By Steve Corkran
Sunday, November 24th, 2013 at 6:13 pm in Oakland Raiders.
OAKLAND – The Raiders had the momentum of a go-ahead touchdown, the raucous support of a hometown crowd and the Tennessee Titans backed up at their 20-yard line late in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Most important, the Raiders had their revved-up defense on the field, tasked with protecting a tenuous lead. Unlike the previous game, however, the Raiders defense failed to close out the game as the Titans engineered a game-clinching touchdown drive.
“To play the way we played last week, and then come out and do what we did (Sunday), especially defensively, we let a team go down late in the game and score a touchdown,” Raiders safety Charles Woodson said. “In order to be one of those (playoff-caliber) teams, you can’t do that. And we did.”
The Titans marched 80 yards in 14 plays, using up all but 10 seconds on the game clock. The impressive drive culminated with Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and wide receiver connecting for a 10-yard touchdown.
That turned a 19-16 deficit into a 23-16 victory for the Titans in a game that bolted the Titans into a tie for the final playoff spot in the AFC and kept the Raiders a game behind.
“When you have a lead, we believe that it’s our responsibility defensively to go out there and protect the lead and hold them,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “We weren’t able to do that.”
Allen said, in retrospect, he wished he had called for more pressure on Fitzpatrick on the decisive play, when the Raiders rushed only three defenders.
That enabled Fitzpatrick to sidestep the rush, move to his left and get the ball to Wright, who turned toward the goal line and dived into the end zone before cornerback Tracy Porter had a chance to make the play.
“Great throw by Fitz right between me and (cornerback Phillip Adams),” Porter said, “and it was difficult for both of us to make the play in such a short window.”
Some teams might have been content to get in field-goal range, run down the clock, kick a game-tying field goal and take their chances in overtime. Not the Titans.
“Before the start of that drive, we said we weren’t going to let Rob Bironas come out here and kick a field goal to tie it up,” Wright said. “We wanted to go down there and score seven. We’d been in this predicament a lot this season where we had the ball and we couldn’t finish. We finally put together and finished.”
The Raiders defense held its ground against the Houston Texans in a goal-line stand a week before the Titans game. On Sunday, it was the Titans that made the key plays.
Perhaps fitting, Wright’s touchdown came on a third-down play. Fitzpatrick converted two other third-down plays into first downs earlier in the drive, and the Titans succeeded on 10-of-18 such plays.
The Raiders entered the game having allowed 33 percent of the third-down plays they faced the first 10 games to be converted into first downs, which placed them among the best in the league.
That figure spiked to 55.6 percent Sunday. The Titans parlayed five third-down conversions into two field goals and scored their other touchdown on a third-and-2 play.
“It’s just frustrating after awhile because as a defense we feel like we had them and we just let them go,” safety Brandian Ross said. “They’re in third-and-short, third-and-8, third-and-long, it seemed like they always just got behind us somehow.”