence Tynes missed wide left with 35 yards with 9:46 to play, his first miss inside 40 yards since the opening week of the 2005 season.

The Raiders must find a way to slow the charge of Larry Johnson, who has rushed for 139 yards on 25 carries. Langston Walker has returned to the game for Oakland. Walker left the same time Robert Gallery in the third quarter.

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5

Headline grousing, etc.

Second-day takes following a heavy news day:

– It’s one of the reasons Randy Moss doesn’t want to talk to reporters. He gives me an honest answer to a question about his numerous dropped passes, with no hint of rancor. His tone of voice suggested someone who simply answered the question as it was was asked.

His latest infamous quote, of course, reads a little differently than it sounds.

“Maybe because I’m unhappy, and I’m not too much excited about what’s going on, so my concentration and focus level tends to go down when I’m in a bad mood. So all I can say is, if you put me in a good situation and make me happy, man, you get good results.”

You read that without hearing it, as a headline writer does, and it comes out like this:

Moss: Make me happy, I’ll catch more passes

With the sub-headline: Receiver grouses drops come from being unhappy, unmotivated

I’ve got no problem with the headline. As for the sub-headline, it may have read like he was grousing, but he really wasn’t. Honest. He didn’t say he was unmotivated, but I guess you could infer it.

Quarterback Andrew Walter’s criticisms of Oakland offense were also delivered in a low-key manner. Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler described it best, writing that it was if Walter was testifying in a murder trial. It was a slow process of question and answer in which Walter chose to answer, rather than simply pass on the company line.

Bottom line, of course, is Moss iand Walter are responsible for what they say. In the case of Moss, he’s been around long enough to understand how things will be interpreted.

Some Moss leftovers . . .

His assessment of how he has played: “My game has been below the radar, and the reason I say that is because when I came to the Oakland Raiders, there was a big emphasis on bringing back the deep ball. Last year, I was hurt, I was bothered by injury, and this year, I came in ready to go, 100 percent healthy, coming in with a new head coach and a different scheme of trying ot rejuvenate the Raiders and get them back to the Raiders of old. That’s one thing that has bothered me, knowing that we have weapons to go out there and stretch the field such as myself but we’re not getting it done. I don’t know if you put that on the players’ shoulders, if you put that on the offensive coordinator’s shoulders . . . ”

Whether he still has the passion to play: “I still love the game and have the desire to go out there and be the best. Sometimes the wins and the losses, you really don’t get to see how hard people play or how hard people focus, but you know, the one thing I do still have is the love for the game, and just going out there and doing something, and I still want to be the best no matter what it is, and what I do, and hopefully I’ll reach my goal of one day playing in the Super Bowl.”

– For the record, Moss seemed genuinely touched about having a college award named in his honor. His critics will delight in the assertion that the “character” of the candidate will be taken into account upon selection.

 – Don Holm of Walnut Creek made some valid points in an e-mail he sent me regarding a person’s mood and the workplace.

His contention is that people perform their best when they like their job, their bosses and are having fun, regardless of their income, and that Moss was merely speaking the truth rather than citing a `slump’ or “burnout.’

My reply? Set aside the money for a minute. Moss is also playing for his teammates, particularly the guys on defense who are doing enough to win. Even if he’s stuck in a bad place and doesn’t like the offensive system or his situation, what about those guys?

I’ve been around the Niners when Terrell Owens was there. I’ve been around the Raiders with Moss. The difference is Moss seems to genuinely like and care about his teammates, and they seem to like him. He seems like a person who would go out of his way for them off the field, so why not on it as well?

That’s where this doesn’t add up.

Other news, notes and observations:

– A couple of things in Shell’s defense regarding Walter. Say what you will about the offense, but there were a handful of throws Walter flat-out missed in the second half that could have changed the outcome. He’s simply not an accurate enough passer at this point in his career to carry an offense.

– Shell said the game’s final play as called was to be out of the shotgun formation, rather than under center. He didn’t elaborate, but the inference was clear _ it was Walter’s mistake.

– You wonder if Shell’s “We got screwed” line with regard to the Chris Carr unsportsmanlike conduct penalty will cost him a few bucks. Considering Shell’s honesty with regard to calls against the Raiders this year, I’ll take his word for it that it was a bad call.

But I think he overplayed it in terms of the call deciding the game. With this Raiders offense, having the ball at the 20 is no guarantee of anything. Yes, they could have drove for a touchdown for a 20-7 lead or kicked a field goal for 16-7.

Oakland could have also easily turned it over with an interception or sack-fumble, drive itself out of field goal range with a sack or two, or missed a field goal attempt.

Carr was correct in pointing out there were a lot of other plays that could have decided the game as well.

– Denver coach Mike Shanahan, not surprisingly, delighted in telling the local media the call was correct.

“It’s not even close,” Shanahan said. “The guy’s out of bounds and ran at least 10 yards down the sideline. It was a blatant penalty. It was like somebody tackling somebody rushing the passer. It’s part of the game . . . you can’t do it. The reason why you don’t see it is because guys don’t do it. When they do it, they get a penalty.”

Shanahan also had a smart-aleck remark ready when asked if he had talked to Al Davis.

“No, I did not,” Shanahan said. “I was really disappointed he didn’t stop by and say hello to me before the game started, but maybe next time.”

A quip without class, in my opinion. Davis isn’t getting around to talk to anyone before games anymore because he’s not physically capable of it.

