Raiders face home stretch filled with im­por­tance

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - SPORTS - ED GRANEY

LIKE with most ev­ery­thing in sports, num­bers have come to de­fine the Raiders. And those dig­its sure would look more promis­ing with a win Sun­day.

The team that just a month ago was a pop­u­lar Su­per Bowl pick at lo­cal sports books sud­denly finds it­self in an un­cer­tain po­si­tion re­gard­ing early play­off chat­ter, and three home

games in the next 11 days could ei­ther brighten such prospects or al­to­gether ter­mi­nate them.

When do things get se­ri­ous re­gard­ing the post­sea­son after just a quar­ter of the sched­ule?

When you’re 2-2 and your fran­chise quar­ter­back has an in­jured back.

“I think every home game is a big home game,” Raiders cor­ner­back TJ Car­rie said. “The the­ory that our

coaches preach is, if you win your home games and steal a cou­ple on the road, that gets you nor­mally to the place you want to be. We’ve got to make sure we take care of our house.”

The crit­i­cal string of matchups at the Oak­land Alameda Coli­seum be­gins against a Ravens side that’s also 2-2 but has been outscored 70-16 in the past two weeks.

If you think the Raiders have is­sues of­fen­sively, you haven’t seen Joe Flacco lately.

The vet­eran quar­ter­back is ar­guably strug­gling through one of the more in­ef­fec­tive stretches of his ca­reer, the Ravens hav­ing not scored in the first half in losses to the Jaguars and Steel­ers while only pro­duc­ing points on three of the past 25 pos­ses­sions led by Flacco.

He al­ready has thrown six in­ter­cep­tions this sea­son.

His quar­ter­back rat­ing is 65. He’s not very good right now. Bal­ti­more is fol­lowed to Oak­land by the team Los An­ge­les nei­ther sup­ports or wants, a Charg­ers side that will en­ter Sun­day’s game at the Giants 0-4.

From there, the worst of the AFC West is fol­lowed by the NFL’s best to this point, when Kansas City meets the Raiders for a Thurs­day night game Oct. 19.

Three games.

Eleven days.

All kinds of sig­nif­i­cant.

“The thing is, you try not to think about it, be­cause you want to take it one game at a time,” Oak­land tackle Don­ald Penn said. “But it is kind of in the back of the mind, like, ‘Hey, th­ese three are good be­cause they’re at home.’

“It is a good three-week stretch.

It is very im­por­tant for us, es­pe­cially after th­ese last two weeks, back be­ing at home in front of your home crowd, be­ing in the sta­dium and fa­cil­ity and not hav­ing to travel.

“Th­ese three weeks are go­ing to be im­por­tant, but we’re fo­cused on Bal­ti­more right now. If we come out strong, it will be very good for us to pick up that mo­men­tum. We need some.”

He in­di­rectly refers to con­sec­u­tive losses at Wash­ing­ton and Den­ver, games in which the Raiders didn’t come close to mov­ing the ball con­sis­tently enough to de­part with any road suc­cess.

Now, they are faced with the di­ag­no­sis of a trans­verse process frac­ture to the back of quar­ter­back Derek Carr, suf­fered against the Bron­cos and in turn thrust­ing backup EJ

The crit­i­cal string of matchups at the Oak­land Alameda Coli­seum be­gins against a Ravens side that’s also 2-2 but has been outscored 70-16 in the past two weeks.

Manuel into the lineup.

I fell a few classes short of my med­i­cal de­gree, mean­ing all of them, but it seems en­tirely pre­pos­ter­ous that Carr is listed as ques­tion­able for Sun­day, a week after his spine got all twisted up and he moved around the vis­it­ing locker room in Den­ver like a geri­atric pa­tient search­ing for his walker.

The fact he par­tic­i­pated in prac­tice this past week prob­a­bly says more about Carr’s chances of re­turn­ing against the Charg­ers than tak­ing any snaps against Bal­ti­more.

But who knows, re­ally.

It’s all a blur with th­ese things. After the loss to Den­ver, coach Jack Del Rio said his start­ing quar­ter­back had back spasms, mean­ing he ap­par­ently didn’t take any med­i­cal classes, ei­ther, or was just do­ing a fine job ex­hibit­ing that league-man­dated statute about supreme para­noia when asked about in­juries. It was prob­a­bly the lat­ter.

“No one likes los­ing, es­pe­cially (with) the ex­pec­ta­tions we have for our­selves,” de­fen­sive end James Cowser said. “I think this home­s­tand, this home game (Sun­day), is go­ing to be big.”

They all are now. Con­sider: Since the 1990 sea­son, teams that be­gan 4-2 have made the play­offs al­most 63 per­cent of the time.

Teams that start 3-3 make it 38 per­cent of the time.

Teams that start 2-4 … just over 8.5 per­cent.

To ex­tend even fur­ther, only 15 teams that have fallen three games un­der .500 in Week 5 or later made the post­sea­son.

I never to­tally be­lieved that num­bers don’t lie, but those par­tic­u­lar ones are pretty re­veal­ing re­gard­ing how much an NFL team is al­lowed to strug­gle to be­gin a sea­son and risk miss­ing out.

For the Raiders, it pretty much means one thing th­ese next 11 days: Just hold home serve, baby.

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