By Ryan Leong
It was a very long season for the Oakland Raiders, starting and ending with losses to the San Diego Chargers. The Raiders have been a roller coaster of a ride with all the changes that continue to affect the performance of the team since the passing of longtime owner Al Davis. The Raiders finished the season with a record of 4-12. It was the Raiders worst record since 2007 when that squad finished 4-12 under Lane Kiffin. Final score: San Diego Chargers 24, Oakland Raiders 21
In his first year, it was a challenging one for rookie head coach Dennis Allen. But like the coaches who preceded him, Allen joins a list of notable names of coaches who debuted with the Raiders. They include the greats like John Madden, Tom Flores, Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan, and Art Shell. Shell is also on the list of bad coaches for his 2-14 record in this second tour of duty, the worst record by the silver and black since the merger in 1970. At times, Allen was in over his head, making poor decisions that just didn’t make sense. Often times he coached too conservatively and since he had greater responsibilities, he wasn’t able to devote his attention to the defense like he should have. In the final game at San Diego, Allen was a bit more of a risk taker, especially with young quarterback Terrelle Pryor making his first career start. Given how much the offense and dfefense struggled, the only guarantee is that Allen is back in 2013. He might have a partial change to his coaching staff with new offensive and defensive coordinators. Grade: C
Much of the analysis here is on quarterback Terrelle Pryor who not only made his first career NFL start, he played the entire game. While not perfect, he was pretty good, going 13-of-28 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His rating was 72.0, so that’s an indication he has to work on his accuracy, but he showed great poise. He threw touchdowns to both Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore, both receivers with tremendous potential, but both regressed somewhat this season under a new offensive scheme. Pryor also scored on a three-yard naked bootleg run and he brings excitement to the offense. The Raiders of the past have always been known for being entertaining and innovative. This team lacked that all season, but flashes of it were shown Sunday. Down 17-7, the silver and black rallied to get within three points. If Oakland had recovered a late onside kick, they would have had an opportunity to win it. Grade: B
The Raiders have struggled here all season and it’s no small feat trying to contain Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is still one of the best QBs in the NFL. Rivers was incredibly efficient, going 13-of-17 for 151 yards and two touchdowns. His rating was an astounding 142.0. But the Raiders did put the pressure on, sacking him twice. Oakland held San Diego to only 210 total net yards, which is really impressive given the talent on the Chargers roster. They did allow 24 points, but the Raiders allowed less than 30 points in each of the final four games. Grade: B
Chargers kick returner Michael Spurlock set the tone returning the opening kick 99-yards for a touchdown — not a good way to start the game. But the Raiders didn’t let it get to them, despite trailing 10-0 and eventually being down 17-7. With 2:55 remaining in the fourth quarter, they blocked a Mike Scifres punt and returned it inside the Chargers red zone. That would eventually set up Pryor’s five-yard touchdown pass to Moore, but the Raiders were out of time outs and could not recover the onside kick that would have given them a chance to tie or win it. Shane Lechler had another solid day averaging 46.2 yards on his six punts. Coye Francies had two kick returns for 46 yards. Overall, the one aspect of this team that has been positive all season long has been the special teams. Grade: B
Looking ahead to 2013, the Raiders are a team in need of an identity. Known for their renegade, tough image, the Raiders showed little of that most of the season. One aspect of their game that had been a problem was their propensity to rack up stupid penalties that would cost the team yards and wins as a result. Sunday, they played like their old selves, getting flagged nine times for 67 yards. Following one play early in the second quarter on an incomplete pass attempt from Pryor to Rod Streater, running back Mike Goodson and former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes were both ejected for getting into a scrum. Goodson was blocking Spikes on the play and it developed into a scuffle when the two players wouldn’t let go of each other’s facemasks. Pryor showed he has the potential to be a leader when he literally bear hugged Goodson, pulled him away and threw him to the ground in an effort to break up the melee.
Most notably, Pryor doesn’t lack for confidence. In the locker room he told reporters, “Stuff is gonna slow down for me. I will be great at the quarterback position but I just have to let things slow down for me. Just let it slow down, be calm, be a leader, get to the next play. And if I do that, watch out for us.”
But he also took responsibility.
“It looked like the guys believed in me and we moved the ball decent,” Pryor said. “I’m very upset with myself because of some of the mistakes I made but you know it happens and I look forward to possibly playing next year and getting better. I’m very sad that we lost, I apologize, and I put it on my shoulders. It’s my fault.”
It’ll be an interesting offseason with many decisions to be made. Only a handful of players are worthy of retaining, like Moore, Heyward-Bey, Goodson, Pryor, and possibly Darren McFadden, who has been injury-prone his entire career. Linebacker Miles Burris in his rookie season was a solid contributor as was linebacker Philip Wheeler and cornerback Philip Adams. Michael Huff showed his versatility by moving from safety to corner. How the Raiders will adjust their bloated roster to meet the salary cap will be interesting. Players like quarterback Carson Palmer and defensive lineman Richard Seymour are still owed a lot of money and at their advanced age, the Raiders would be better off rebuilding with younger talent that can develop over time. Like Al Davis always said, and this never changes, the greatness of the Raiders is in its future.
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Ryan Leong has reported on over 2,800 games in the Bay Area since 1998, covering the Sharks, Giants, A’s, Warriors, 49ers, Raiders and the local college teams for radio networks and wire services. Having the best seat in the house to watch sports has been a thrill and Ryan still enjoys going to the games giving fans some insight and perspective on the players and coaches. His work can be found on Examiner.com.