By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Saturday, September 13th, 2008 at 3:15 pm in Oakland Raiders.
A wise man, or maybe it was colleague Carl Steward, once reasoned that if you’re talking about “must win’’ games early in the season, then the season is already lost.
That said, when the Raiders face the Chiefs Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, it is about as close as you can get to a must win in early September.
Anything remotely similar to 41-14 face plant Monday night against the Denver Broncos could have severe ramifications.
When the team’s public relations department dispatched defensive coordinator Rob Ryan Thursday to refute what coach Lane Kiffin said the previous day, it can be taken as a sign that the coach one columnist called “frat boy’’ is at the very least on double-secret probation.
My feeling all along , based on the Kiffin-Al Davis postseason standoff, was that the coach was in trouble if the Raiders hit the bye week 1-3 or worse.
The across-the-board failure in Week 1, which took place in front of the team’s new investors, may have sped up the process.
If the Raiders were to lose convincingly to a very mediocre Chiefs team Sunday, Kiffin may not make it to Buffalo for Week 3.
This was Kiffin’s assessment on his standing with the Raiders when asked about it on a conference call with Kansas City media:
“Knowing who the owner is, you know from Day 1 there’s no job security,’’ Kiffin said.
It’s not much different than what Kiffin said the first day of training camp, but it takes a more ominous tone given the Monday night debacle and the coach’s 4-13 record.
As poorly as the Raiders played against Denver, it was a game they had a reasonable expectation of winning. They were at home, playing a team they beat convincingly last year in Oakland. I talked with a few fans on my Southwest flight to Kansas City, including one who takes a few road trips a year and goes back to the pre-Coliseum days.
He was convinced the Raiders would win. I thought enough of their chances to write the ill-fated “10 reasons the Raiders will beat the Broncos’’ blog.
At the time, taking into account a win at Arrowhead last season, it was within the realm of possibility the Raiders would be 2-0 and have a boost of confidence heading into difficult games in Buffalo and at home against San Diego.
Instead, they’ve got a chance to be 0-2, and considering the opposition the next two weeks, it could well be 0-4.
It’s worth considering that the Denver game was a mulligan and will have no carryover. That seems to be the prevailing hope both in the locker room and with the coaching staff.
It’s not exactly, “Commitment to Excellence,’’ but the slogan for this week was something along the lines of, “We’re not that bad _ honest.’’
Coaches and players took turns accepting responsibility. Kiffin said it was the job of the coaches to get a team that looks good “on paper’’ to play well on the field. Ryan took the blame for the defense.
DeAngelo Hall said it was his fault, and other defenders said they had communication errors which turned into a death spiral.
Hall will get his share of chances to redeem himself Sunday, because it looks as if Nnamdi Asomugha is in for another lonely season at right cornerback. Kiffin was engaged in conversation with defensive tackle Tommy Kelly both on the way to practice and again after practice Friday.
I’m guessing the name “Larry Johnson’’ came up more than once.
Ryan described the Raiders defense Friday as a system which puts what he believes to be great players in position to win one-on-one match-ups.
The same could be said for Oakland’s offense, which will live or die with hits ability to run the ball with quarterback JaMarcus Russell playing his first game at Arrowhead, his blind side likely protected by first-time starter Mario Henderson.
An 0-2 start is no time to panic, but an 0-2 start for a team with an unprecedented five-year run of losing and a coach who exhibits an air of defiance toward his employer could make this a must win for Kiffin.