Updated November 26, 2023 - 7:16 pm
Between the gloomy looks and hushed tones inside the Raiders’ locker room after their 31-17 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium, the sense of opportunity lost was readily present.
But so was a frustrating realization that was too impossible to ignore, whether it was from the players or anyone who watched the Chiefs smother the Raiders with a 31-3 run after spotting them a 14-0 second-quarter lead.
From the interim coach and offensive coordinator to the rookie quarterback and right down the line, this version of the Raiders isn’t ready for the type of prosperity that materialized for them.
Certainly not against the defending Super Bowl champions, anyway. And it’s fair to wonder whether they are ready to handle anyone who doesn’t dwell among the lower rung of the NFL.
“As the game went on, for four quarters, they became the better team,” interim coach Antonio Pierce said after his team fell to 5-7. “We had a quarter here or there, and as the game goes on, there’s a reason why Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in football and (Travis) Kelce’s there.”
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially after getting off to such a great start with touchdown drives on two of their first three drives, including a 63-yard TD run from Josh Jacobs.
“Going against them, you’ve got to find a way — especially if you go up like that,” cornerback Amik Robertson said. “Stand on their throats. That’s for both sides of the ball.”
Easier said than done for a club whose only win over a team with a .500 record came against the now 6-5 Broncos in the season opener.
But with Pierce and interim offensive coordinator Bo Hardegree learning on the job and Aidan O’Connell going through the inevitable roller-coaster ride of an NFL rookie quarterback and an offensive line that has yet to own the line of scrimmage, it’s hard to garner much hope.
That isn’t a knock or a criticism, or even a snub. It’s just the cold, hard truth for a team with too much inexperience at too many vital spots and simply isn’t good enough at others.
Among the harsh lessons Pierce will ponder during the Raiders’ bye week is his decision to kick a field goal despite the Raiders being barely a yard from a first down at the Chiefs’ 12-yard line. The usually reliable Daniel Carlson missed the 30-yard kick, but that wasn’t the point. Leading 7-0 with a chance to take control, the Raiders should have gone for the first down.
“I’m not going to second guess myself,” Pierce said. “We went into the game with a certain mindset that if we got opportunities to put on points, let’s put on points.”
Pierce also gambled and lost on his decision to challenge a nebulous first-quarter spot that left the Raiders just a yard from a first down. The risk of losing a challenge and timeout, which ultimately happened when the call was upheld, was far greater than the gain. The Raiders got the first down on the next play, so the challenge proved to be a costly and unneeded reach.
Hardegree, who took over offensive coordinator duties when Josh McDaniels was fired four weeks ago, made some head-scratching play calls.
A slow-developing handoff to Jacobs on a fourth-quarter fourth down, when all that was needed was a quarterback sneak, was cut down behind the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs took over at the Raiders’ 17 and extended their lead to 31-17 on a field goal.
After the Chiefs cut the Raiders’ lead to 14-7 in the second quarter and the Raiders needed to regain momentum, they went nowhere on their ensuing drive after a second-and-10 handoff to little-used backup Zamir White that got stopped for no gain. On the next play, a short throw to Ameer Abdullah fell 8 yards short of a first down.
Mahomes and the Chiefs took advantage after AJ Cole’s punt with an eight-play, 79-yard touchdown drive to make the score 14-14.
Just like that, the Chiefs took control.
O’Connell played admirably while completing 23 of 33 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown, but it’s clear by the play calling that Hardegree and Pierce aren’t comfortable cutting him loose. Thus, the rookie wasn’t able to take advantage of opportunities to connect with Davante Adams and others when there were plays to be made downfield.
The Raiders offense was essentially nonexistent after the positive start.
“It’s hard to do that against this team, to not put drives together,” O’Connell said, “We kept our defense on the field for too long.”