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Raiders left to pick up the pieces of a lost season

PITTSBURGH — There was regret in the air on Saturday night as the Raiders quietly and methodically packed up their gear inside their locker room at Acrisure Stadium.

The analysis of another loss beckoned, just as it has eight other times in a troubled season that has created more questions than answers. This one, a 13-10 setback by a mediocre Steelers team quarterbacked by an inexperienced rookie, stung just as much as the others and for all the same reasons.

As they prepared to head to the airport for a late-night flight that would cross into Christmas morning, the sad state of affairs almost seemed predictable. Which is an amazing admission given the promise the season began with.

“As much as it sucks, tomorrow you got to get ready for the next one and that’s how it goes,” Derek Carr said solemnly. “But this one stings.”

As the Raiders (6-9) tried to digest the role they played in their undoing — a recurring theme this season — and the painful impact it had on their already slim playoff hopes, the loss to the Steelers became a microcosm of everything that went wrong this season.

Mainly, their inability to get out of their own way, whether in times of prosperity or when laser-sharp focus and efficiency were needed to make up ground.

Time and again on Saturday and this season, the Raiders shot themselves in the foot to blow leads or fall short of completing a comeback. Aside from the lone blowout loss they suffered at the hands of the Saints, they have been in every game, and a case could be made they should have won every game they lost.

Most troubling, though, is that you can draw the opposite conclusion from their wins, too. All of them could have easily been losses.

They are, quite clearly, the proverbial team that is just good enough to keep it close but just bad enough to also lose. And certainly, they are not deep or talented enough to overcome their weekly opponents while also having to battle their own selves and their nasty habit of administering self-inflicted wounds.

Changing that will be priority number one this offseason for Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler. And for the first time in nearly a decade, that could mean making the biggest change of all as they contemplate whether Carr is the right player at quarterback.

There will be plenty of time to decide that, of course. Of most immediate concern for the Raiders is untangling themselves from the mess they have created and figuring out whether they can muster two winning efforts over their last two games.

Both will be played with a sense of contrition over a season that surprisingly fell by the wayside.

“It’s disappointing,” said Raiders coach Josh McDaniels. “The guys work hard. … But to lose in this fashion when you have a shot to win, you realize you’re close, but close doesn’t really count in this league.”

No, it doesn’t.

“We are talented, but talent doesn’t mean wins,” said Carr. “And I’ve seen that firsthand and in different years. And so, when you look at it, you have to watch the film. You can’t just throw something out there and say this or that. You have to watch it and know it and see it and make the corrections.”

McDaniels shouldered his part of the blame.

“I have to do a better job of trying to close the gap on the things we’re not doing well so that we can make the plays we need to make to win,” McDaniels said.

It goes much deeper than that, of course. And that starts with constructing a roster capable of creating distance between the Raiders and their opponents. And one that can successfully embrace prosperity rather than squander it.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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