With their division lead long gone, playoff hopes fading and coming off perhaps their most bitter loss of the season, Coach Hue Jackson and the Oakland Raiders' season essentially comes down to one game.
Jackson, a former Glendale Community College quarterback, and the reeling Raiders (7-7) travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the bitter AFC West Division-rival Kansas City Chiefs (6-8) on Saturday, needing a win to stay in the race for the playoffs either as the division winner or by clinching a wild-card berth.
With the Denver Broncos leading the division at 8-6 and the San Diego Chargers right in the mix, as well, at 7-7, all four teams are still alive, although the Broncos can control their destiny just by winning out, while the other three would need to win while also keeping an eye on the out-of-town scoreboard. The Chiefs enter Saturday's tilt with some clear momentum, having just knocked off the previously unbeaten defending Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers, while the Raiders are mired in a three-game losing streak that was prolonged by last week's 28-27 home loss to the Detroit Lions.
"Three weeks ago we were 7-4 and feeling pretty good about ourselves and now all of a sudden we've gotten to .500, so that's not where we want to be," Jackson told STATS. "I think we understand the predicament that we have put ourselves in. So what we need to do is get the ship riding and go to Kansas City and play well."
Easier said than done, perhaps, for a team that has seen little go right since vaulting into first place with a 25-20 win over the Chicago Bears on Nov. 27 and now faces a rivalry game against a defending division champion in one of the most hostile road environments in the league. On Sunday, Oakland held a 13-point lead and was 7:47 away from ending a skid that began with consecutive losses to the Miami Dolphins and Packers. But the Lions quickly closed the gap with two scores, including the go-ahead 98-yard drive culminated with 39 seconds left in the game.
To make the loss all the more heartbreaking, kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who booted an NFL-record tying 63-yarder earlier this season, got a shot at a 65-yard field goal as time expired, but the attempt was blocked.
"Obviously it was a tough loss; I mean that was probably as tough a loss that I've been involved with in a long time," Jackson told reporters during a press conference on Wednesday in a transcript posted on the team's official web site. "We did some really good things and obviously at the end didn't do enough good things to finish the game. Obviously, when you go back and you look at a game like that there's plays you wish you had back, there's calls you wish you had back. But at the end of the day you lost, 28-27, you don't get those back. So, tough and we got to keep learning and growing from it."
The Raiders, who close out the regular season with a home game against the Chargers on Jan. 1, will again be without standout running back Darren McFadden, who hasn't played since spraining his foot in the Raiders' 28-0 home loss to the Chiefs on Oct. 23. Receiver Jacoby Ford is also doubtful, leaving running back Michael Bush and receiver Darius Heyward-Bey as the top weapons for quarterback Carson Palmer. Meanwhile, the Chiefs will continue to look to improve under newly acquired quarterback Kyle Orton, who passed for 299 yards in his Chiefs debut on Sunday.
"I think it's the focus. I think we got to go in there focused and play Raider football," Jackson indicated to reporters as the key to the game. "Which is we can't turn it over, we have to get turnovers, we have to do a great job on special teams, and then we have to finish consistently every play. Whether it's a play that's two yards or whether it's a play that's 20 yards, we got to play consistently for four quarters and finish the game."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times