CARSON, Calif. — At left tackle, Derek Carr had a rookie whose balky knee brace protected a Grade II MCL sprain. At right tackle, he had a rookie from North Carolina A&T making his first career NFL start. At left guard, his Pro Bowler did not make the trip because of a knee injury.
One false start on goal-to-go. Two false starts on third-and-short. Three sacks allowed.
And now, a 1-4 record.
Gutted by injury, the Raiders’ offensive line showed grit to push through pain, something they’ve done at varying degrees since their Sept. 10 opener. But issues up front, when combined with a Carr interception on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, rendered the Raiders unable to keep pace with the Los Angeles Chargers in a 26-10 loss at StubHub Center.
The offense managed 294 total yards, a season low, one week after 565, a season high.
“We only got the ball four times in the second half,” coach Jon Gruden said. “Field position was very tough. I think we’ll press a little bit. I think the play calling needs to improve, and that’s my job. We have to play better collectively than we did today.”
Left tackle Kolton Miller likely won’t receive a shiny grade from the statistic service Pro Football Focus.
But with his injury, he deserves distinction for playing at all.
The first-round pick suffered the knee sprain in the first half of last Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. He’s played through it since, despite the ailment restricting his mobility against the likes of Los Angeles edge rusher Melvin Ingram.
Miller allowed two sacks.
Left guard Jon Feliciano, who started for Kelechi Osemele, volunteered responsibility for a third from their side. Feliciano started in place for Osemele, whose knee injury is believed to be similar in nature to Miller’s.
Unlike Osemele with Feliciano, Miller did not have the luxury of a proven backup. Justin Murray worked at second-team left tackle in pregame warmups. Entering Sunday, he hadn’t played a regular-season NFL snap. And so, Miller gave the Raiders what he had.
He and right tackle Brandon Parker were each flagged for a false start on third-and-2. Feliciano was on second-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
“He’s not 100 percent,” coach Jon Gruden said of Miller. “Most linemen aren’t. I am proud of our two rookie tackles, proud of Feliciano. Those guys stepped in there, and two turnovers hurt us today. We had one at midfield and one at the 1-yard line.”
The one at the 1-yard line stood out.
It’s easy to appreciate the logic behind the call itself. The Raiders are built to run the football near the goal line. They would be expected to hand it to running back Marshawn Lynch with fullback Keith Smith blasting a linebacker in the A or B gap to help clear an inside path.
This expectation is why Gruden called a play action.
Ingram was among the Chargers defenders who bit on the tendency breaker; however, Ingram recovered and reacted, dropping into coverage and clogging a passing lane to tight end Derek Carrier for the interception. The Chargers then consumed more than seven minutes of game clock when driving 96 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown.
Instead of the score being 20-10, it was 26-3 in the fourth quarter.
That largely decided it.
“I wasn’t trying to force it or anything like that,” Carr said. “I saw our guy win. … That was the one that I wish I had back today.”
On average, the Raiders opened possession at their own 21-yard line.
They never started beyond their own 26.
The offense needed to drive 70-plus yards all afternoon to find the end zone, something it didn’t accomplish until late in the fourth quarter via a 1-yard quick pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Poor field position against a high-octane Chargers offense — quarterback Philip Rivers completed 22 of 27 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns — made the assignment tall enough for the offense.
Its injuries up front — center Rodney Hudson (ankle) and right guard Gabe Jackson (pectoral) battled, too — only exacerbated it.