Jason Witten was brought to Las Vegas for his presence. His experience. His veteran voice in a locker room of young ears. For times like this.
“I don’t believe in moral victories,” Witten said. “I really don’t.”
The tight end spoke as his Raiders coaches and teammates felt the anguish of a job left undone in a 35-31 loss to Kansas City on Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium.
The Raiders are now 6-4 a season removed from being, well, 6-4 after 10 games. But what transpired last year — the Raiders losing five of their final six to finish 7-9 and out of the playoffs — would have a difficult time repeating itself.
They’re too good for that now.
Or at least appear so.
Expect to win
Nobody has figured out the Super Bowl champions this season better than the Raiders, who have handed Kansas City its only loss against nine wins and were under two minutes from getting the Chiefs again Sunday night.
The Raiders didn’t cover All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce much all night. They certainly didn’t on that final drive.
I don’t know if the Chiefs had their team buses take any victory laps afterward. I would guess not. They expect to win.
Here’s the crazy part: So too should have the Raiders.
“Where this team is at, in the third year under (head coach Jon Gruden), we feel we can play with anybody,” Witten said. “That’s the type of team we expect to have. At the same time, it’s a young team and we need to remind them — 60 minutes with the world champs, who are real good. We have a lot of respect for them … We took them all the way down to the wire.”
The Raiders have a playoff offense. It was on display again Sunday. Few times has Derek Carr looked this good, this much in control, this composed as the Raiders quarterback. Gruden called a terrific game. The Raiders played well enough on that side to sweep the Chiefs. Just couldn’t stop them, is all.
Some which ails the Raiders can be fixed. The issues with COVID-19 continue, but if they could ever get a handle on things when it comes to pandemic protocols, that too should come under control.
It’s the defense. Same story. As well as the Raiders moved the ball at times Sunday, they just aren’t a complete enough team to overcome allowing the sort of long, time-consuming drives Mahomes was able to manufacture.
Missing several defensive regulars at practice this week as they spent time on the COVID-19 list was hardly the ideal way to prepare for such an opponent. So things got predictably sloppy. The Raiders penalized eight times for 72 yards.
And yet they were still there in the end, still driving 75 yards in 12 plays to take a 31-28 lead with 1:43 remaining, still with every chance to pull an upset after Carr found Witten from 1 yard out for the team’s final score.
“It’s hard to swallow right now,” Gruden said. “We’re giving great effort. We have to get some people back. Hopefully, we can. We have six more (games) guaranteed to us that, hopefully, we will take advantage of.”
Defense the same
This isn’t the 6-4 of last year. This is a better team. Better offense. Better chance to outscore most anyone if needed, and it probably will be often down the stretch.
I can’t believe the Raiders are awaking Monday with a defense exponentially better than what we have come to expect. So you get it as healthy and as capable as possible those final six games. There have been signs. The second half at Kansas City. At Cleveland. The blowout win against Denver.
“These are the types of games you want to play in coming into November and early December,” Witten said. “We have a lot of football ahead of us. Disappointing loss. It’s not, ‘Oh, man, we were close.’ That’s not the mentality. It’s disappointment.”
That’s why he was brought here.
To remind young ears that losing is never good enough.
But also that it’s a different season.
A different kind of 6-4.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached 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 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.