The Oakland Raiders had just lost their 10th game in a dozen decisions and at the postgame press conference head coach Jon Gruden was praising his team’s performance.
This is not my grandfather’s Raiders.
In his first season back at the helm of the Silver and Black, Gruden has made more moves to improve the current prospects of the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys than he has his team in Oakland. On the eve of the regular season, Gruden shipped one of the truly great defensive players in the league, Khalil Mack, to the Bears for a first round draft choice and more.
The Bears became an instant threat and are now on the verge of ending four consecutive last place finishes in the NFC North Division with a title.
In October, on the eve of the trade deadline, Gruden dealt Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a first round draft pick. Dallas went from a losing record to the top spot in the NFC East Division, and ride a four game winning streak into a crucial game tomorrow against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Meanwhile, the team Gruden is paid more than any coach in the league to manage, has gone from a once lofty spot in the football world to a team that gets praised for a home loss.
This is not Al Davis’ Raiders.
What Gruden was acknowledging in his media meeting from the Oakland Coliseum last Sunday was that his team didn’t get blown out by the front running Kansas City Chiefs. No team in football has scored more points than Andy Reid’s Chiefs squad, 444, and over the season Kansas City has routinely buried overmatched opponents behind the passing of second-year quarterback sensation Patrick Mahomes.
I suspect Gruden was celebrating the Raiders seven point loss to the Chiefs the same way people take solace when a destructive earthquake stops shaking. One can be glad it is over, but there's still damage to address.
The Raiders have been reduced to a team that high-fives moral victories, something Al Davis would have shunned during his glory years running the Silver and Black. If John Madden, the Raiders head coach that led them to their first Super Bowl win to complete the 1976 season, would have been caught celebrating a close loss during his ten-year tenure as head coach in Oakland, his time running the team would have been shorter.
The Raiders two wins this year have been gained in a home overtime victory against the Cleveland Browns and a narrow road decision over the Arizona Cardinals. Not exactly conquests against the league’s best. When they have battled NFL teams currently in a position to earn a postseason slot, the Raiders are winless, and in most cases, blown away.
Even the San Francisco 49ers, who have also only earned two wins this season, beat the Raiders on their home field with a third string quarterback, 34-3.
Now, if the Raiders had played the Chiefs toe-to-toe in their 40-33 loss last week, then perhaps Gruden’s praise for a narrow loss could have had some validity. But, in fact, the score is no indicator of how clearly the Chiefs dominated that game. They toyed with the Raiders like a kitten controls a ball of yarn. The visitors had no need to throttle down to bury Oakland, but rather simply kept the action in front of them and scored when they needed to and allowed the Raiders yards when it never really threatened Kansas City’s ultimate win.
The gambling world this week is seeing the Raiders team more than just a patsy. They think, perhaps like Gruden, that the single digit loss to Kansas City is a sign of good things to come for the squad ready to gamble on a new home in Las Vegas in two years. How else could one explain a point spread shift that has seen the number drop for the Raiders game on Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Oakland Coliseum? Oakland opened as an 11½ point underdog, today, the Steelers favorite role is reduced by as many as two points.
The Steelers still have a hold on first place in the AFC North Division, a game up on the Baltimore Ravens in the loss column. Since Ben Roethlisberger and company blew away the Carolina Panthers in a nationally televised Thursday night game last month, 52-21, they have struggled. They required a late rally to upend the Jacksonville Jaguars three weeks ago, lost on the road two weeks ago to the Denver Broncos, and allowed a 23-7 halftime lead to dissolve into a stinging home loss last Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Now Pittsburgh comes to Oakland, they are not coming to town to toy with the Raiders, but rather on full alert that they need this win to keep their magin over the Ravens. Sometimes, games are close because the better team is confident of a win and has no need to dominate, while other times a road team is in no mood to mess around and the result is more like a Chevy running over a possum on the freeway.
This week, Gruden will have no morale victory to tout in the losing locker room.
Qoxhi Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers (-10) over Oakland Raiders