The Raiders and Jaguars are 1-4, with their seasons on the line this Sunday. Already, things don’t bode well for both teams, given only seven out of the 156 teams that started 1-4 since 1978 made it to the playoffs that season, according to STATS, Inc.
Hence, it’s not surprising that quarterback Carson Palmer called Sunday’s game between the Raiders and Jaguars a “must-win game.”
For added emphasis, coach Dennis Allen displayed the records of AFC teams for the players to see and outlined where the Raiders stand.
“it’s a must-win for us,” Palmer said. “It’s an AFC game and an opportunity to start climbing our way back into the race.”
The Raiders are in third place in the AFC West, one-half game ahead of the 1-5 Kansas City Chiefs and 1 1/2 games behin the 3-3 Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers.
The three other AFC West teams have their byes Sunday. Therefore, the Raiders can move within one game of the division lead with a victory over the Jaguars — the Chargers and Broncos beat the Raiders, so they own the tiebreak for now.
Imagine the odds for the team that loses Sunday. Well, here goes: the Chargers are the only team that reached four games below .500 at any point in the season to go on to make the playoffs.
“Everybody’s mood is a sense of ugerncy,” Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. “We dug ourselves a hole and the only way to get out is to take it one play at a time and get out there and play.”
— Seems as if every week, more and more people want to know why fullback Marcel Reece isn’t a bigger part of the offense.
Well, the question was posed to Palmer on Wednesday. Here’s his explanation:
“It’s unfortunate; he has had a handful of plays called for him, and it seems like all of them, they end up getting turned into the league,” Palmer said. “He had a deep corner route on somebody last week that was blatant (pass interference) that wasn’t called. I was going to throw it to him but I ended up having to throw it to the checkdown just because he literally was almost tackled coming out of his route.
“I kept feeling at this part of the season that every time his number is called, we’re turning the plays in because it wasn’t called on the field by the referees. And it comes back as, ‘Yeah, that should have been called as P.I.’ So, he’s gotten his opportunities, it just hasn’t, the ball just hasn’t, so to speak, bounced his way. But we understand the weapon he is, and the defenses that play us understand the weapon he is, and he’s going to get his opportunities.”
Through five games, Reece has been targeted 19 times. He has 14 receptions for 119 yards. There’s no way of knowing how many times Palmer wanted to throw to Reece but opted for another receiver.
— As hard as it seems to believe, Jones-Drew will make his Coliseum debut as an NFL player Sunday.
Jones-Drew played at the Coliseum during his standout high school career at De La Salle. Yet, his only games against the Raiders came in Jacksonville.
“It’s just great to come home, see some family members, let them get a chance to see me play,” Jones-Drew said in a conference call.
The Raiders figure to see plenty of Jones-Drew, too. He has accounted for 41 percent of their offense through five games, with 494 of the Jaguars 1,206 yards.
How much the Raiders see of Jones-Drew will hinge upon if the game remains tight. Jones-Drew averaged 17 carries the first five games.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our run game,” Jones-Drew said. “We just have to be more consistent. With that, we have to be able to be in games. We can’t run the ball when we’re down by 30. Or run the ball when we’re down by 17. It doesn’t make sense. We have to keep the game close and stick to our game plan.”
Jones-Drew said he grew up following the Raiders as a youngster from Antioch. Former Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman is the one player he most identified with.
“I was a big Napoleon Kaufman fan for a while,” Jones-Drew said. “That was one of my top Raiders, because he was a smaller back, came out of the pack.”
Jones-Drew, too, is considered short, fast and elusive.
— Strong-side linebacker Philip Wheeler now is the one on defense wearing the helmet fitted with the radio linked to defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.
The change came last game, when McClain was removed from the nickel package and, as a result, not on the field for every down.
— The Jaguars are one of only six teams with a winning record against the Raiders all-time.
