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Raiders squander chance to seize control of AFC West

There is a part of the Raiders that is grateful for the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers losing Sunday. There is a larger part that is furious for losing a game to the Denver Broncos and a golden opportunity to move into sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
“Big wasted opportunity,” Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said. “We could be sitting here 5-3, going to San Diego -– they’re coming off a loss, sore -– boom, we go down there and we’re 6-3, two-game lead. But you know, like always, we got to make it hard for ourselves. We got to move on. Take your beating from coach and get on about your business. We dropped the ball big time.”
Instead, the Raiders remain in a three-way tie for first with the Chiefs and Chargers at 4-4. The Broncos improved to 3-5 and suddenly are in the mix.
For the second straight game, the Raiders were done in by interceptions. This time, there were only three interceptions, and not six, but they were just as costly.
The most-egregious one came with the Raiders leading 24-17 and at the Broncos 43-yard line late in the third quarter.
Palmer launched a pass down the middle of the field for wide receiver Denarius Moore, who was able to get only a hand on the ball as it whizzed past — so much for questions about Palmer’s arm strength.
Broncos cornerback Chris Harris was there for the deflection, and he returned it 15 yards to the Broncos 40. Running back Willis McGahee burst through the right side of the line untouched and kept running unimpeded for a 60-yard, game-tying touchdown.
“I’m going to be very hard on him because I know what’s in there,” Jackson said of Palmer. “I know what kind of player he is. What we have to do is make sure we don’t give it to the other team.”
Just like that, the Raiders had lost all of their 10-point lead. Two drives later, Palmer got stopped just shy of a first down on a third-down scramble.
Shane Lechler’s punt landed in the arms of Eddie Royal and wound up in the end zone for an 85-yard return for touchdown. The Broncos tacked on another touchdown, again on a McGahee run on which he went untouched, for the finall margin of victory.
Overall, Palmer has six interceptions in less than six quarters of play since he arrived via trade with the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 18.
He passed for 332 yards and three touchdowns in showing that he hasn’t lost his ability to move a team up and down the field.
Pretty impressive for a guy who hadn’t started a game since Jan. 2, missed all of training camp and has practiced only eight times with the Raiders.
And about what Palmer expected in the early going, he said.
“There are still some things I’m a little bit off on, I’m a little bit rusty on,” Palmer said. “There still are some things I’m not just quite comfortable with. But that’s what I expected.
“I didn’t expect to come in this week and just go 100 percent, ready to rock ‘n’ roll with everything. It’s kind of par for the course with where I am in this offense and in this system.”

PENALTIES NOT GOING AWAY
The Raiders committed 15 penalties for 120 yards in the regular-season opener against the Broncos. Not to be outdone, they were flagged 15 times for 130 on Sunday.
Overall, the Raiders solidified their lead in both categories, with 84 for 730 yards. They have led in both stats from wire to wire.
Through eight games, they are on pace for 168 penalties for 1,460 yards. Both would shatter team records. The Raiders committed 156 penalties in 1994 and ’96. They were penalized a franchise-high 1,276 yards last season. The 1998 Kansas City Chiefs hold the NFL record in both categories (158 for 1,304 yards).
None of this is lost on Jackson or the players.
“We’re not a very intelligent football team right now,” Jackson said. “We’re not playing very intelligently when it comes to penalties. Some of the penalties are uncalled for.
“And I’m going to continue to address it. I don’t want anyone to think that we haven’t. We have officials. We talk about it. We emphasize it, and we’re not going to stop. I told you guys, it might be game 16 when it’s fixed. I don’t know. But I know one thing, I’m not going to let it slide.”
On one sequence, rookie Taiwan Jones was called for being offsides and roughing the kicker on back-to-back snaps. That came on the heels of defensive tackle Richard Seymour keeping alive the drive with a facemask penalty.
On another play, linebacker Aaron Curry hit quarterback Tim Tebow late out of bounds on a play that turned a Broncos pun into a first down.
“It was a bad idea,” Curry said. “I got to eliminate that stuff from my game, point blank, period. I can’t make any excuses for it except for my awareness of where he was at on the field wasn’t top of the line awareness. But either way, it’s a bad decision. It was just, that was just dumb.”
You know what they say, admitting the problem is the first step to recovery. Time will tell.

