KANSAS CITY, Mo — The cold, wet, dreary conditions that welcomed the Raiders to Kansas City on Friday night seemed appropriate for a team still recovering from an inexplicable blowout loss to the New York Jets five days earlier.
By Saturday morning the rain had stopped, the sun nudged the dark clouds aside and the region glistened.
Opportunity hung in the air.
A win at 1:25 p.m. Sunday against the Chiefs would pull the Raiders (6-5) into a first-place tie with the Chiefs (7-4) atop the AFC West. That might seem implausible given the humbling loss the Raiders are coming off and how the Chiefs have dominated them over the last six years and the well-chronicled struggles of quarterback Derek Carr in cold-weather conditions.
“We’re still good at football,” Carr reminded everybody afterward. “We’re still a good football team.”
It will take much more than good to leave Kansas City with a share of first place. In fact it will require a complete reversal of some ugly trends and flawless execution on both sides of the ball. Whatever margin of error existed against the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions is not available against the Chiefs.
As the Raiders learned in their last meeting against Kansas City on Sept. 15, Patrick Mahomes will take advantage of every mental mistake, miscommunication and unforced error with a big-play capability that can strike and stun from any position on the field. At one point, the Raiders led 10-0. But Mahomes and the Chiefs crushed their spirit with a 28-0 run over a 14-minute stretch of the second quarter that included touchdown throws of 44, 43, 27 and 39 yards.
The Raiders never recovered in a 28-10 loss.
“A couple of plays we gave up were blown coverages, really,” Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “Guys were out of position on a couple of those touchdowns. We just have to stay on top of the receivers, do a good job of the communication and change of strength and all that stuff.”
It also will require Carr slaying his demons in cold-weather conditions and a stadium that has been his house of horrors. He is 0-5 with five interceptions against three touchdowns in his last five games there, completing 55 percent of his passes and averaging 186 yards passing a game.
In games where the temperature dips below 40 degrees — and that is the forecast for Sunday — Carr is 0-4 with a 51 percent completion rate with four interceptions against three touchdowns — and he’s averaging 152 yards passing per game.
Carr has played on some pretty bad Raiders teams over the years. It’s impossible to point out his failures at Arrowhead Stadium and in cold weather without also mentioning the lack of help he’s had alongside him.
This is a different Raiders team, though, with a much better offensive line, a star-in-the-making in rookie running back Josh Jacobs and an emerging tight end in Darren Waller. Even without a dynamic No. 1 wide receiver in Hunter Renfrow, who was ruled out for Sunday with a rib injury, Carr has enough of a supporting cast to rise above his cold-weather struggles.
The Chiefs defense offers plenty of vulnerabilities to exploit, giving up the seventh most yards per game in the NFL (375.7), the third-most rushing yards per game (143.1) and the 14th most points at 23.1. There is legitimate opportunity to build a run foundation with Jacobs and for Carr to work off it in play action pass.
Even in the cold weather.
The Raiders were wounded last Sunday against the Jets, but the blow wasn’t fatal. And as the sun glistened above mostly blue skies in Kansas City, the sense of opportunity was evident. Seizing it, though, is as much about the Raiders as it will be the Chiefs.
Who: Raiders at Chiefs
When: 1:25 p.m. Sunday
Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
TV/Radio: KLAS-8, KYMT-FM (93.1)
Line: Chiefs -10½; total 50½