KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They will leave with thoughts of opportunity lost, but that’s only part of the story. The Raiders on “Monday Night Football” played and coached like a desperate team.
They had no choice. Darn near pulled it off, too.
But there are no moral victories in the NFL. Reality strikes hard today.
The journey might be too long and arduous now, trailing the Chiefs in the AFC West by three games. The quest for competing to be playoff worthy just took another massive blow.
Not hard to understand why. Look at the close scores from Sunday’s games across the NFL. Consider there are 20 teams with records of either 3-2 or 2-3.
Razor thin margin
The margin for error is closer than it ever has been, and teams such as the Raiders can’t afford even the slightest of slippage. They had just enough Monday to doom their chances.
They just don’t make plays when ones must be made. They just don’t execute in the most critical of times.
They also let it all hang out. They threw haymakers as if down on all three judges’ cards in the 12th round, swung from their heels as if trailing in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, took a few slap shots from center ice, stepped back for a 3-pointer down two with a second left.
Had to play this way against that opponent in this environment.
The Raiders went for it on fourth-and-1 early and cashed in with a 58-yard scoring pass from Derek Carr to Davante Adams. They threw deep again on third-and-6 with 4:34 remaining and watched Carr hit Adams from 48 yards.
They went for a two-point conversion down 30-29 and failed.
It was the right decision. Just didn’t convert.
“I’m on board with that,” Carr said. “I liked (going for it). Players love being aggressive. We were that close from being up 31-30.”
They were sloppy. Had nine penalties after taking a 20-10 lead. They did things such as hold on a fourth-quarter field goal, giving Kansas City a new set of downs. Four plays later, the Chiefs scored for a 30-23 lead with 7:30 remaining.
They did things such as yank a face mask late in the second quarter that led to a Kansas City field goal.
They tempted the margin for error and failed.
Here’s the thing: The Raiders couldn’t have asked, hoped — prayed? — for a better start.
One key to winning at Arrowhead — and there aren’t many, given how incredibly difficult it is — begins with taking the massive ocean of red out of things.
There isn’t a louder place in the NFL, and it was quieted in the first 20 minutes or so.
Which happens when you roll up a 17-0 lead nearly midway through the second quarter.
But calm turned to deafening boos after an awful roughing the passer call against Kansas City tackle Chris Jones on Carr late in the half, which seemed to stir something within the Chiefs. Woke a sleeping giant.
Losing the marathon
“This is a marathon,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said. “If it was a sprint, we lost the sprint. We understand what these games mean, and they each matter. They’re each significant at the end of your season. We know that. They add up.”
Think of the team’s final play, the Raiders facing fourth-and-1 from their 46 and 47 seconds remaining.
Instead of pounding running back Josh Jacobs and his already career-high 154 yards rushing and probably getting a fresh set of downs, Carr threw deep and watched as Adams and Hunter Renfrow collided.
The ball fell incomplete. The game was over.
Swung for the fences, went for the knockout, stepped back for that last-second 3.
Just didn’t —couldn’t — finish.
The story of a 1-4 team.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at [email protected] He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.