By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Sunday, September 26th, 2010 at 8:27 pm in Oakland Raiders.
“I looked up, expected it to split the uprights,” Raiders punter and holder Shane Lechler said Sunday in a hushed locker room. “It sounded good. Everything was good.”
Everything was not good. Everything, was, in fact awful. The Raiders had a chance to be 2-1 for the first time since 2004, and all they needed was a 32-yard field goal from a place kicker who had made 19 in a row between 30 and 39 yards and was a 90.2 percent kicker in his career in that range.
Instead, Sebastian Janikowski pushed the 32-yard attempt to the left, giving the host Arizona Cardinals a thoroughly undeserved 24-23 win over the Raiders.
It was Janikowski’s third miss of the game, having gone wide right from 41 yards and 58 yards. He also converted from 54 yards (he drilled one from 63 in warmups) and had 22- and 23-yard field goals as part of the Raiders stunningly inept performance in the red zone. Janikowski was long gone from the locker room by the time reporters arrived.
“As I told the team I don’t feel like the game was won or lost on the last play right there,” Raiders coach Tom Cable said at the podium following the game. “It certainly could have been won, but we had a lot of opportunities in the second half to put some exclamation points out there and we couldn’t do it. We have to continue to get better in the red zone offensively and just continue to work. This game will not define us.”
Which is essentially what Cable said after the Week 1 loss to Tennessee. What has defined the Raiders is the inability to win consecutive games. It’s happened only once on Cable’s watch, in the last two games of the 2008 season against Houston and Tampa Bay.
How beatable was Arizona?
They managed only 227 yards of total offense with a shaky quarterback in Derek Anderson and a passing game which isn’t even a faint copy of what it was with Kurt Warner. Their coaching staff, oblivious to the fact that the the Raiders were susceptible to the run, probably could have controlled the game merely by hammering the middle if they weren’t so busy trying to prove the could still pass in the post-Warner era.
Twice Cardinals punt returners let live balls bounce free as gifts to the Raiders. Domique Rodgers-Cromartie rode the arm of Darrius Heyward-Bey and was justifiably called for a 39-yard pass interference penalty when Arizona appeared to have the game won.
There were mistakes aplenty for both sides, but what stood out for the Raiders was their 1-for-5 red zone performance while Anderson, even in his sub-mediocre state, managed to throw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Steve Breaston and an 8-yarder to Larry Fitzgerald, both of whom were so open you wonder if Hue Jackson was taking notes on how easy it can be to throw a short touchdown pass.
More news, notes, quotes and observations:
– Three games in, the Raiders have 33 penalties for 290 yards. That’s 176 penalties for 1,547 yards by the end of the season. It may seem an unfair projection, given the short sample size, but the Raiders do seem pretty determined to draw as many flags as possible. They had 11 for 123 yards Sunday. They’re going backwards for almost as many yards as Darren McFadden is going forward.
McFadden had 105 yards on 25 carries against Arizona, so he’s getting plenty of work from scrimmage. Jackson may want to begin encorporating McFadden on swings and screens a little more, given the pressure opponents are getting.
– With a first-and-goal at the 1, the Raiders couldn’t manage to punch in a touchdown. Michael Bush, in his first game back after fracturing his left thumb and undergoing surgery, was stopped for no gain. Then came a Keystone Cops sequence where Bruce Gradkowski let the clock run down, felt he could get a play off, and ended up taking a delay of game penalty. Then came a pair of incomplete attempts to Heyward-Bey and Janikowski’s 23-yard field goal.
The Cardinals called this a goal line stand. Gradkowski called it his mistake.
“I take responsibility for that,” Gradkowski said. “I probably should have called a time out, but it’s just my competitiveness. I thought we can get this off. I saw the clock and I just knew I wanted the ball. I wanted to quarterback sneak. I wanted to get in there. I’ve just got to be better than that, call a time out, regroup and put it in the end zone.”
– Bush said his thumb held up fine and that he’s planning on taking the pad off next week. He got blown up once by Adrian Wilson while pass blocking.
“I’ve got to get under him,” Bush said. “He knocked me down because I didn’t have my feet gathered correctly. It was good to get back in and get banged up a little bit.”
– Gradkowski is determined to make Heyward-Bey a star. He threw to him 11 times, completing three for 49 yards. One was a clutch fourth-and-10 completion that gave the Raiders a first down on the ill-fated final drive.
“Darrius did a great job, and the offensive line made it happen,” Gradkowski said.
Gradkowski was 17-for-34 for 255 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception. He played on the edge and was fortunate not to have made more mistakes.
– Cable on Gradkowski: “I thought (his play was) inconsistent, up and down. His leadership was great. When he needed to make a play, it seemed like on third down he was pretty sharp that way. But again I think he would be the first to tell you that we had four or five opportunities in the red zone and only scored one touchdown.”
Radio play-by-play man Greg Papa was openly wondering in his postgame wrapup if Jason Campbell was an option to start against Houston.
– The offensive line spent much of the day being overwhelmed. Langston Walker was in and out with injuries and the left tackle rotation of Jared Veldheer and Mario Henderson did nothing to distinguish itself.
– Nice opening act. Second-year running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (this game set the standard for hyphenated last names) raced 102 yards for a touchdown with Mike Mitchell blowing the solo tackle and Michael Bennett also failing to bring him down.
– Nnamdi Asomugha got his wish to shadow Fitzgerald and gave up one completion for 18 yards and got called for pass interference once. Anderson went to Fitzgerald six times for the one completion, with the touchdown coming in zone coverage.
“With an elite guy like Larry, you know it’s going to be a great work day,” Asomugha said. “To me, it wasn’t good enough because he did get the catch. That’s what upset me.”
– Even with the previous missed field goals, the prevailing opinion seemed that Janikowski couldn’t miss from 32 yards. The Raiders even acted the part as the ball was sailing through the air.
“Once he kicked it, we celebrated on the sideline,” Asomugha said. “But then I saw them getting happy and our guys on the field not getting happy. That’s when I looked back and saw we didn’t get it.”
“It’s very shocking. I call him `Automatic Seabass’ because it’s one of those things if you kick the ball 100 times, he’s giong to make 99 of them,” McFadden said. “It just so happened he missed that one.”
Said Bush: “The field goal wasn’t the killer. We had opportunities on the goal line to score. We just have to go back and watch film and correct the things we can.”
– Cornerback Walter McFadden didn’t make it through the game, aggravating his hamstring strain. McFadden was on the field because Chris Johnson (ankle) was inactive.