Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson, right, argues a call during the first half against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011. Jim Prisching/AP
Whatever words that Hue Jackson was going to say after Sunday’s stink bomb, he was not going to inspire much confidence.
Not after his Raiders team fell behind after two quarters, 31-0, which was the worst first-half point deficit in team history.
And not after a second straight blowout loss, in which the top Raiders highlight was an 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker Kamerion Wembley—which didn’t count, because it was nullified by a video replay review.
And not after the Raiders committed five turnovers and 11 penalties, falling back into old smelly habits that give a bad name to anything else that’s smelly, including the smothering smoke from all the tailgate grills here at Lambeau Field.
However, as a NFL head coach, Jackson was required by the rules to say something. And so he said this:
“I’m not going to let this team go backwards. I’m going to find the true answer. I don’t have it right now. But it’s not magical. It’s work.”
Too bad it isn’t magical. Because the work doesn’t seem to be working. Last week, Jackson had used almost the same phraseology following the Raiders’ 34-10 loss at Miami. And here is what the work got them: Sunday’s 46-16 loss to the Packers.
The Raiders’ performance was so dismal, so baffling, so awful, that it raised questions bigger than the standard ones about how a team that is supposedly hungry for a playoff spot could show up and be so unprepared to compete intelligently or physically.
Three weeks ago, with Jackson’s team on a three-game winning streak, you would never have asked whether he was really the coach who could connect with Raiders players and keep them from falling back into bad habits with stupid penalties and poor execution.
Now, after the Raiders have gone from 7-4 to 7-6 because the penalties and sloppiness are back, you do have to ask that question. You might even have to ask if Jackson can last longer than a season or two in his job, same as his predecessors.
Three weeks ago, you would never have wondered whether Jackson’s trade for quarterback Carson Palmer in October might have been a mistake, because Palmer seemed to be improving every week. Sunday, after he threw four interceptions and made so many bad decisions, you do have to ask that question.
Palmer said all the right stuff following his wretched afternoon, admitting that he put the Raiders “in a position not to win” while throwing “unacceptable” picks. It’s a good trait, being honest and self-critical. But as we have learned, it does not guarantee improvement.
“The good part of this,” Palmer said, “is that we’re now forced to win the next three games. We’re not out of the playoff race.”
Incredibly, that’s so. If the Raiders can win out and the Broncos lose the right combination of games, an AFC West title could still happen in Oakland. The Raiders are also in the wild card mix, with a tiebreaker over the New York Jets head-to-head.
But to believe the postseason is possible, the Raiders can’t be the Raiders we’ve seen the past two weeks. Losing to the unbeaten Packers is no disgrace and is not the issue. It’s that the Raiders never came close to executing their game plan — which was to run the ball well and keep Green Bay’s offense off the field, while counting on the defensive line to win the trench battle and put big pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
This strategy went out the door when Green Bay took a 24-0 lead in the second quarter. And once again, the Raiders again played the second half for recreational purposes only.
“We’ve got to get better and smarter, bottom line,” said cornerback Lito Sheppard. “We just have to get it together earlier in the games, and sustain it. And sometimes, you’ve just got to beat the guy across from you.”
Sometimes, you also need to catch passes when it matters. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey dropped three of them in the first half. He had the bulk of his 11 receptions when the game was out of reach.
“When we won three in a row, guys were making plays and stuff,” Heyward-Bey said. “The running game was still working. The last two games have been hiccups. Miami got us and Green Bay got us. It’s as simple as that.”
Is it? Or do the problems run deeper? In truth, it’s very unlikely that Jackson will be fired. Among other elements to that equation, it’s not even clear who would do the firing following the death of former owner Al Davis. And as long as Jackson is the coach, Palmer will be his quarterback. They’re attached at the hip.
However, if the Raiders don’t win again this season — which could happen if they keep playing this way — they will finish with a 7-9 record after being 7-4 and in control of their own destiny. And if the Raiders merely lose two of their last three to finish 8-8 ... well, how is that better than the 8-8 team of last season that resulted in Tom Cable’s dismissal?
Jackson keeps trying to stay upbeat. For him, even in the bitter cold of Wisconsin, it’s always a beautiful day in the Raiderhood.
He has three more chances this season to show that the Raiderhood isn’t full of too much hot air.