Besides, there’s nothing really appealing about a wealthy man who just can’t let go of the fact that he thinks Davis still owes him what amounts to the change under his couch cushions.

– The ascension of Randal Williams means the Raiders have grown tired of waiting for Courtney Anderson to fulfull his potential.

– I asked Shell why he bothered to challenge what appeared to be a third interception by Fabian Washington that officials ruled incomplete. It was third down, the Broncos were punting anyway, and the Raiders had only one time out left.

Shell said he was concerned the Broncos would be able to pin the Raiders deep in their own territory with a good punt. Considering the frailty of Oakland’s offense, that’s reasonable.

What isn’t reasonable is the Raiders had already burned two time outs _ and when they lost the challenge they were all out.

Fans who followed the Raiders closely during Shell’s first go-round tell me this was fairly common in the Los Angeles days as well.

 

 

 

 

 

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8

The Kings of Monday night

How about those so-called Kings of Monday night?

On a night the Raiders used to dominate, they made history in reverse. Never in the history of the series had a team been shut out twice in one year on Monday night.

The Raiders, 16-0 losers to the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field, did it with relative ease. They had 24 possessions in two Monday night games and never so much as attempted a field goal. They made it to the red zone once _ in the waning  moments of a 27-0 loss to San Diego.

In eight quarters of football before a national television audience, the Raiders gained 304 yards, gave up 18 sacks, punted the ball 19 times, were 5-for-27 on third-down conversions and were outscored 43-0.

Then they tied a nice bow on the whole stinking package when Tyler Brayton was ejected for kneeing tight end Jerramy Stevens in the groin, a replay which will only be shown about a thousand times this week and cost Brayton some serious coin, if not a suspension.

Some topics of discussion for a short week leading up to a three-game swing against the AFC West (Denver, at Kansas City, at San Diego), where the Raiders have won two of their last 20 games:

– Take a look at Seattle’s defensive stats coming into the game and you can almost see how it happened. Opposing receivers and quarterbacks had shredded the Seahawks all season, posting a quarterback rating of 99.8.

So the Raiders, accused of being too conservative, opened things up. They came out with a roll out on the first play, and continually threw the ball on first down. The results were disasterous. Walter was sacked seven times in the first half alone.

On one series, Walter was sacked on three consecutive plays. First down, second down, third down. A whole new way to execute a three-and-out.

Not all were the fault of the line. Walter held the ball too long, and the Raiders seem incapable of quick timing passes in which the quarterback gets the ball out quickly.

Considering the Raiders actually made some headway running the ball in the second half with LaMont Jordan, the first-half pass-first strategy looked even worse.

– With 44 sacks in eight games, the Raiders are one shy of the record number of 45 through eight games suffered by David Carr of the Houston Texans in 2002.

– You watch Randy Moss and wonder if that’s all there is. He can’t hold on to the tough ones any more and also drops easy ones.

– Jerry Porter, meanwhile, is apparently back in the doghouse, if not the inactive list. You wonder if Shell somehow got wind of the fact that Porter told ESPN that nothing had changed, he was still unhappy and still wanted a trade.

– You saw it right. The Raiders used the shotgun formation on a handful of plays The first time they broke it out, on third-and-21, it resulted in a sack.

– When the Raiders run a screen pass, it’s almost as if it develops in stages. A screen done correctly is one of football’s most beautiful plays. When the Raiders do it, it’s hideous.

– To twist the old baseball cliche, every time you watch the Raiders play, then commit a penalty in a way you’ve never seen it done before. This time it was Terdell Sands, bluffing a count over center, getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

– If the NFL doesn’t suspend Brayton, then Shell should. A game and a game check would be suffiicent, considering Stevens appeared unhurt.

– The Raiders defense, while not nearly as good as they were the last two weeks, still managed to keep the Seahawks within striking distance. After giving up a touchdown and two field goals on Seattle’s first three possessions, Oakland forced eight consecutive punts before the final field goal.

There were no takeaways, however, and Seattle ended up rushing for 207 yards _ the most Oakland has given up this season.

– At least Warren Sapp knows how to shine when the lights go on. Sapp had a sack, two hurries and one pass defensed.

– Cornerback Fabian Washington did well to finish the game with what had to be two sprained ankles after falling victim to a 22-yard touchdown pass from Seneca Wallace to Deion Branch.

– Wallace did an excellent job managing the game, avoided mistakes and rushed for 49 yards. There’s a marked difference in how a Mike Holmgren-coached team prepares a quarterback and how the Raiders prepare a quarterback.

Walter looks like a lost soul. If Aaron Brooks begins to put some zip on his passes, you wonder if Shell will consider shutting him down and giving it another go next year when hopefully a new quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator with experience can give him a chance to succeed.

– If Shell has as much faith in Tom Walsh as he continues to profess, then he’d better find him a right-hand man next year _ much like a baseball manager needs a good bench coach.

– Analyst Tony Kornheiser had seen all he needed to see on Oakland’s second possession, by which time Walter had already absorbed two sacks and the Raiders had opened with a pair of three-and-outs and minus-6 net yards.

“I’m going to say this now because I may be proven wrong later in the game,” Kornheiser said. “Their offense is unspeakably bad.”

Five sacks into the first quarter, Kornheiser said, “In Little League, they end this. It’s called the 10-run rule.”

Early in the third quarter, Kornheiser chipped in with, “Playing the Raiders is like a homecoming game. Everything becomes easier.”

Especially on Monday night.

 

 

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