KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If Jon Gruden wanted a snapshot of where his “program” was entering the final month of his second season as Raiders coach, he got it with 6:56 remaining in the third quarter Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Rookie cornerback Trayvon Mullen, after an end-zone interception of Patrick Mahomes, took the ball, went to the back right corner of the end zone and proceeded to mug for the cameras with some of his defensive teammates.
The scoreboard at the time read: Chiefs 24, Raiders 0.
Actually, scratch that. Mullen’s interception didn’t even count — it was reversed on replay. The Chiefs scored on the next play to lead 31-0.
Say cheese, boys.
The Raiders ended up falling 40-9 to the Chiefs, a second straight loss by a combined score of 74-12.
In other words, Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have a lot of work to do.
“They are a very good football team,” said a sullen Gruden. “We had 12 penalties. I don’t think they had any. The turnovers, penalties were a big part of this game. We’ve got to learn from this, and I have to take it upon myself.
“The penalties and turnovers are the two things that will do you in, in big games in December when everything on the line.”
This was supposed to be the game when Gruden’s Raiders showed how much progress they had made. This was a December game, on the road, in cold weather and with first place in the AFC West on the line.
This is the type of game you play and coach for. Win the game, you’re tied for the division lead with four winnable games remaining, the next two in the Black Hole.
Lose and the playoffs are very much a long shot, and the focus soon turns to the continued rebuild in the offseason.
How did the Raiders answer the bell?
After Darren Waller’s offensive pass interference penalty resulted in a net loss of 15 yards, Derek Carr got baited into an interception by Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu. A Benson Mayoma presnap penalty gave the Chiefs a much more manageable third down, and they scored on the next play. Two more presnap penalties short-circuited the Raiders’ next possession. Nevin Lawson’s defensive hold extended a Chiefs drive that put them up 14-0, and then Juan Thornhill read Carr like a book on a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown.
It was 21-0 Chiefs with 3:42 remaining in the second quarter. The game was over. Before halftime.
“We have a really good team,” said running back Josh Jacobs, who could be seen on the sideline in the second quarter pleading with Gruden to give him more touches (he had 95 yards on 14 carries in the first half). “We’re not necessarily showcasing it right now, which is the biggest thing that’s frustrating me.”
The most disappointing part of this game is that the Raiders’ much-maligned defense, which was supposed to be the Achilles’ heel against the high-powered Chiefs, actually did what it needed to do by keeping the Raiders in the game.
If you asked Gruden before the game if he’d take the Chiefs averaging 3.3 yards per rush, Patrick Mahomes throwing for 175 yards and a 81.8 passer rating, holding Travis Kelce under 100 yards and Tyreek Hill to just 51 total yards, he probably would have asked, “Who are we playing in the postseason?”
Turnovers and penalties
Instead, his team was run off the field by halftime because Gruden’s prized offense turned the ball over twice for 14 points, and his team continued to be undisciplined with 12 penalties for 99 yards, while the Chiefs had none.
“I think our inability to stay away from penalties and put ourselves in horrible situations,” said Gruden, when asked what he was most disappointed about. “We had the turnovers in the kicking game. I think we had four defensive false starts. We had a pick six. We just never found a rhythm at all.
“This is disappointing, but I know where we are. I know where (the Chiefs) are as a football team. We have work to do, and we are going to continue to try and catch the Chiefs.”
The Chiefs are headed toward their fifth straight AFC West title. The Raiders likely will be watching for the 16th time in 17 seasons.
There’s no doubt the Raiders are improved with elite talents like Jacobs, Darren Waller, Rodney Hudson, Richie Incognito and Maxx Crosby. Gruden’s program is on the right track.
But, right now, they have a very narrow path to victory. They can’t turn the ball over against a team like the Chiefs and expect to win. They can’t commit presnap penalties and expect to overcome them.
The Chiefs can. They’re that talented. The Raiders are not.
The scoreboard told us that much.
Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.