Well, that’s that. The 2011 season is over, and it ended in a similar fashion as just about every loss this season for the Raiders. They were close late and then had a collapse of epic proportions. We knew the Chargers were capable of putting a lot of points on the board and on this day, they were in top form while the Raiders were not. They ended the Raiders’ playoff hopes with a 38-26 victory.
As tempting as it is to put the blame on those who helped put the Raiders in this compromising situation, that criticism is for the year end Ballers & Busters, as much as this game individually meant to the evaluation of the entire season.
This was far from a perfect game for Palmer. He certainly made a few throws that had you bracing for an interception. But at the end of the day, he had 417 yards passing and two touchdowns. His passing total is the third most in Raider franchise history. The last Raider QB to pass for more yards than Palmer did on Sunday was Jeff Hostetler back in 1994 — also in a loss. Palmer threw a touchdown pass on the Raiders’ first drive of the game, a perfectly thrown ball that dropped softly over the shoulder of Darrius Heyward-Bey in the back corner of the end zone to put the Raiders up 7-0. On the Raiders’ next scoring drive, Palmer was 3 for 5 for 39 yards and a 3 yard scramble to set up a Janikowski field goal. Next drive he was 3 for 5 for 43 yards with two drops. One of the drops was by DHB in the end zone that would have made him 4 for 5 for 69 yards and a touchdown. Instead the Raiders settled for a field goal again.
Just before halftime, he made probably his biggest mistake of the day when with just 8 seconds left on the clock, he threw to Louis Murphy in the middle of the field and the time ran out without the Raiders getting off even a field goal attempt. That was a ball he never should have thrown. After the game he blamed the ref for slipping while placing the ball. But even if the ref hadn’t slipped, the Raiders would have been called for 12 men on the field. The play never would have worked and the Raiders were held without a possible score before halftime.
After the half, the Raiders had the ball and Palmer atoned for his second quarter gaffe by throwing a perfect 78 yard pass to Denarius Moore. The amazing thing about the throw is it was in the air before Moore had even beat his man. But Palmer put it up and Moore went and got it without having to break stride. The only way it would have been better is if it resulted in a touchdown.
The Chargers answered with a touchdown drive so it was back on Palmer to keep up. He drove the Raiders downfield again despite two more dropped passes and two more penalties and added another field goal. The following drive, he had two big completions to DHB for 39 yards and to Kevin Boss from 22 yards out for a touchdown. It put the Raiders within five points with 9:32 remaining in the game. But the Chargers had their big 99 yard touchdown drive after that and in the desperation time, Palmer threw his interception.
The Raiders should have gotten in the end zone more in this game. But as has been the case several times this season, Janikowski was there to be Mr Automatic whenever they needed him. He was there four times on Sunday and was ready to try a fifth if the Raiders had given him the chance before halftime. He connected from 52, 43, 32, and 28 yards out. If Carson Palmer had thrown away the final pass of the first half, Janikowski would have had an attempt from 55 yards — well within his range. Five of his seven kickoffs made the end zone with one touchback. Unfortunately, one of those kicks was returned 105 yards for a touchdown but that is hardly his fault. He squibbed another kickoff that was bobbled and was nearly a safety before being called down at the one yard line.
Before we get into his positives, it is necessary that I mention DHB nearly didn’t make the Baller list due to his three drops in this game. One of those drops was in the end zone and was right in his hands for what should have been a touchdown. In total, he had a whopping 17 passes thrown his way on Sunday. He pulled in nine of those passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. He also turned defender on another long pass that would have been intercepted had he not knocked it down. His best catch of the day came on the Raiders’ touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter. Palmer threw the pass to what appeared to be no one. The Charger defenders’ eyes got really wide and then seemingly out of nowhere DHB leapt up and grabbed it and took it for a 39 yard gain. It set up the touchdown two plays later.
He was helped out when Chargers sack leader Antwan Barnes was ejected early in the game. But regardless of his opponents, Veldheer didn’t allow so much as a pressure on Palmer. He also didn’t have a penalty in the game. That is what a team asks for in a tackle.
Moore had three catches in the game for 101 yards. Most of those yards came on one catch. And oh what a catch it was. He has become the primary deep threat for this Raider team. Last week he had the huge 61 yard touchdown grab to help the Raiders win. This is becoming a regular occurrence for the fleet-footed, sticky-fingered rookie. On the 78 yard catch, Palmer knew right away that he was going to Denarius on the pass. Denarius hadn’t even shifted into high gear before Palmer threw the pass. Then Moore hit hyper speed and ran past Quentin Jammer to go get the ball. Jammer never had a chance. It was all he could do to tackle Moore before he could reach the end zone. Denarius is certainly exciting. Even his three yard run was exciting. He got the ball on an end around and started right but found no opening so he completely shifted course to the left. All told he probably ran about 100 yards just to get that three yards. But it was pretty exciting for a minute there as he looked like he might break through.
