The NFL postseason, which looked so promising for the Las Vegas Raiders a few weeks ago, now appears to be a long shot at best.
The Raiders’ defense saw to that as the Indianapolis Colts were in control virtually start to finish in posting a 44-27 win over Las Vegas Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.
The Raiders were chasing the Colts for a wild card berth and had they been successful, would’ve pulled even at 8-5. Instead, Jon Gruden’s crew fell to 7-6 and time is running short. Las Vegas hosts the Chargers Thursday night, then, takes on Miami Dec. 26 before finishing up on the road at Denver Jan. 3. Not only will they need to run the table but they’re going to require a lot of help if they’re to be part of the expanded playoff picture.
“We’re running out of time and we’re running out of players,” Gruden said. “We lost (Clelin) Ferrell and (Johnathan) Abram went out. We’ve got to find some healthy players.”
How leaky is the defense? In their last four games, the Raiders have surrendered an average of 37.5 points. Obviously, turnovers by the offense have contributed to the problem but it’s something that Gruden has addressed but has been unable to fix.
.@KennyKennyMoe3 is good at football.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 13, 2020
“We’ve got to find some players and we’ve got to clean up some things,” Gruden said. “To be a championship football team you’ve got to be good in all three phases.”
He did at least one thing following the game. The team announced it has let defensive coordinator Paul Guenther go and have installed Rod Marinelli as the interim defensive coordinator for the remainder of the season.
The team’s struggles on that side of the ball have been an ongoing issue and Sunday was no exception. Things started badly for the Raiders on the game’s very first play as they were flagged for pass interference. It didn’t improve as Rivers, the 39-year-old who’s in his 17th NFL season and someone who has had success against the Raiders during his days with the Chargers, picked them apart. He and Colts coach Frank Reich seemed to be one step ahead of Guenther’s defense the entire afternoon and it showed in the numbers.
Rivers was an impressive 19 for 28 for 244 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to T.Y. Hilton. He also benefitted from a strong ground game as Jonathan Taylor rushed for 150 yards and two TDs. In all, the Colts amassed 456 yards against the Las Vegas defense. That was likely the final straw in Guenther’s three-year run with the Raiders.
Gruden also bears some responsibility for some questionable offensive play-calling in the Indianapolis red zone. Three times the Raiders were deep in Colts territory and it resulted in a Derek Carr interception and two field goals. It’s hard to win a game at any level of football, particularly in the NFL, when you’re trading touchdowns for field goals.
“I thought we moved the ball well,” Gruden said as his team had 424 yards of total offense. “It got a little helter skelter in the red zone but we were going up against a top-five defense.”
When you mix in turnovers into the equation, it is truly a recipe for disaster and a fumble by Hunter Renfrow following a reception and a ball that went off the hands of Jalen Richard and wound up a pick-6 interception for Indianapolis snuffed out any potential comeback.
“I don’t second guess anything,” said Carr, who threw for 316 yards on 31-of-45 passing. “They call the plays and I try to execute them.
“In a game like this, every possession matters. If you don’t hit on them, it usually doesn’t end well.”
It’s a short week for the Raiders as they look to get up off the deck, dust themselves off and get ready for Thursday’s nationally televised game with L.A. They beat the Chargers last month at SoFi Stadium in what was a wild affair which came down to the game’s final play, 31-26. But they continue to remain banged up on defense and at this point, nothing should be considered guaranteed.
“The game’s going to have a short shelf life for us,” said tight end Foster Moreau, who made a nice grab and scored the Raiders’ first touchdown in the first quarter on a nice 47-yard hookup with Carr. “We’ve got to get our wits about us and get ready for a good Chargers team.”
Defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins said: “We’ve got three games to go and we’ve got a chance to win all three. We can’t let one game deter us.”
Gruden said his focus is on the smaller picture.
“I don’t want to hear anymore about the playoffs,” he said. “We have to take care of our business on Thursday. It’s tough right now, but you’ve got to stay positive.”