OAKLAND — Whether it’s fair or not to define the decision within a vacuum, cut off from the countless others an NFL head coach might make over 60 minutes, isn’t the point.
If trust was the central reasoning for why Jack Del Rio made the call he did at the most critical part of his team’s game Sunday, someone didn’t earn his confidence.
He either trusted an ineffective defense too much or an offense led by a backup quarterback not at all.
Either way, the result wasn’t good.
The Raiders lost for a third straight time in falling to Baltimore 30-17 before 54,980 at the Coliseum, the beginning of three consecutive home games for a silver and black side that that is beyond pedestrian in almost every area right now.
“We just keep getting our ass whupped,” said Raiders running back Jalen Richard. “I guess it’s going to come down to when we’re tired of getting our ass whupped.”
Well after a disastrous beginning, when a Ravens team that hadn’t scored in either first half of their two previous games led 14-0 before most fans found their seats, the Raiders were actually still breathing midway through the fourth quarter.
They trailed 27-17 when facing a fourth-and-3 from the Baltimore 44 and 8:50 remaining, having used the previous four minutes to move the ball from the 20.
Del Rio chose to punt, and if that surprises you, it should for many reasons.
It’s not to say his has been a coaching career defined by countless gambles, but this is the same guy who went for 2 at New Orleans last season to win and has definitely shown a taste to be more aggressive than not in such times.
There is also this: A 16-game season offers different types of crossroads, some far more significant than others, and the Raiders certainly faced one Sunday with a 2-2 record and chasing undefeated Kansas City in the AFC West.
They were at home. They had a manageable distance to earn the first down. They had a defense on the sideline that in its previous series had allowed a 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive to Baltimore that covered over five minutes.
They needed two scores.
They needed to go for it.
“Hindsight is always 20/20 on things like that,” Del Rio said. “You’re thinking you’re going to pin them inside the 10 and we didn’t. You’re thinking the defense will give us a stop and get us the ball back, and we didn’t. A fourth-down call with nine minutes left in the game, 10 minutes, was that the difference? I don’t think so.”
Again, 8:50 isn’t 10 and while it wasn’t the total difference, it was huge.
Marquette King’s punt, 47.4 percent of which have been downed inside the 20 this season, went into the end zone for a touchback. The defense not only didn’t stop Baltimore, but was gashed for a 13-play, 54-yard scoring drive that left no doubt in the outcome and, while lasting 6:26, probably felt like twice that to Del Rio.
It’s true King should be expected to do his part, but the Raiders were shaky defensively from the game’s first play — a 52-yard completion from Joe Flacco to Mike Wallace.
There is also the idea about EJ Manuel playing quarterback for the Raiders over the injured Derek Carr, and if Del Rio would have chosen a different path had his $125 million starter been under center.
“I play football,” Richard said. “I’m not an (offensive coordinator). I’m not a head coach who has to (balance) the risk and reward. It would have been cool for them to say, ‘Hey, y’all go get it.’ But they made their decision and we trusted it and walked off the field. If we don’t trust them, it’s never going to work. If they don’t trust us, it’s not going to work. There has to be trust among everybody.”
Who, really, then, did or didn’t Del Rio trust?
The odds his strategy for punting would work given how the game had played out to that point was about as certain as fans being happy with it, which by the loud chorus of boos ringing throughout the stadium as King trotted onto the field told you where the faithful stood.
The Raiders allowed scoring drives of 75, 75, 70, 72 and 54 yards.
And yet when the game’s most critical call needed to be made, Del Rio believed his defense was good enough.
Or his offense wasn’t.
Either way, the result wasn’t good and the Raiders are three games back of the Chiefs and going the wrong way.
Football games aren’t played in a vacuum, but they are defined by specific moments.
At his team’s biggest one Sunday, Del Rio whiffed.
They needed to go for it.
They needed to at least try and give themselves a chance.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.