If a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step, the Raiders took theirs Sunday . . . straight up the middle. For variety, it seemed they ran off tackle.
Was this game plan conservative?
Let’s just say, you wouldn’t have minded being paid by the Al Davis expletive.
Whether it was to attack the Chiefs’ defense, or to help reintroduce their young quarterback to the new backfield and newly reassembled line, it got the Raiders over the hump. Steve Beuerlein completed 18 of his 29 passes, the Raider high-water mark of the season, and they dumped the Chiefs, 17-10, at the Coliseum.
The Raiders are 4-5, which is to say still contenders in the Western .500.
“We’re still 4-0 in the AFC West,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. “We told our team . . . our season is going to start today, and we’re off to the start that we wanted.”
A win is a win is a win, and nothing to sneer at in this division. However, the Raiders couldn’t put 1-7-1 Kansas City away, and their defense got hit for 147 rushing yards, including the first touchdown the Chiefs have scored on the ground all season.
Also, as a reminder of how much steam the Raiders have lost, the crowd was 36,103, their smallest since moving to Los Angeles in 1982.
Said linebacker Matt Millen: “We played terrible. The only encouraging thing, as poorly as we played, we still won.”
There were a few more encouraging things: Beuerlein; Tim Brown, who caught 8 passes for 95 yards; and Bo Jackson, who returned from last week’s hamstring strain to run for 80 yards and a 4.7 average, including a 22-yard power-and-blur bolt into the end zone for the first touchdown.
Mostly, these old rivals just tried to stuff the ball down each other’s throats.
The first Raider possession went 78 yards in 11 plays, 9 of them runs. It ended when Jackson started off right tackle, cut back into the center of the line, ran past nose tackle Mike Stensrud in the hole, was hit by linebacker Jack Del Rio, bounced off him and streaked through the outstretched arms of half the Chiefs’ secondary. The one, the only, Bo strikes again.
“I cut it back at the line of scrimmage ducked a linebacker and it was there,” Jackson said.
Yeah, maybe for a 230-pounder with 4.2 speed it was there, but he is, so it was.
All was going swimmingly, if not spectacularly, for the silver and black until the 2nd period.
Then, with a 4th and 1 at his own 36, Chief Coach Frank Gansz elected to go for it. So what if it was a short yard? So what if Lamar Hunt isn’t saying anything, you think Gansz isn’t feeling the heat?
Anyway, Bill Kenney sneaked for the 1st down . . . and the Chiefs then proceeded to run the ball down the Raiders’ throats. They ran 9 times in the next 10 plays for 4, 3, 5, 6, 13, 5, 7, 4 and 3 yards.
The last came on a 1st and goal at the 3, guard Mark Adickes leading Paul Palmer around right end and into the end zone.
There are several reasons the Raiders couldn’t have been overjoyed:
--A top defense, which is what the Raiders have been through this decade, doesn’t let anyone do this to them.
--The Chiefs hadn’t scored a rushing touchdown since the 1st quarter of their final Seattle game last season.
Onward and upward. Having taken this punch to the collective sternum, the Raiders counterattacked in the same style: a 67-yard touchdown drive, 11 plays, 9 rushes.
Some of the rushes weren’t so routine. Beuerlein had one, a 12-yard scramble, after which he hit Tim Brown on the sideline, Brown breaking a tackle and gaining 20 yards.
With 3rd and 3 at the Kansas City 8, Jackson slashed off the right side for 6 yards.
Two plays later, Marcus Allen dove over the middle for the score and a 14-7 halftime lead.
The lead held up the rest of the day, it would turn out, but the Raiders got (a little) more. Late in an otherwise-uneventful 3rd period, a punt by the Chiefs’ Kelly Goodburn hit at the Raider 1, bounced backward and was downed at the 6, penning them up. . . .
After which the Raiders proceeded to drive 69 yards, 55 on Beuerlein passes. With 3rd and 9 at his 7, he hit Brown crossing for 13 yards. He subsequently hit Jackson with a screen pass for 12, and Mervyn Fernandez on a long out that Fernandez broke for 30.
When the drive stalled, Chris Bahr kicked a 42-yard field goal and it was 17-7.
The Chiefs would close to 17-10 on Nick Lowery’s 45-yarder with 3:13 left, but no closer.
The Chiefs did not try an onsides kick (they may as well have; Lowery flubbed one out-of-bounds about 20 yards downfield) and the Raiders got the ball at their 35.
The Chiefs started using their timeouts, but the Raiders picked up the key 1st downs.
With 3rd and 4, Beuerlein hit Allen for 8 yards.
With 3rd and 2, Allen slashed off the right side for 5.
In all, the Raiders converted 10 of their 15 3rd-down attempts . . . compared with 2 for 13 and 6 for 16 the last couple of weeks. The first day in the rest of their season went down as a happy one.
“I felt very much in control,” Beuerlein said later. “I really felt like I knew where I was supposed to go all the time.
“They’d surprise with the blitz and I knew exactly where I was supposed to come off. That’s not saying it’s going to be like that all the time but I really felt, whatever they threw at me, I knew exactly where I was supposed to go.
“If you’ve got that kind of confidence and you’ve got time to pick up your receivers, it’s going to work.”
Mark it down to experience. The Raiders have a lot more of it than they used to, and it has cost a lot.
They hope it’ll be worth it.
Oops: are the Raider injury woes continuing? Their dream of ever again seeing their top secondary was shaken when Vann McElroy went off with a muscle pull in his ribs. He tried to return but couldn’t and says he won’t know how serious it is for a day or two. . . . Center Bill Lewis left with a dislocated right ring finger, returned and took a shot to his injured ankle that had him limping badly late in the afternoon. “They say chips are floating around in there,” Lewis said. When Willie Gault asked how he was, Lewis said, “I’ve had better days.” . . . Don Mosebar took a blow to his back that had him carrying himself carefully all game. “It didn’t have anything to do with where I had surgery,” Mosebar said. “As long as that doesn’t happen, I can deal with it.” Mosebar added that he was fine, and “It’s just the usual,” but to put on his pants, he had to pick up his left leg with his hands and place it inside, and then do the same thing with his right leg. That’s some usual. . . . James Lofton’s last catch gave him 590 in his career, tying him with Harold Carmichael for No. 8 on the all-time list. Marcus Allen’s touchdown gave him 78, moving him past Fred Biletnikoff to No. 1 on the Raiders.