The Raiders dropped to 0-3 on Sunday in a game decided for the third straight week on what amounted to the last significant play of the game.
A path to turning their season around may lie not as much in trying to find a way to come out on the right side of those coin-flip moments. Instead, the goal should be to avoid them altogether.
“Everybody points to the last play or the 2-point conversion at the end, whatever it is,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said Monday at the team facility. “There’s more opportunities in the game in all three phases that could easily have swung the game one way or the other.
“So we have to look at each opportunity, regardless of when it happens, as an opportunity to gain an advantage in the game and ultimately win. It doesn’t have to come down to the last play or the last drive or the last series.”
Sunday’s rally fell short when a potential game-tying 2-point conversion failed on a tipped pass attempt. But the team earlier scored touchdowns on just two of its six drives that entered the red zone and went 1-for-12 on third down.
Last week is remembered for the Cardinals’ rally that resulted in a victory when they returned a Hunter Renfrow fumble 59 yards for a touchdown in overtime.
Not mentioned as frequently was the 3-and-out drive early in the fourth quarter when the Raiders threw three straight incompletions with a 23-7 lead and promptly punted the ball back to Arizona.
The Raiders had the ball and a chance to win late in the opener against the Chargers only to have the drive stall out. But three earlier possessions were halted by turnovers and another promising march had its momentum killed by a trick play that backfired, ultimately ending with a field goal.
“There’s three or four plays in every game that change the outcome,” McDaniels said. “And those plays might happen in the second quarter or the third quarter.
“Our execution from the beginning to the end, that’s what we need to work on to try to improve and make winning plays all four quarters.”
That has been one of the biggest reasons the Raiders have found themselves in such high-pressure moments late in game. They have played one very good half and one forgettable one in each of the three games.
McDaniels knows that can’t continue if his team is going to be successful. They need to find consistency, which he says can only be accomplished through preparation and hard work on the practice field and the meeting rooms every day.
“There’s no shortcuts,” he said. “There’s no pill we can take to solve that. We have the answers. We are the answers. We just need to go out there and do it with one another and for one another.”
There are also more specific areas where the Raiders will look to make strides, starting with improving their success rate in the red zone, where they rank 26th in the league, and finding more balance on offense.
McDaniels said he was mostly pleased with the play of the offensive line on Sunday, particularly in the run game. Some of the breakdowns in pass protection came when the offense was forced to exclusively drop back and throw when they were in catch-up mode late in the game.
“Again, part of our problem is if we would stay out of that situation, we wouldn’t have that issue,” McDaniels said.
There is some solace to be taken from how close the Raiders have been in each of their three losses despite some of the things they have done poorly.
“We know we can make better progress here as we go forward and we know we can do it quickly,” McDaniels said. “I have no issues with the way we work and compete. That’s clear. You can see that every Sunday. We’re battling right to the very end.
“For that, they need to be commended for their effort and attitude and their competitive spirit. We just need to make a few more plays as we go along through the course of the game so we can start turning some Ws.”