This is probably the last game in which Bresnahan will be mentioned. His ticket out of Oakland was likely punched a while ago, but this game will make the decision to “let him go” that much easier. The players are frustrated and confused on the field but they seem to have a pretty good idea of why they continue to falter on defense. There were several times in this game that made you wonder what was going on with the defensive scheme. On the Chargers’ first touchdown, Bresnahan opts for Matt Giordano to blitz and put Mike Mitchell in single coverage on All Pro tight end Antonio Gates. The result was to be expected. Gates got behind Mitchell, pulled down the pass and ran through 38 yards of open space for the touchdown. Then in the third quarter, after the Raiders had pulled within one score, Lamarr Houston is spotted guarding Gates — on third down, no less. Gates gets the catch and the first down and the Chargers’ drive stays alive. To finish it off, Rivers throws a touchdown to his Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson who is guarded by middle linebacker Rolando McClain. Easy touchdown.
Then we come to the same point the Raiders have found themselves in several games this season. The defense needs a stop if they hope to win. This time the Chargers’ drive started at the half yard line. Four plays later, they had gone 99 yards for the touchdown. A 19 yard catch, a 40 yard run, a 7 yard run, and a 43 yard touchdown catch. The Chargers actually had to go 109 yards because they were called for holding on the second play. Absolutely pathetic. And inexcusable.
I am really struggling to find what Mike Mitchell does well. In this game, like some previous games, his weaknesses showed across the board. He gave up the Chargers’ first touchdown when he was completely destroyed by Antonio Gates for a 38 yard touchdown catch. He didn’t have a safety to protect deep and he knew it and yet he chose to let Gates get behind him. A light forearm to the back by Gates (a basketball move from the former college basketball player) and Gates had all the wide open space he needed to run to the end zone.
But what about his special teams play? In the second quarter, just after the Raiders kicked a field goal to close the deficit to 14-10, they kicked off to the Chargers. Chargers return man Robert Goodwin fielded the kick five yard deep in the end zone and took it back 105 yards for the touchdown. There were a lot of good blocks on the return but the guy who had the best shot at stopping it was Mitchell who whiffed on the tackle as Goodwin went untouched all the way to the end zone.
On the Chargers’ next possession Mitchell was out of position on a catch and then missed the tackle and it was taken 13 yards to set up another Chargers score on a field goal and a 24-13 halftime lead. He wasn’t done though as he gave up a 16 yard catch on the Chargers’ next possession and they scored another touchdown a few plays later. Someone remind me again what his strengths are?
He gave up five catches for 93 yards and a touchdown in this game. That’s a good day for a receiver which means it’s a bad day for a corner. Two of those catches came on the Chargers’ first touchdown drive. The first went for 14 yards on third and seven, the second went for 13 yards to put them in scoring position. Late in the second quarter he gave up a first down catch that, if stopped, would have been a three and out. Instead, they moved into field goal range to tack on another three points before halftime.
Sheppard’s undoing was on the big 99 yard drive. With Rivers deep in his own end zone, Lito gave up a 19 yard catch on the first play to instantly eliminate what should have been a big advantage for the Raiders. Now they were at the 20 yard line as if it were a touchback. After a holding penalty on the Chargers, it looked like the Raiders might just stop them yet. But then they broke off a 40 yard run in which Lito missed a tackle. Two plays later, he was victimized on a 43 yard touchdown pass and the game was essentially over.
When the Raiders beat the Chargers in week ten, it was due in large part to the pressure Wimbley and Co. were able to get on Philip Rivers. Wimbley had four sacks in that game and several other pressures. But Wimbley didn’t have his first sack in that game until after the Chargers lost their left tackle Marcus McNeill to injury. Afterward, he feasted on the backup tackle. Since then, the Chargers signed Jared Gaither to play left tackle for them, and Wimbley was rendered toothless. Rivers had all day to throw and picked the Raiders apart at will.
Wimbley had the first penalty of the day on a neutral zone infraction as the Raiders sought the NFL single season penalty record. On their next drive, he was blocked on a seven yard first down run, and the Chargers finished it off with their first touchdown. On their next drive, he was put on Gates and Rivers saw the matchup and threw for a 37 yard completion. That drive would end in the Chargers’ second TD of the day. Then just to finish off the day, he was blocked on a 46 yard end around and was called for an offsides penalty on the Chargers’ final drive.
This was another game of mismanagement for Hue. There was a timeout as the clock ran down and a delay of game before a field goal try. Then there was the missed opportunity to end the first half in which the Raiders ran out of time and didn’t get off a field goal attempt. Granted Carson Palmer should not have thrown the pass in the middle of the field to allow the clock to run out but some blame falls on Jackson as well. I mean, why are any of the receivers cutting to midfield on that play? That should have been a quick read for an open man along the boundary and a throw away. Or it should never have been run in the first place. Without the play it would have been a 55 yard field goal for Janikowski. That is commonplace for him. But it never happened.