Updated October 4, 2021 - 10:06 pm
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — First came the thunder. Then the rain. And before anyone knew it, the Chargers unleashed a lightning bolt so powerful it identified, exposed and then seized upon every nagging Raiders flaw.
The result was a 28-14 Chargers win that sent the Raiders (3-1) limping back to Las Vegas trying to figure out how to locate the on-button quicker to start games, get better blocking from a shaky offensive line and, perhaps most importantly, get healthy in a hurry in the secondary.
“We cannot come out and take that many punches in the first round,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden, pointing to the 21-0 first-half deficit they tried to overcome.
It was the third time this year the Raiders have trailed by two touchdowns or more to start a game.
Said wide receiver Hunter Renfrow: “That’s something we’ve got to do better. Look ourselves in the mirror and come out and play better.”
After a forgettable first half in which they had more penalty yards (53) than offensive yards (51), managed just one first down and surrendered 248 yards to Justin Herbert and the Chargers, the Raiders came roaring back with 14 straight points to start the first half. They then reached the L.A. 35-yard line on a 51-yard throw from Derek Carr to Henry Ruggs.
But it was merely a tease and, really, more proof of some of their issues.
Facing a second and five at the Chargers 30, their inability to run the ball consistently forced a third down that, when the blocking up front faltered again, resulted in Carr taking a 6-yard sack.
Rather than scoring a tying touchdown, the Raiders moved backward. Instead of a manageable 46-yard field goal to further cut into the lead, Danial Carlson pushed a more formidable 52-yard attempt wide left.
Net result: A big fat zero.
The Chargers, sensing blood, marched 58 yards over 10 plays to essentially put the game out of reach on an 11-yard TD run by Austin Ekeler to make it 28-14.
Yes, it was the Raiders’ first loss. No doubt, they would have readily signed up for a 3-1 start to this season, which is exactly where they find themselves.
But the record doesn’t hide some of the frustrating truths they face.
“We don’t start games nearly good enough yet,” said Carr, who finished 21-for-34 passing for 196 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Their inability to play efficient football early in games — with a big finger pointed directly at a rebuilt offensive line that simply hasn’t played well enough — has meant falling into huge holes.
Certainly, the weather delay that pushed kickoff back 35 minutes didn’t help matters. But the Chargers were dealing with the same situation and came out flying.
At home, against the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins, Carr and the Raiders had the necessary firepower to bounce back and win after falling behind 14-0. But it was only a matter of time before the Raiders ventured too far into dangerous territory against an opponent too good to offer up an escape room.
The Chargers and Herbert were that opponent. Herbert, working against a Raiders defense that lost starting cornerback Trayvon Mullen and his backup, Damon Arnette, to first-half injuries and starting slot corner Nate Hobbs to a concussion in the second half, finished 25 of 38 for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Ekeler gained 117 yards on 15 carries as the Chargers churned out 168 yards on 34 carries.
The impressive balance is exactly what the Raiders seek. But an offensive line that has yet to jell could not get the necessary push.
So while the Chargers chewed up yards and clock, the Raiders could do neither while running for just 48 yards on 17 carries. The clock disparity told the tale: The Chargers had the ball for 34:42, the Raiders 25:18.
Contact Vincent Bonsignore at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.