Here’s the list: Chiefs 53-48-2, Patriots 15-14, Packers 6-5, Ravens 5-1, Texans 5-2 and Jaguars 4-1.
— According to Allen, McClain had his most production per downs played Sunday against the Falcons.
In that game, McClain played only 17 of 55 snaps after being replaced by rookie Miles Burris in the nickel package.
“He responded well,” Allen said, “and he actually, he played well. He had his most productive play on a per-play basis in that football game.”
McClain played 73 of 77 snaps in the game against the Broncos on Sept. 30. Playing so much in that game and the three others before the Falcons game affected his production, Allen said.
“When we went back and looked and saw how many plays that Rolando was playing, it had a factor in his conditioning,” Allen said. “We felt like him not playing quite as many plays would help him to play better and be more effective, and it had that effect in this game.”
McClain was not available for comment in the locker room today.
— Right offensive tackle Willie Smith started three games for the Washington Redskins last season. In his three starts for the Raiders this season, he has faced the likes of Elvis Dumervil and John Abraham.
As expected, the results have been mixed for Smith, as he acclimates himself to becoming a full-time player. It’s all part of the maturation process, Allen said.
“It’s reality,” Allen said. “It’s the National Football League. Every week, you go up and you play against talented guys. He’s getting a crash course and he’s got to learn fast. And we’re going to continue to put him out there and let him keep getting better.”
— Someone that won’t be getting an opportunity to show what he can do anytime soon is second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Allen said that Palmer is doing just fine and that he doesn’t have any intention of taking a look at Pryor in the near future.
“We’ve got a quarterback that plays extremely well and we’ve been very pleased with the way Carson’s played in football games,” Allen said. “Obviously, we’ll do anything that we feel like gives us a chance to win football games. But right now, we don’t feel like that’s in our plans.”
— Sebastian Janikowski still is on the injury report with a sore groin. Yet, that had nothing to do with Allen’s decision to forgo a shot at a 58-yard field-goal attempt against the Falcons in the first half Sunday.
The game was scoreless at the time, with the Raiders at the Falcons 40-yard line.
“Not that early in the game,” Allen said. “A 58-yarder against that offense, your percentages, even though Sebastian is very capable of kicking a 58-yarder, I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Sebastian kicking a 58-yarder, but in that situation against that team, my decision was, it was the right thing to do to try to pin them back and make them go the long way.”
As it turned out, Shane Lechler’s punt bounced into the end zone, giving the Falcons the ball at their own 20. A missed field goal by Janikowski would have given the Falcons the ball at their 48.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was intercepted two plays later, and the Raiders ended up kicking a field goal at the end of that drive.
— Right guard Mike Brisiel returned to practice only three days after he suffered a concussion. Allen said Brisiel passed all the league-mandates tests and was cleared for full contact in practice.
Therefore, it’s likely that Brisiel will start Sunday against the Jaguars. Brisiel said he, too, is of the belief that the Raiders use of the zone-blocking scheme is about to yield big dividends now that it has had ample time to take hold.
“In my experience, the zone scheme, it does take time to get everybody familiar with it and familiar with the players next to them,” Brisiel said. “I just love how everybody comes to work each day and everyone’s trusting each other and we’re going to get it going. We’re (headed) in the right direction and we just got to keep working.”
— Linebacker Aaron Curry returned to practice today for the first time since the Raiders shut him down during offseason workouts.
Allen said it’s too early to project how Curry might be used if he’s able to get into shape within the next three weeks. The Raiders have 21 days to decide whether to activate, waive or place Curry on the injured-reserve list.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Allen said. “That’s not a decision that we have to make right now. Right now, the biggest thing is to see where he’s at physically, see how he responds to a couple of days of practice, how the knee responds to it. And then we’ll make that decision when we need to.”
Allen said Monday that Curry spent time during his long layoff learning all three linebacker positions. Curry started at the weak-side spot last season. That job now belongs to Burris.
Curry was unavailable for comment during the media-access window today.