Raiders' defensive struggles persist in 38-17 loss
Published: Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 4:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 10:13 p.m.
OAKLAND — Safety Mike Mitchell sat in front of his locker after Sunday’s 38-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints, sweat beading his forehead, and as hard as he’d worked on the field in the preceding three hours, holding back the tears seemed to take nearly as much effort.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Mitchell said. “You want to win so bad. ... I’m doing my best not to cry on camera. But it hurts.”
There was enough pain to cover O.co Coliseum after this latest collapse by the Oakland defense. After losing 42-32 to Tampa Bay in Week 9 and 55-19 to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10, the Raiders have now surrendered 135 points in three consecutive games. Only once in franchise history — way back in the first three weeks of 1961 — has this team been more generous.
That 51-year-old skid got head coach Eddie Erdelatz fired. It’s unlikely the same fate will befall the current coach, but Dennis Allen sounded a bit mystified by his 3-7 team after Sunday’s loss. And he may be getting a little nervous, too, with principal owner Mark Davis expressing his own frustration in the post-game locker room.
“Obviously, we’re not where we want to be, and we’ve got to realize that,” Allen said. “We’ve got to face that. Like I said, the only thing I know how to do is go back to work, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
The Raiders have plenty to work on. Two weeks ago, the run defense was pulverized by Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin. Last week, it was the pass defense that fell to pieces against Joe Flacco and the Ravens. Sunday it was a little bit of both. Drew Brees, whose mastery of the Raiders dates back to his days in San Diego, completed 20 of 27 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns. And the Saints were just as effective on the ground, rushing for 153 yards in total and 5.5 a carry.
The key swing in the game came late in the second quarter and early in the third.
Carson Palmer’s 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Myers, set up by a 56-yard catch-and-run by running back Marcel Reece, cut New Orleans’ lead to 14-7 at 4:10 of the second quarter. But that was a generous amount of time for the accomplished Brees. He hit Marques Colston for 24 yards, then again for 16 before Lance Moore lost cornerback Michael Huff on a double move and hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass with 48 seconds to spare.
Up 21-7, the Saints started the second half with a 75-yard punt return by rookie Travaris Cadet. Mark Ingram went around left end on the first play from scrimmage and scored all too easily from 27 yards out. It was 28-7, and it wouldn’t get much closer.
By the time the Raiders scored a meaningless touchdown on Palmer’s 3-yard fade pass to Juron Criner with 4:00 remaining in the game, few home fans were around to see it. After booing sporadically during the afternoon, they just couldn’t watch any more.
The first quarter was a microcosm of the Raiders’ season. They had 99 yards and five first downs during the period. New Orleans had 79 yards and six first downs. And yet the Saints built a 14-0 lead, thanks to their ability to capitalize and the Raiders’ propensity to commit grave errors.
The first time the Saints had the ball, they drove 80 yards to the end zone, despite having a 29-yard completion to Cadet overturned by a replay review. Brees finished the possession with a 1-yard scoring pass to wide-open tight end Jimmy Graham, who escaped the attention of outside linebacker Miles Burris.
“It was a situation where on the goal line they run-action over there,” Allen said. “Miles has got the tight end and it was a rookie mistake. It’s something that hopefully he’ll learn from.”
Later in the quarter, Palmer tried to throw to Myers in the short zone. Safety Malcolm Jenkins sat on the route, intercepted and weaved through traffic for a backbreaking 55-yard touchdown return.
“We just couldn’t keep up,” said Palmer, who also threw a pick in the end zone that bounced off of Myers’ shoulder. “They scored pretty quickly ... But when it came down to it, we got beat by a better team today.”
Few would argue with that. The Saints, wracked by offseason turmoil that included the season-long suspension of coach Sean Payton in the infamous bounty scandal, began the year 0-4. Sunday’s win got them to 5-5.
The Raiders, meanwhile, must continue to search for answers in Allen’s rookie season. The remaining six games, which include home dates against Cleveland and Kansas City, would seem to present some opportunities.
“Right now we’re shooting for 9-7,” Palmer said. “You’ve got to win all the games left and see kind of where the chips fall at the end of the year. The AFC is still pretty wide open for the most part. We need some things to bounce our way.”
About a million things, some would say. And at the same time, the Raiders must fix their defense and cut down on the turnovers. They also could use some healthy bodies. Running back Darren McFadden, defensive tackle Richard Seymour and strong safety Tyvon Branch were among those who missed Sunday’s game.
After the loss, Allen and his players talked about sticking to the task, working hard, striving to get better and, you know, yada-yada-yada.
“We just gotta find ways to win these games, and just play better, man,” Mitchell said. “I mean, I feel like we’re all saying the same things over and over. Man, you get tired of saying it, tired of hearing it, tired of living it, experiencing it. You just get tired.”
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or email@example.com.
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