By Steve Corkran
Sunday, November 11th, 2012 at 3:47 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Eight days ago, the Raiders were within striking distance of the AFC West lead. Today, they are three games behind the pace-setting Denver Broncos and one more loss away from shifting their thoughts to 2013.
The quick turn of events illustrates just how fast a team’s fate can change in the NFL. The Raiders 55-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, coupled with the Broncos victory over the Carolina Panthers, leaves the Raiders three games behind the Broncos and wondering where things went awry.
A scan of the stats from today’s game shows that the Raiders outgained the Ravens, converted a higher percentage of third-down plays and controlled the ball for far longer than the Ravens.
However, that’s why stats can be so misleading, too.
The Ravens outplayed the Raiders overall, especially on special teams and in making the big plays when it mattered most.
In particular, the Ravens returned a kick for a touchdown, turned a fake field-goal attempt into a touchdown and recovered a muffed punt return by Phillip Adams that led to another Ravens touchdown.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco also got far more out of his 341 yards passing than Carson Palmer did out of his 368.
Flacco passed for three touchdowns and consistently got the Ravens into scoring position with well-timed, well-placed throws.
– This was supposed to be the game that we got an extensive look at second-year running back Taiwan Jones, given injuries to Nos. 1 and 2 backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson.
Instead, the Raiders relied more upon fullback Marcel Reece and rookie Jeremy Stewart in the run game than they did Jones, who rushed only twice.
Reece rushed 13 times for 48 yards, Stewart seven for 22. Jones rushed twice for 6 yards and caught one pass for 7 yards.
Stewart spent the first part of the season on the Raiders practice squad. He was signed to the 53-man roster Saturday and played more than Jones, who has been active all season, one day later.
– The Raiders committed 10 penalties for 105 yards and looked nothing like the team that showed good composure and discipline in that regard for most of the first eight games.
Twice, linebacker Aaron Curry got called for personal-foul penalties. He talked at length about wanting to bring passion and energy to the Raiders in his first game back from injured knees.
Instead, Curry brought wreckless play that turned bad situations into worse. He needs to harness that energy and aggressiveness and make sure that his passion and energy are properly guided. Otherwise, he isn’t helping out the Raiders much at all.
Curry also saw some time on defense, something coach Allen said he intended to do with Curry as a means of giving the three starters a chance to get some rest and not play every snap.
Right guard Mike Brisiel committed a few penalties, as well, in one of his worst games of the season. Worse, he stepped on Palmer’s right foot on a fourth-and-one play that ended with Palmer on his backside and sacked.
– Backup quarterback Matt Leinart got into a game for the first time this season after spending the first eight on the sideline as Palmer played every down.
Leinart attempted one pass after entering the game late in the fourth quarter and the outcome not in question.
– Cornerback Michael Huff played really well for most of the first half in his bounce-back game from a subpar showing against the Buccaneers the week before.
Huff intercepted a Flacco pass that set up a Raiders field goal in the second quarter. He later came close to intercepting another pass.
However, he also got beat at least a couple of times on deep throws that helped change the complexion of the game.
– Huff wasn’t the only defensive back that struggled to contain the Ravens receivers.
On one play, wide receiver Torrey Smith ran past Huff, who appeared to be expecting help from free safety Matt Giordano once Huff let Smith go.
Instead, Smith ran a straight post route, with strong safety Tyvon Branch unable to get to Smith in time after leaving his man. Smith turned the busted coverage into a 47-yard touchdown.
On another play, a Ravens receiver ran a short post route, with Giordano late reacting to the quick cut inside. The receiver hauled in the pass for a touchdown.
– Ron Bartell returned to the lineup after missing the past seven games with a shoulder injury.
He appeared to hold up well, though he wasn’t able to make much of a difference in pass coverage, either. Flacco simply had too many open receivers too often for any one defender to stem the tide,
– The Raiders did a nice job bottling up Ravens running back Ray Rice, a player Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano compared to current Bucs running back Doug Martin.
Martin rushed for 251 yards and four touchdowns against the Raiders a week ago. Rice managed only 35 yards on 13 carries and 33 yards on four receptions.
Rice still found a way to make his mark on the game. He scored on a 7-yard touchdown just before halftime in turning a close game into a 27-10 margin.
– Adams muffed a punt once again. The Ravens parlayed the turnover into a touchdown one play later.
Jones and Joselio Hansen had an opportunity to recover the loose ball. However, the Ravens came out of the pile with the ball and capitalized right away.
– Things don’t any easier for the Raiders. Next up is a home game against the New Orleans Saints next Sunday, followed by a road game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 25.
The Saints handed the Atlanta Falcons their first loss of the season Sunday, and they head to Oakland riding back-to-back impressive victories and looking far more like the team that lost to the 49ers in the playoffs last season than the one that started 2-5 this season.
The Bengals drubbed the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Sunday, as they improved to 4-5, as well.
In other words, Allen and his coaching staff don’t have much time to get things corrected, and they have very little room for error the final seven games.