On Nov. 17, the Oakland Raiders won to improve to 6-4. In a weak AFC, with a favorable schedule to go, it seemed like Jon Gruden might be headed to the playoffs.
A month later, the Raiders might not even avoid double-digit losses.
The Raiders have lost four in a row, with each loss being its own special kind of bad. Quarterback Derek Carr, who played well over those first 10 games and was answering any doubts about his future, was booed off the field after going to greet some fans after the last game in Oakland on Sunday. The way the game ended probably didn’t help an ugly scene afterward, in which some fans threw garbage and fought with security.
This once promising Raiders season has gone impossibly sour, and it’s time to start pointing some fingers.
The toughest loss was Sunday. Even if the Raiders were practically out of the playoff discussion at 6-7, they had a chance to give one final win to the Oakland fans. The Raiders were wrapping up a lot of history with their final home game in Oakland on Sunday. They led 16-3 against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that had lost five straight games by at least 17 points. And Oakland lost. Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II threw two touchdown passes in the final six minutes, including the game-winner with 31 seconds left, to put Raiders fans in a bad mood.
“I wish we could have sent the Raiders fans off with a lot better finish than that,” Gruden said after the game. “I’ll miss ’em. I love ’em. I’m sorry about the outcome today.”
“Feel bad for everybody,” Carr said. “Especially the way it happened. That kind of hurts even more.”
The Raiders’ weird schedule this season probably does matter in their swoon and it’s a reasonable excuse. The Raiders went from Sept. 15 to Nov. 3 without a game in Oakland. Part of that was a trip to London, which is unfair to any team that has to punt a home game so the NFL can try to make more money overseas. The Raiders survived that stretch, but it might have taken something out of them. The Raiders look like a team that is out of gas. All those weeks on the road probably contributed to that.
But the Raiders still got seven home games. They had everything in front of them and they fumbled it away. That starts with Gruden.
When you get a 10-year, $100 million contract, you’re not allowed to complain about a tough schedule, Antonio Brown blowing up the plan cultivated during the offseason, injuries, relying on many rookies or anything else. Gruden is not getting paid that much to get blown out by the New York Jets or blow fourth-quarter leads to the Jaguars. The way the Raiders are finishing this season will bring a new round of questions about whether Gruden can turn around the franchise, especially as it moves to Las Vegas.
“We're definitely making progress,” Raiders owner Mark Davis told NFL.com. “It's just hard for the outside world to see it.”
It would seem that the owner, coaches, players and fans would want some of that type of progress the outside world can understand as well. Maybe next season.
Gruden isn’t going anywhere. He will have $80 million left on his contract. But Carr? Ask those Raiders fans who booed him.
Carr had settled into being a good, solid quarterback option. He wasn’t the type of quarterback who could carry a franchise, but he wasn’t a detriment either. Over the past four games, his play has to have the Raiders wondering what to do next. It’s not easy to just move on at quarterback. There might not be a better option that’s attainable this offseason, but it’s more of a question now than it was a month ago. The offense has fallen off a cliff, and Carr’s limitations have become more pronounced. That’s not ideal heading into a new market.
“We’ve got to finish the deal on offense,” Gruden said. “We had a couple opportunities to do that, and we failed to do so.”
Sunday was a miserable loss. Nobody 20 years from now will remember blowout losses to the Jets, Chiefs or Titans, but longtime Raiders season-ticket holders will recall the Raiders’ final game in Oakland and how five decades of history ended. Soon the Raiders will be Las Vegas’ problem.
Here’s a look at the coaches, players, executives or anyone else feeling the heat on Monday, after Week 15 of the NFL season.
HOT: More officiating madness
The subplot to the Raiders’ loss was officiating yet again. There was a call by NFL officials that seemed to be obviously wrong.
Just before the two-minute warning, Derek Carr ran for a first down and slid. He clearly gave himself up in the field of play. But officials ruled he was out of bounds, stopping the clock at 2:05. It was a stunning call.
“Very, very shocked,” Carr said. “One of the more shocking moments of my life, if I’m being honest. I understand the rule differently, I guess.”
It was a big call. It got worse when the Raiders took a delay of game penalty in the confusion afterward. The Raiders had to run another play before the two-minute warning, when the clock stopped again. The Jaguars called their last timeout at 1:55. The Raiders threw an incomplete pass on third down, stopping the clock again. Instead of running the clock down under a minute, the Jaguars took over with 1:48 left after a missed field goal. And they scored the game-winning touchdown with 31 seconds left.
“I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Gruden said about the call on Carr’s slide. “I’m waiting for the clock to wind to two minutes. I’m still waiting.”
It wasn’t the only bad call around the league. The Chicago Bears were on the bad end of a kick-catch interference call that wiped out a Bears fumble recovery. There was a phantom facemask call on the Bills Sunday night that had everyone complaining.
Carr echoed a familiar sentiment, that perhaps the officials should be as accountable as players.
“If they want to talk about it, you can have a press conference with the refs,” Carr said. “Maybe they’ll do that someday. I won’t get into what they said and all that. I’ll keep my money in my pocket.”
HOTTER: Freddie Kitchens with another step back
Even with Cleveland out of the playoff race, it still seems there’s a lot on the line in the final two games of the season.
Cleveland was eliminated from the playoff race with a 38-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. It was a dispiriting loss. The offense, other than Nick Chubb, was mostly a no-show. The defense wasn’t any better. It got a bit ugly when receiver Jarvis Landry yelled at coach Freddie Kitchens on the sideline.
Before Sunday’s game, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Browns want Kitchens to be their head coach long term. It’s notable that the team would leak that report. But the Browns lost bad in the first game after that report, and there are two games to go.
Cleveland needs some momentum before the offseason. It would be a tough sell to long-suffering fans to bring back Kitchens if the final two games go like Sunday’s did. And it’ll get even worse if there’s more discord on the sideline.
HOTTEST (IF ANYONE IN L.A. CARED): Where do the Chargers go from here?
Yes, it’s still ridiculous that the Los Angeles Chargers have to play in a stadium that is flooded with opposing fans. They play in one of the largest markets in the United States, but nobody cares about the team, leading to scenes like this from the Vikings game:
That won’t change unless the Chargers win and win big, and that’s not happening.
The Chargers took their worst loss since 2015, getting trounced 39-10 by the Vikings. The Chargers have taken some unbelievable losses with Anthony Lynn as coach, but mostly they’ve at least been close.
“I haven’t seen that team all year,” Lynn said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We’ve gotten beat. We’ve never gotten beat like that. That was my problem today. That’s my frustration right now. I haven’t seen that team in three years since I’ve been here.”
This is a talented team that has fallen completely short of expectations at 5-9. Quarterback Philip Rivers has had some rough moments at age 38, his contract is up after the season and his future is up in the air.
“It’s not solely going to be my decision,” Rivers said after Sunday’s game, via the Times. “That’s where I think that uncertainty lies. We will just kind of have to see. … I think with that uncertainty it does add some emotion.”
The entire organization has a critical offseason ahead of it. Not that anyone in its home city will be paying much attention.
– – – – – – –