If history can repeat itself, the Raiders can go a long way toward establishing themselves as a 2016 playoff contender by beating the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
There isn’t the ultimate delight of knocking the Chiefs out of the playoffs, as the Raiders did to finish the 1999 season at Arrowhead, but the parallels are impossible to ignore.
They’re obvious to Charles Woodson, who plays the last game of his career in Kansas City and is the only player still in uniform from a 41-38 overtime win on Jan. 2, 2000.
Like the 2015 Raiders, the 1999 Raiders were 7-8 going into the final game of the season, with a handful of close losses but what appeared to be a solid nucleus going forward under coach Jon Gruden.
“At that point, we had built what we were going to be,” Woodson said this week. “We felt like were only a couple of pieces away from actually competing and winning those close games — like a lot of games we lost this year.
“You’re only one or two plays or one or two players away from actually going 10-6 or 11-5. That’s the way we felt that year.”
Kansas City’s mission with a 9-6 record was clear — win and the division was theirs. Lose and potentially fall out of the playoffs — which is exactly what happened. Seattle took the division on tiebreakers at 9-7, with Miami edging out the Chiefs on tiebreakers for the wild card with the same record.
The Raiders almost instantly fell behind 17-0 on an 84-yard punt return by Tamarick Vanover, a 33-yard interception return by James Hasty against Rich Gannon and a 33-yard field goal by Pete Stoyanovich.
The spark to get the Raiders came back in it came from defensive back Marquis Walker, who blocked a Daniel Pope punt which was returned 20 yards for a touchdown by special teams ace (and current San Leandro police officer) Kenny Shedd.
Joe Nedney, who took over late in the season for a struggling Michael Husted, ending up kicking the game-tying field goal from 33 yards and the game winner from 38. Stoyanovich missed from 44 yards at the end of regulation — a kick that would have given the Chiefs the win.
Gruden, who would later joke that his job was in jeopardy with a loss (Al Davis joked about it as well) did a victory dance on the Arrowhead turf while the Chiefs were inconsolable.
When the Raiders went 12-4 the next season and reached and the AFC championship game, the way they ended the season against Kansas City in 1999 was a constant point of reference.
Woodson sees the possibility of this game having the same effect.
“For us to go in and hopefully get this win this week, with the young guys that you have, knowing you can go into Arrowhead, beat a team that’s going to the playoffs, that tells you, ‘We’re not far off,'” Woodson said. “We went to Denver, beat Denver. They’re a playoff team. They’re going to the next round, so we’re not far off. This will say a lot about the team.”
Another interesting similarity — with the Raiders on the fringe of the playoff race at 5-5 and facing the Chiefs on Nov. 28 in 1999, they blew a 34-20 lead and lost 37-34. This season’s crippling loss came on Dec. 6 with a 20-14 lead against the Chiefs, when three Derek Carr interceptions helped Kansas City to a 34-20 win.
Some facts and figures from the 1999/2015 parallel:
Both Raiders teams were one year removed from a draft class with a few key players that helped build the talent base.
1998 draft class: 1, (4) CB Charles Woodson; 1, (23) T Mo Collins; 2 (31) DT Leon Bender; 3 (63) FB Jon Ritchie; 4 (109) Gennaro DiNapoli; 5 (127) TE Jeremy Brigham; 5 (152) LB Travian Smith; 7 (230) T Vince Amey; 7 (234) TE David Sanders
2014 draft class: 1, (5) LB Khalil Mack; 2, (36) QB Derek Carr; 3, (81) G Gabe Jackson; 4, (107) Justin Ellis; 4, (116) Keith McGill; 7, (219) TJ Carrie; 7 (235) Shelby Harris; 7, (247) Jonathan Dowling.
Leading rusher/ Tyrone Wheatley 850/Latavius Murray 1,035
Leading passer/Rich Gannon 3,516/Derek Carr 3,793
TD passes/Rich Gannon 21/Derek Carr 31
Receiver/Tim Brown 84/Michael Crabtree 82
Receiving yards/Tim Brown 1,222/Amari Cooper 1,050
Points/Michael Husted 90/Sebastian Janikowski 96
Sacks/Lance Johnstone 10/Khalil Mack 15
Interceptions/3 with 3/Charles Woodson 5
Tackles/Greg Biekert 97/Malcolm Smith 137
Note: All statistics through 15 games.