Wednesday’s practice had a different feel to it, unlike any the Raiders have had the past four or five weeks, according to coach Hue Jackson.
It’s all about the Raiders sensing what Jackson calls the “urgency and intensity” of the situation facing them with three games to play in the regular season.
“The margin for error is gone,” Jackson said. “There is no more.”
Indeed. The Denver Broncos lead the Raiders in the AFC West by one game. The Raiders either need to finish ahead of the Broncos or have the Broncos lose to the Kansas City Chiefs, if they finish with identical records, to win the division.
That’s a far cry from where the Raiders were two games ago, when they led the Broncos by one game with five to play. The Broncos won both those games. The Raiders lost to the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers by a combined score of 80-30.
Jackson expects the Raiders team that won three games in a row to show up Sunday, not the one that lost the past two games.
“It was awesome,” Jackson said of practice Wednesday. “I mean, it really was. It probably was different than it’s been in the last four or five weeks because, again, these guys understand. I know this football team and I know where their head is, and they understand what we need to do, and we’ll come play, and we’ll play the way we’re supposed to play.”
Quarterback Carson Palmer said this year’s Raiders team will be defined by how they play the next three games.
“We have a chance to get to the playoffs,” Palmer said. “We have to go 3-0 in the next three weeks. There is no other option, there is no other route. We know that, especially if you want to make it to the playoffs and then you want to play well in the playoffs, you have to be playing really good football at this time of year. For us, we got to start on Sunday.”
Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley said he and his teammates know what’s at stake. Hence, the more-spirited practice Wednesday.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of energy,” Wimbley said. “We know we’re at that point where opportunities are few and far in between and we need to take advantage of them when we can. The guys know that. That’s why, in practice, we get after it with a sense of purpose.”
PRO BOWL VOTING NEARS END
Punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski maintain their lead in the fan portion of the Pro Bowl voting, with one week left.
Lechler is the top vote-getter among fans for the AFC punter spot. Janikowski leads all AFC kickers. Fans voting accounts for one-third of the process. Coaches and players get one-third each, as well.
SUH A SAINT?
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh returns Sunday from a two-game suspension for his egregious actions against a Packers offensive lineman on Thanksgiving.
To hear Lions coach Jim Schwartz tell it, Suh is just misunderstood and not as bad as people make him out to be.
“He’s a good teammate, he’s a hard-working guy, he’s very, very serious about football and he’s a very good football player,” Schwartz said in a conference call Wednesday. “His penalty on Thanksgiving was the first penalty that he’s gotten that’s been truly an after-the-whistle penalty, where he lost his composure.”
Other than that, Suh is a model player, Schwartz said.
“Other than that, I really can’t speak on what his perception is,” Schwartz said. “I know he’s a good football player, he’s a good teammate, and we’re glad to have him on our team.”
Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer said Suh is someone he and the rest of the Raiders offense will be well aware of Sunday.
“He splits double-teams, he pushes double-teams out of the way,” Palmer said. “He’s a guy that we’re very focused on, and we’re going to understand where he’s at at all times, and you have to because he’s a heck of a player.”
Of the Raiders league-high 130 penalties, 45 resulted in first downs for the opponent. Also, those penalties kept alive drives that resulted in points 16 times.
The 45 first downs as a result of penalties are the fourth-most since the merger in 1970. The 1998 Kansas City Chiefs hold the record during that span, with 56.
That Chiefs team holds the league records for most penalties in a season (158) and yards penalized in a season (1,304). Even those aren’t safe. The Raiders are on pace for 160 for 1,374.
Jackson said he has done everything short of screaming from the rooftop at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway in Alameda in an attempt to get his point across.
“I can’t beat myself up about it,” Jackson said. “The one thing I know I am doing is trying. It would be different if I am not trying. I am doing everything I know how to do. I have called other people that I know in order to fix this, and it’s going to take some time, and I hope everybody understands that. There is no magical stuff that I can throw on this team and say, ‘No more penalties.’ That’s not how it works.”
Palmer said he and his teammates got the message again this week, in no unmistakable terms.
“That’s something that coach Jackson definitely addressed with us this week … loudly,” Palmer said. “It’s been going on for too long; it’s something he said. We’ll continue to work on it. It’s something that we understand that that can be the difference in a win and a loss.”
Cornerback Stanford Routt expressed surprise when informed that the Raiders are on record paces.
“Obviously, aggressive penalties you can’t do too much about those,” Routt said, “but offsides, false starts, stuff like that, personal foul, silly penalties we can definitely clean up. That just comes down to discipline.”
Fourth-year safety Tyvon Branch has witnessed penalty-fests seemingly on a weekly basis since he joined the Raiders.
He said the solution, as Jackson said, isn’t anything magical.
“Play smarter, man,” Branch said. “That’s the thing that’s been plaguing us since I’ve been here. We’ve just got to play smarter.”
PLAYOFFS PICTURE COMING INTO FOCUS
The Houston Texans clinched a playoff berth with their victory last Sunday. The New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are in position to nail down spots this weekend.
Once that happens, as expected, there will be only two spots left open — the AFC West and the second wild-card spot. The Raiders remain in contention for both spots.
FRONT LINES AT FOREFRONT SUNDAY
The 49ers, Ravens and Steelers might beg to differ, but as far as Palmer is concerned the two best defensive fronts will be on display Sunday, when the Lions and Raiders play.
“We’re a lot bigger, they’re probably faster,” Palmer said, “but as far as just having great players all over the place, both fronts are fantastic. You can’t think of two other better fronts, I don’t think, in the rest of the league. They have two big inside guys, we have two big inside guys. They’re very fast and small on the edge, but very fast. We’re fast and physical on the edge, but both teams have great ‘D’ lines.”
FOOT INJURIES A MYSTERY
The number of foot injuries to Raiders this season has caused Jackson and the training staff to try just about everything in attempt to find the root of the problem.
To no avail. At this point, Jackson is inclined to think it’s either a coincidence or the result of players not having the advantage of easing ino the season because of a lockout that wiped out the offseason.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Jackson said. “Never seen so many of the same type of injury, and it being a foot. So you go through it all. You go through the weight room, you go through in the medical department, you go through everything, trying to figure out why it’s like this.”
Jackson said he is out of ideas.
“We’ve done the shoe thing, orthotics, nice shoes, bad shoes, we do it all trying to figure it out,” Jackson said, “and there’s no pattern. And if you look around the league, it’s been more probably foot injuries this year than anything. And coach Jackson thinks, maybe it was because there wasn’t any offseason.”
CHRIS JOHNSON UPDATE
Cornerback Chris Johnson was excused from practice because he was at his sister’s funeral in Texas. His sister Jennifer was shot and killed by a 46-year-old man last week. The same man shot and wounded Johnon’s mother Della.
The exacting toll of the tragedy caught up with Johnson in Green Bay, which prompted him to tell Jackson before the game that he didn’t feel up to playing.
“Right before, he came to me and said, ‘Coach, I can’t do it. It would not be doing the team a good service.’ He says, ‘My mind and my heart are struggling right now,’ ” Jackson said. “We kind of embraced for a second, and I understand that. We don’t want to put him in a tough situation, or our team in a tough situation, so he didn’t play.”
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