Here is a link to my Monday Raiders column. The full text runs below:
You don’t praise a team for losing. That’s the standard protocol because — and this is a deep truth of life as we know it — there is nothing good about a loss. Nothing.
So, I’m about to break every rule of journalism, certainly every rule of a columnist. I’m going to praise the Raiders who lost 16-10 to the division-leading, undefeated Denver Broncos on a gloriously sunny Sunday in Oakland.
Seems kind of paradoxical this praise. Please let me explain. The Raiders are coming from nowhere. Last season when they won three games — pitiful — they were nowhere and they were nobodies and no one cared about them except their relatives and their agents.
The Raiders no longer are anonymous or reprehensible or laughable. They are a football team. A serious football team with the right kinds of aspirations. And they made the Broncos sweat. Remember that. The Raiders played the Broncos mostly evenly. The Raiders made Denver quarterback Peyton Manning look kind of ordinary — two picks, substandard 62.3 passer rating. Believe me, the Broncos are heading for a fall.
The Raiders lost because they missed field goals and their quarterback Derek Carr got intercepted — the Pick 6 variety that sealed the deal late in the fourth quarter.
But the Raiders played hard and they were alert. And they have learned a standard. They don’t always — or even often — meet the standard. But they see the standard and understand it and aim for it and know when they miss it.
The first step to becoming a good team is internalizing the standard. This the Raiders have done. It’s mostly because Jack Del Rio is a real coach, a big-time professional as opposed to the series of buffoons the Raiders hauled in and then dumped. With him Del Rio brought the standard.
The Raiders did not lose to Denver because they don’t know what they are doing. If that had been the case, an issue of complete non-comprehension, the Raiders would be a lost cause and certainly undeserving of praise. The Raiders knew what to do. But they couldn’t do it. Although the game felt like a contest between two even teams, it wasn’t. The Raiders players aren’t as good as the Broncos. End of story.
The Raiders have better players than they used to have. Better than they had last season for sure. Good for them. But the Broncos are in another universe of talent. Simple as that. In a close game, in a tense game, the team with better players usually wins. It makes such obvious sense. In addition to learning the standard, the Raiders are quickly and desperately trying to upgrade their roster. But they have miles to go.
Not that anyone on the team feels that way. Afterward, Del Rio came to the interview room. It’s kind of a dungeon, really. You expect to see chains and manacles and other torture devices hanging from the gray walls. Del Rio had a sour puss. He needed an Alka Seltzer. He is a polite man who rarely answers a question directly. Either, he deflects the answer or moves in circles around the subject. I asked how he felt after the loss.
“There’s no consolation in this league for playing hard and playing well enough to keep it close and have opportunities,” he said, giving the classic tough-guy-coach answer. “I’m disappointed for all the men in that room (the locker room), but we will continue to attack these games and look for better results.”
And a few minutes later, he said, “I thought we gave ourselves a chance in the football game. We got off the field on third down, really solid against the run. We expected to win the game. It didn’t happen. We’ll move forward.”
Carr sounded just like Del Rio. Maybe they memorized the same script. “Our goal is to win the division, so when you lose a division game, it’s hard,” he said. “There’s no moral victories for us. We feel we can compete with everybody. We feel we can win games. We’re young and we’re learning how to do that. We’ve got to continue to grow. Now. We’ve got to get better now so we can pull these kinds of games out.”
What do the Raiders need to become a better football team, a group that can compete hard with the Broncos and then win?
They need a better pass rush. It’s not clear Aldon Smith is the same player he was at the other place. The Raiders pass block well but need to run block better. They need at least one more wide receiver. And don’t project your hopes and dreams onto Michael Crabtree. He has good hands and he’s willing. But he is slow, has trouble separating himself from a cornerback and almost never gains yards after a catch. He is holding a starter’s place until the real thing comes along.
The Raiders need better defensive backs, certainly better corners. And even though Charles Woodson is heroic, he’s old for his profession and the Raiders will need to upgrade at safety. Real soon.
Those are lots of areas that need improving. No knock on the Raiders. They are improving. They continue to improve. Takes time.
If you can look past the Broncos game, look past the loss and the mistakes, you can see the standard taking hold and the beginnings of quality. Look real close and you may see the future.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.