RUN DEFENSE FALLS APART
Well, so much for the run defense being fixed.
The Raiders rebounded from an horrendous start their first four games — 5.9-yard average — to post a three-game stretch in which they allowed only 274 yards on 85 carries (3.2).
On Sunday, the Broncos ripped off 298 yards on 38 carries for an astounding 7.8-yard average.
Kelly said it’s even more frustrating because the Broncos ran plays the Raiders practiced against all week and have seen before.
“They have been running the same thing since they put (Tebow) in there,” Kelly said. “They’re running that college (stuff), that zone (stuff). Read it, quarterback going to hold it. Man, we practiced that (stuff) all week. It’s not like they came out there with some new package or scheme. We ain’t seen nothing we ain’t been seeing. First half, we got off the field. Second half, we spit the bit out.”
Well, that’s one way to put it.
Put another way, the Raiders allowed an average of 117 yards rushing their first seven games. The Broncos more than doubled that output. Tebow managed 117 by himself. McGahee tacked on 163.
“We worked on everything that they did with him,” Curry said of Tebow. “That’s a good scheme that they have running. Tebow’s a really good zone read type quarterback. He knows how to make that read and he does it well. We just, we didn’t make the read as well as he made it.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO DHB?
Darrius Heyward-Bey was Oakland’s go-to receiver in each of its first seven games. On Sunday, he was an observer from the sideline for all but a handful of plays.
He had one pass thrown his way, and it didn’t come until the second half. Jackson went with Moore, Chaz Schilens and Jacoby Ford on most occasions, with T.J. Houshmandzadeh also getting a fair amount of playing time.
Heyward-Bey led all Raiders wide receivers with 27 receptions for 434 yards entering the game. He finished the game stuck on those same numbers.
Moore, Ford and Houshmandzadeh had 22 passes directed their way.
“We have some very talented players, and he’s one of them,” Jackson said. “We had certain sets where we have a bunch of guys targeting for those particular sets because of comfortability. It had nothing to do with … Darrius is a good player, and he’s doing well, so that had nothing to do with that.”
Heyward-Bey exited the locker room without speaking with reporters.

JANIKOWSKI AT LESS THAN FULL STRENGTH
Jackson went with Janikowski, even though it was obvious that Janikowski’s left hamstring was at less than 100 percent.
Janikowski said he wasn’t able to swing his leg as hard as usual, and it showed on few of his kick-offs. One of his five kicks went for a touchback.
“It held up good,” Janikowski said. “On kick-offs, I was just doing whatever I could. That’s the hardest I could swing.”
He didn’t attempt any field goals from beyond 38 yards in pre-game warm-ups. However, he converted one in the game from 48.
“Field goals? Limited,” Janikowski said of his range. “Fifth six or 57 (yards), if you could call that limited. So, we had a good distance.”
Fortunately for the Raiders, Janikowski didn’t aggravate his injury, and he wasn’t forced to attempt more than the one field goal. He has three days to heal more before the Raiders play the Chargers.

MCCLAIN A LATE SCRATCH
Middle linebacker Rolando McClain was viewed as a key to the Raiders containing Tebow. However, it became apparent as the game neared that his injured left leg needed more time to heal.
The Raiders activated McClain, but they intended to use him only if needed. Darrly Blackstock replaced McClain in the starting lineup and played fine.
“He was out there, wanted to be out there,” Jackson said. “Again, I don’t want to put an injured player out there that
can’t play 100 percent, but if we needed him for something we could have used him if something all of a sudden went bananas where we didn’t have any more linebackers.”

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Steve Corkran