By Steve Corkran
Monday, December 26th, 2011 at 4:23 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Long-time Raiders such as defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, cornerback Stanford Routt and free safety Michael Huff are on the brink of playing a meaningful game this late in the season for the first time in their NFL careers.
Coach Hue Jackson said Monday that he and his players are grateful for the opportunity to play for one of six spots in the AFC Playoffs, be it as the AFC West champion or the second wild-card berth.
“There’s been a struggle to get to this position,” Jackson said. “(Everybody) knows this. It’s been well documented. But at the end of the day, to say that at the last game of the regular season, that you have a chance to have something special happen, that we’ve all talked about since Day 1, that’s what you want.”
Jackson says his players understand what’s at stake. How they prepare this week counts for just as much, if not more, as how they play Sunday.
To that end, Jackson and his coaches are making sure that the players approach practice, film study and everything else in the proper manner.
“I don’t bring up the playoff stuff, I bring up preparation,” Jackson said. “How we prepare every week is what gives you a chance. How you practice and get ready for a game.”
PALMER’S PLAY KEY
Jackson still is working on getting across to quarterback Carson Palmer the importance of throwing away the ball or even taking a sack when a play breaks down and there isn’t an attractive alternative.
Palmer succeeded so well in that regard against the Detroit Lions, one week after he was intercepted four times by the Green Bay Packers. On Sunday, Palmer had two passes intercepted in the first half.
On the first one, Jackson said Palmer was trying to throw away the ball, but the ball “sailed” on him after he got hit in the process of throwing.
The second one came when Palmer attempted a deep pass, with three Chiefs defenders in position to make a play on the ball. Those are the ones that bother Jackson.
“It goes back to a point, sometimes you don’t even have to throw it away,” Jackson said. “I told him, and he understands, and he will, sometimes you just take the sack. And I’m OK with it. Our opportunity to win a championship is tied to our ability to take care of the ball and to get turnovers. That’s what we have to do.”
At the same time, Jackson said, Palmer is to be commended for a 61-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Denarius Moore in the third quarter and a 53-yarder to Darrius Heyward-Bey in overtime.
“How about that pass to Denarius Moore? Have you guys seen a prettier long ball than that? No,” Jackson said. “How about the one to Darrius Heyward-Bey in overtime? Look, I have great expectations of Carson, but he’s human, just like the rest of us and every now and then, things do happen.
But the guy is playing good enough football for us to win and that’s what matters. I’ll shape him up and get him to where he needs to be here in the next week so that we can play good.”
Jackson said Palmer’s play is a big reason why the Raiders are in the position they are in right now.
JANIKOWSKI DESERVES PRO BOWL SELECTION
Jackson said he will be “disappointed” if kicker Sebastian Janikowski isn’t selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday.
Janikowski is in the midst of, perhaps, the best season of his 12-year NFL career. He had solid seasons in the past, yet wasn’t selected. Jackson thinks Janikowski is the only logical choice in the AFC.
“The guy is the best kicker in football,” Jackson said. “Are you kidding me? In my opinion, hands down. If he doesn’t make the Pro Bowl this year, then something is wrong. He should already have stock over there in the Pro Bowl and he doesn’t. He should. I’d be very disappointed if his name doesn’t show up. He’s as good as there is in football. Period.”
PENALTIES PERPLEXING JACKSON
Jackson won’t mind the Raiders setting the league records for penalties and penalty yards, under one condition: that the Raiders make the playoffs.
The Raiders committed 155 penalties for 1,294 yards through their first 15 games. They are four penalties and 11 yards, respectively, away from eclipsing the NFL records, set by the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs.
“It’s disappointing,” Jackson said. “I don’t have the answer, obviously. I talk to the team about it all the time. I don’t just talk. I yell, I scream, I threaten. I’ve done everything. I get a bunch of letters of people telling me other things I should try, too. And please don’t send any new ones because those things don’t work.
“But we’re going to continue to work at it. I get frustrated. I’m very frustrated by it because that’s something I don’t believe in. I don’t believe that you can be a champion and continue to get those kind of penalties.”
Jackson promised to get the problem under control by season’s end. He’s out of fresh ideas for how to fix the issue that surfaced in the regular-season opener, when the Raiders committed 15 penalties, and continued through Sunday’s game, when they tacked on 15 more for 92 yards.
He said he isn’t running from the issue, that he is searching for something that works. Eventually, it is going to get sorted out, he believes.
“At some point in time, it’s going to go the right way for us,” Jackson said. “And just like anything else, if you continue to work at it, you make it an area of emphasis and you continue to do so, something good’s going to come out of it. When it’s going to happen, I can’t tell you. … Our players understand that, in order to play good, you need to play penalty-free football. But that’s not who we are right now. That’s my fault.”
Jackson has no idea whether running backs Darren McFadden and Taiwan Jones and wide receiver Jacoby Ford will be able to play Sunday. He won’t have a firm idea until Wednesday, when he sees whether any of them are able to practice for the first time in a long while.
One thing is certain: Jackson won’t play anybody who isn’t able to practice this week. He also said that he won’t allow someone to play Sunday just because it’s a big game.
“If they’re healthy enough to play, then they’re going to play.” Jackson said. “If a guy could play this week, he should have been able to play last week. That’s the way I see it.”
JACKSON’S THOUGHT PROCESS
Care to know what Jackson was thinking as Janikowski’s 36-yard field-goal attempt sailed through the uprights against the Chiefs to give the Raiders a 16-13 overtime victory over the Chiefs?
Plenty, as it turns out.
“I was praying,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to kid you.”
Jackson added that he keeps the faith, even when others are quick to abandon ship and give up on his team.
“I have faith in what we’re trying to do here,” Jackson said. “I always have, even when (others) have always doubted us, and I understand that, and deservedly so. When I say that, deservedly so. I understand that. But I’m a man of faith, and I believe in things. I have unquestionable belief in what we’re trying to do. And it doesn’t look pretty all the time. It’s not sexy, it’s not what everybody wished that it is, but it’s the way we are, and it’s the way we are right now.”
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