Had to smile at what was happening on one corner of the big split-screen TV. I’m talking about Sunday’s game, specifically, the last Oakland Raiders drive, the one in overtime, the one that set up a field goal for the win. Raiders 23. Kansas City 20. What made me smile was the inevitability of that last drive. You knew they were going to score. Good teams do that to you.
It’s been seven years and change since Oakland last won three games in a row, six years since they’ve had a winning record, and at least ten years since the owner moved into a Las Vegas Strip hotel, taped aluminum foil over the windows, let his hair and fingernails grow inhumanly long, and began peeing in glass jars that were kept on the living room floor. Or not.
And yet, the Raiders are 5-4 overall, 3-0 in the AFC West, good enough for second place, ½ game behind Kansas City. And yet even more, Sunday’s contest was a real must-win game for Oakland. The Raiders lose and they are 2½ games behind the AFC West Division leader with 7 games left to play. And those three games are hard to pick up, especially in the last half of the season, especially, especially since the Raiders must still play Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, San Diego, and Kansas City. Howsoever, instead of looking down that barrel, Oakland is ½ game out of first place and enjoying a week of rest.
What in the hell happened? Where did things go right?
Reason 1: Finally unloading JaMarcus Russell. That, alone, might be enough to end this season with a winning record.
Reason 2: Putting quarterbacks on the field who are not horrible. Being Not Horrible is a vast step up from the 34-million-dollar homeless man who had previously occupied the quarterback position.
Reason 3: The unlikely personhood of Jacoby Ford. Don’t get me wrong — Ford has the standard pre-NFL résumé: all-everything in high school, ranked in the top 20 by Rivals.com. Attended Clemson, was All-Everything in track-and-field, and ranked 7th in the nation at the wide-receiver position.
But here’s the deal: Oakland’s newest wide receiver, a rookie just out of college, is 5" 9' tall, which is why he was drafted in the 4th round. He was Oakland’s 10th draft pick. It seemed to be a perfect Al Davis selection.
If you’ll pan the camera to the left you’ll see the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum as it was last Sunday. It’s the start of the third quarter, Oakland is trailing 10 to 0 after a boring, stupid, penalty-filled first half. Same old Raiders. Now comes Jacoby Ford, who returns Kansas City’s kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly it’s 10-7. We got us a game.
Ford caught six passes for 148 yards, plus the aforesaid kickoff return. But, the play that set the tone, that raised the question about Oakland being on its way back, occurred late in the 4th quarter. Oakland is down by three points, 20-17, and have the ball. It’s third down and long. Jason Campbell makes a bad throw, yeah, it’s going to be intercepted, and — boom — the little guy jumps up and wrestles, strong-arms, literally rips the football from Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers. His reception maintained Oakland’s possession and set up Sebastian Janikowski’s 41-yard field goal to tie the game with 3 seconds left in regulation play. And he did it again in overtime. The little fella catches a 47-yard pass to set up another Janikowski field goal. This time for the win.
Reason 4: Hiring offensive coordinator Hue Jackson away from Baltimore. Jackson is the new offensive coordinator. One wonders how someone that competent could slip through the Raiders’ filtration system.
And let us not sneer at the Raiders’ screening-out-competent-coaches machinery. Since 1995, Al Davis has hired and fired Mike White, Joe Bugel, Jon Gruden, Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, and is now considering the fate of an offensive line coach who he knighted in the field, four games into the 2008 season. Tom Cable had been coaching in the NFL for a little more than two years, making him, again, a perfect Al Davis head coach.
Creepy to even think this, but it’s beginning to look like this Cable/Jackson thing is working. The Raiders are on track to double the number of touchdowns they scored in 2009 (17 in 2009 vs. 23 through 9 games of 2010). They’re averaging 26.1 points per game, on track to more than double their 2009 average of 12.3 points per game.