Raiders can’t top Colts

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 26: Pierre Garcon  of the Indianapolis Colts has a pass broken up by Chris Johnson  of the Oakland Raiders during an NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 26, 2010 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

If there was a play that really changed the swing of momentum for the Colts vs. the Raiders today, perhaps you could point to the pass interference call that went against Stanford Routt and put the ball deep in Raiders territory. Evidently, the rules change when you are the Raiders and you are playing the ball a throw. “That’s a close call” said Raiders head coach Tom Cable. ”But it is what it is.” Cable’s sentence may sum up the Raiders entire season chasing the AFC West crown.

The Raiders couldn’t pull that tough one out today at home, but you must give them an E for effort if nothing else. They struggled offensively to get anything going and failed to even reach the red zone until late in the game. However, wide receiver Jacoby Ford wasted no time getting there as he went to his opponent’s end zone on the opening kickoff. It was his third kickoff return for a touchdown this year and with that he set a new franchise record.

“Offensively we were never able to get anything consistency,” said Cable following the game, “and when we did there would be a penalty.”

What Cable failed to mention, was at the end of the first quarter the Colts had nine first down conversions while the Raiders offense had just eight total yards.

Chalk it up to another learning experience for these young Raiders, of whom Cable said he wanted to get a good feel for what it was like to play for something in a meaningful game. You could see they put their hearts into it today and laid it on the line like it meant something  even though some may have known the score of the Kansas City vs. Tennessee game in advance.

You could question the play-calling also, if you so chose. The offensive play-calling once again left some things to be desired for the Raiders. Hue Jackson only called 17 runs while dialing up 46 passing plays. The stats will show the Raiders ran 20 times, but three were Campbell tuck and runs. Although the score never got out of hand for the Raiders and they were never playing catch-up until the end of the game, Jackson made them play as though they were playing from behind the entire game. Michael Bush and Darren McFadden would combine for just 14 carries for 64 yards. Perhaps it was Indy’s stout 28th ranked rushing defense that scared Jackson away. Surely, he will have some questions to answer about why the Raiders gave up on the run so early in this game.

When you look back at this game for Oakland, it may be more about the individual performances than the overall performance as a team.

Perhaps the most surprising play was that of cornerback Chris Johnson who had struggled all year long, but played his best overall game in this one. It was clear the Colts had planned on attacking Johnson today, but C.J. was not having any of it. Not only did he come up with really good concentration to intercept a batted ball, but he was making Peyton Manning see things that weren’t there also. At one point, Manning backed away from center to change a play because Johnson had backed off in coverage. But Johnson made his move so late that Peyton ended up being called for a delay of game. C.J. would later get beat on a short touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, but all in all he had a very nice day.

Another player that you could really point to and say did a nice job was rookie left tackle Jared Veldheer. He allowed just one sack to Dwight Freeney, who played his side almost the entire game, but all told got the best of Freeney for most of the 46 pass-play day. Freeney could consistently be found on the ground after plays. Tom Cable said that Veldheer learned how to use his help today (as in help from teammates blocking), but also, “will grow leaps and bounds from playing a guy like that.” In this kid from division II Hillsdale College, the Raiders may have found what they were looking for back in 2004 when they drafted his teammate to his right, fourth overall draft choice from Division I Iowa Robert Gallery.

Darrius Heyward-Bey had one of his more productive days as a Raider also. While the Colts played with two safeties deep for most of the game with respect to the deep threat of the Raiders, DHB managed to rack up 4 catches for forty yards. While it may not look like much on paper, it means a lot more in the grand scheme, because he was only targeted six times, which means he caught sixty-six percent of the passes thrown to him…with his hands. Also impressive was his play after the catch which, again, was not spectacular but showed a lot of heart. DHB has racked up 22 catches this year and if was 2008 again, he’d be tied with Johnnie Lee Higgins for the team lead at the end of the year. Not too shabby for a guy who had nine in eleven games last year.

All told, the Raiders never really had a shot to win this game and nearly everybody and their grandmother knew it. But they never quit, never gave in, and always believed they could win this game. It shows a lot of character and it shows just where this team is headed next season, which is in the right direction. Unlike this week, I completely expect them to have a good shot at winning when they travel to Kansas City to take on the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs. If they pull out the victory and go 6-0 in the division, Cable should consider getting them “honorable mention AFC West Champion” T- Shirts.

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