By Steve Corkran
Wednesday, December 28th, 2011 at 3:55 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Each week, Raiders coach Hue Jackson speaks with running back Darren McFadden about his rehabilitation from a midfoot sprain. From there, he huddles with the team trainers assigned to get McFadden healthy.
Ultimately, Jackson gazes into the eyes of the trainers as a means of getting a true sense for McFadden’s progress toward a return from an injury that occurred Oct. 23.
Jackson says, when he doesn’t get the look he wants, “I go the other way.”
The latest look from the trainers told Jackson that McFadden isn’t ready to resume practicing or playing despite missing the past 66 days.
“He’s not ready yet,” Jackson said Wednesday.
On the bright side, Jackson said, the expression from the trainers tells him that there is hope of seeing McFadden play again this season.
“That expression’s much better, but it’s just not where it needs to be,” Jackson said. “It’s not that, ‘Here we go.’ But we’re getting there, though. And he is more confident. So we’re getting closer, but we’re not there yet.”
McFadden has not spoken with the media since he suffered his injury Oct. 23. He was not in the locker room during media access Wednesday, as has been the case every time the past nine-plus weeks.
Therefore, it’s anyone’s guess, including Jackson’s, as to whether McFadden will play again this season. At this point, it appears as if the best hope is if the Raiders make it to the playoffs.
PENALTIES A HOT TOPIC
With the Raiders closing fast on the NFL records for most penalties (158) and penalty yards (1,304) in a season, players are searching for ways to get a grip on the seemingly never-ending issue.
Jackson isn’t allowed to fine players, per the collective bargaining agreement. That doesn’t stop the players from imposing fines on each other.
To that end, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said he and his defensive mates pay a $100 fine for penalties. The money goes into a jar in defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan’s office. He said he isn’t sure where that money goes at season’s end.
Yet, he is certain that “there’s a big ol’ knot” of cash in that jar.
“We fine each other $100,” Kelly said, “but everybody out here is making money, so two or hundred dollars ain’t going to matter.”
When it was suggested that the fine be upped to $1,000, Kelly laughed.
“If you up it to $1,000, some guys will get mad about paying it,” Kelly said.
Quarterback Carson Palmer is getting his first taste of what it’s like playing for a Raiders team that always finishes at, or near, the top of the league in penalties.
“As those flags get going in games, I always have guys come up to me on the sideline saying, ‘This is what happens when you play for the Raiders,’ ” Palmer said.
Kelly said the Raiders are fortunate that the penalties haven’t been even more costly.
“When it comes back to bite us in a really big moment, I guess that’s when everybody is going to realize that we need to focus in on it a little bit more,” Kelly said.
FORD WELCOMED BACK
Wide receiver Jacoby Ford practiced Wednesday for the first time in 48 days. Palmer said Ford’s return can’t be overstated.
Palmer said it would be “huge” to get Ford back in the mix for the Chargers game and, perhaps, the playoffs.
“It was good to kind of get his feet wet the first day,” Palmer said, “and he’ll get more and more as the week goes on.”
Jackson said he wants to see how well Ford does in practice the rest of the week before he commits to a sizable workload. He isn’t ruling out Ford returning kicks, too.
“I don’t know that I feel comfortable with that yet,” Jackson said. “Again, obviously, if he has an opportunity to play, we’ll put him out there, but I just don’t want to put him out there and put him in a bad situation.”
CHARGERS GUNNING FOR RAIDERS
Nonsense, Jackson said, when asked about the possibility of the Chargers going through the motions Sunday.
“They’re better than what people are putting out there about them, that, ‘Oh, they’re not very talented or they’re not going to play, or this, that,’ ” Jackson said. “I’m tired of hearing that. That’s a very good football team, with very good players.”
Jackson is convinced that the Chargers will be just as hungry to end the Raiders’ playoffs aspirations as they were before they were eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday, in a lopsided loss to the Detroit Lions.
“They’re going to come with their guns a blazing,” Jackson said. “We’re going to see it all. You do everything you can to win the game. That’s what Norv’s about, and they’re not coming here doing nothing else. They’re coming to win, and whatever they think it takes to win, that’s what they’re going to do.”
The Raiders were in a similar situation last season, when they traveled to Kansas City for a game against a Chiefs team that had clinched the AFC West, with the Raiders playing for little more than a shot at going 8-8. That’s where the Chargers stand today, at 7-8 and a shot to reach .500.
Free safety Michael Huff said he expects the Chargers to be every bit as determined Sunday as the Raiders were that day against the Chiefs.
“This is a rival; they hate us and we hate them,” Huff said. “They want to spoil our playoff run. We are going to get their best shot and we wouldn’t expect nothing less.”
PRESSURE ON PALMER
Jackson engineered a trade for Palmer in October with games such as the one Sunday in mind.
The thinking is, Palmer has played in big games before, and he knows what it takes to pull it off.
“He has to,” Jackson said. “There’s no other alternative. This is a great opportunity to do it here at home. That’s why we made the trade, is to have this opportunity. If not, why do it? It’s about winning. And so we’ve got a chance to win a huge
football game this Sunday.”
Palmer isn’t fazed by Jackson’s lofty expectations.
“Pressure is part of the position,” Palmer said. “I’ve been playing it for a long time and understand and know that that doesn’t need to be said to me by the coach. I understand that.”
Palmer says everyone dreams of playing in big games such as the upcoming one Sunday. Beyond that, the dreams include playing in the postseason and winning the Super Bowl.
“These are why you play,” Palmer said. “These types of games, especially when you get to play them at home. These types of games are why you do what you do in February, March, April, May when nobody is watching. It’s why you stay up late at night watching film. This is why you do that, to be prepared. … This is a big moment for this team and our fans.”
LECHLER FULL CIRCLE
Punter Shane Lechler knew nothing other than seasons that ended with the Raiders in the playoffs early in his career.
The Raiders played in the AFC Championship Game in 2000, his rookie season, lost to the Patriots in the Tuck Rule Game the next season, and advanced to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season.
The past eight seasons yielded nothing more than eight victories in any one year. Hence, Lechler cautioned his teammates once the Raiders reached 7-4 that there was plenty of work to do, to keep grinding.
“I knew, when we were 7-4, that was just 7-4,” Lechler said. “We hadn’t done anything yet.”
Now, he is hopeful of the Raiders snapping their long drought.
“Everybody in the locker room wants to win and wants to win now,” Lechler said. “My situation is, hopefully I get to see this thing go full circle. I had it great when I first got here. … Just to see it go full circle would be good.”
JUST A THOUGHT
Strange how things turn out. If the Raiders win Sunday but still don’t win the AFC West, they would need the Cincinnati Bengals to lose, just to have a shot at the second wild-card spot.
Yes, the same Bengals team that traded Palmer to the Raiders in late October. As if Palmer needed more reason to root against the Bengals.
Conversely, the Bengals want the Raiders to miss the playoffs so that the 2012 first-round pick they received as part of the compensation they received from the Raiders yields a higher selection.
If the Raiders are to make the playoffs, then the Bengals wouldn’t mind seeing the Raiders make it to the AFC Championship Game because the 2013 second-round pick the Raiders gave to the Bengals in the Palmer trade would turn into a first-rounder.
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