By Steve Corkran
Monday, November 14th, 2011 at 5:36 pm in Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders emerged from last week’s games with a one-game lead over the San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.
It gets better the more you delve into the teams’ remaining seven games. The Raiders play four teams with losing records as of now, while the Broncos face only three such opponents and the Chargers and Chiefs one each.
The records of the Raiders’ remaining opponents is 32-29, not counting tonight’s Vikings-Packers game, teams the Raiders face between now and season’s end. The Broncos face teams that are a combined 32-30. The Chargers face teams that are 35-28, the Chiefs 41-22.
In other words, things are looking up for the Raiders in their bid to win the divisional title for the first time since 2002, the season they advanced to the Super Bowl.
“It makes me feel good,” defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said, “because I have never been in first this late in the season. At the same time, we can’t sneak up on anybody anymore. We’re the hunted now.
“We just got to make sure to dot all our I’s and cross our T’s. Like coach said at practice, we have to keep building until the end of the season, get better every day and take advantage of our opportunities.”
Actually, the Raiders and Chiefs were tied for first place at 5-4 last season. This season, the Raiders are right back at 5-4, one game ahead of the three 4-5 teams.
Raiders coach Hue Jackson said he and his players aren’t content. They also are encouraged by the fact that they haven’t played their best football.
“I have a high expectation for this team, for the staff, for everybody connected with this organization,” Jackson said.
“We’re not close yet. We know that. We’re chasing it. That’s the beautiful part, that it’s out there somewhere.
“We just got to get in it and do it. Now, do I think we’re playing better? Do I think we’re playing a little bit more consistently? Yes, I did in the last game. But that was one game.”
RAIDERS BACK IN GRIND
Jackson put his troops through the paces Monday for the first time since the Chargers game. That gave the players Friday, Saturday and Sunday to clear their minds, spend some time with family and friends and rest up their bodies.
That’s the end of the long breaks for the Raiders the rest of the season, unless they qualify for the playoffs and get a first-round bye. As of today, the Raiders would host the Baltimore Ravens in a first-round game.
“It’s good to be back,” Jackson said. “Guys are working, getting ready for a big game, Minnesota. Now we’ve got six more days to get healthier, get stronger and get better. Guys came out here with a good mind-set for the first day. We ran around a little bit and got the cobwebs out. Guys are excited about playing again.”
Jackson said McFadden was out of the protective boot on his right foot when Jackson saw McFadden this morning. He added that McFadden still might be using the boot off and on.
Of more import, Jackson said, McFadden is making progress in his return from a midfoot sprain he suffered against the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 23. He has not practiced since and has spent a great deal of time in rehabilitation.
Jackson said it’s too early to gauge whether McFadden has a chance of playing against the Vikings. There’s still three practices left this week, which is plenty of time for McFadden to get back into football shape.
“I know we’re getting closer to getting him back out here,” Jackson said. “I know he’s working his tail off. When I saw him this morning, he looked good. Until we get closer later on in the week and we know exactly where he is, I don’t want to speculate.”
Wide receiver Jacoby Ford’s right foot is in a walking boot, Jackson said. That’s not a surprise, given Ford’s injury occurred Thursday night against the San Diego Chargers.
Again, it’s too early for Jackson to make any kind of guess as to what Ford’s status might be later in the week or for the Vikings game.
“Nobody’s been ruled out as of now, so we’ll go through the week and see where we’re at,” Jackson said.
That includes defensive tackle Richard Seymour, middle linebacker Rolando McClain, free safety Michael Huff, cornerbacks Chris Johnson and DeMarcus Van Dyke, and others who were held out of practice or weren’t able to do much.
Ran into starting cornerback Johnson, by chance, in the locker room today as he was passing through. Naturally, I stopped him to check on the status of his recovery from a hamstring injury.
Johnson revealed that his recovery hit a snag along the way, which has caused him to miss far more time than expected.
“I got infected, so I had to remove the infection fluid,” Johnson said. “My body’s healing, but I’ve got to be smart. Last time, I don’t think I was smart enough. I tried to come back too fast. I hurt myself.”
Johnson suffered a hamstring injury during training camp and underwent an “oil change,” his phrase for a surgery. He returned in time for the regular-season opener, only to aggravate the injury.
He played through the injury before he decided to shut it down after three games. He has missed the past six games. On Monday, he said he is out for the Vikings game but intends to play against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 27 if things go as planned.
“If you get any kind of major fluid in your muscle, they have to take care of that, because it can really turn into something worse than we expected,” Johnson said.
With Johnson and DeMarcus Van Dyke still out, the Raiders are short on cornerbacks. Therefore, they worked out five Monday (see the previous post).
WIMBLEY SACK HAPPY
Kamerion Wimbley’s four sacks against the Chargers fell one shy of Howie Long’s franchise record for a single game.
Wimbley said he wasn’t aware of that until after the game. He said he was more intent upon getting after Philip Rivers as often as possible.
He goosed his sacks total from two to six in one game. That’s precisely what he told Jackson was about to happen when they discussed the reasons for Wimbley’s lack of sacks early in the season.
Not that Wimbely was worried about his lack of sacks. He said he is pleased with how often he has pressured the quarterback, hit the quarterback and forced errant throws.
Just the same, he added, he understands the infatuation with sacks, even though sack leaders typically wind up with 10-20 sacks out of the 1,000 or so plays they are on the field for during a 16-game season.
“Well, it’s an important play in football because it’s a big momentum play,” Wimbley said. “A lot of it happens on third down, when you’re trying to get off the field. So, that’s kind of the thing that players, fans, coaches, they all look at that when you’re going against teams that are passing more now.
“So, it’s an important attribute. That’s why those players are in high demand, people who can get back to the quarterback and, not only get sacks, but another important statistic would be the hurries and if you make the quarterback throw incomplete passes. It all helps out.”
PALMER CHALLENGES MOORE
Another reason why Jackson and the Raiders love quarterback Carson Palmer, listen to rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore describe his first conversation with the veteran.
“He came in, asked me questions about, How is life, how I wanted to become a wide receiver, what it takes to be a good wide receiver, and then he turned around and asked me if I am willing to take on those challeges, am I willing to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I said ‘yes,’ and took it upon myself to spend some extra time with him, working out. We started to develop some chemistry.”
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