MINNEAPOLIS — Sure, the season is only three games old, and the Oakland Raiders, who fell to 1-2 on Sunday, still seem much improved from last season’s 4-12 pratfall.
But with the flat and uninspired way the Raiders lost 34-14 to the Minnesota Vikings, might the season already be on the brink?
Not if a pair of veterans on the defensive side of the ball have anything to say about it.
“It has to be addressed, and if it’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter,” defensive end Josh Mauro said.
“There’s a lot of guys with a lot of pride, who put a lot of work into this, put their heart and soul into this, and so, if you feel comfortable after losing like that, there’s something wrong with you. It needs to be addressed, and it will.”
Now, we’re not talking about a players-only meeting already — more like a veteran grabbing a teammate and reminding him of the task at hand. And so on and so on.
“It starts with the players, man,” Mauro added. “[On] every single good team in history, players hold the players accountable. So that’s what it is, man.”
Stakes seem higher now with the Raiders having embarked upon a nearly two-month road trip. After hosting the Kansas City Chiefs last week, the Raiders do not play in Oakland again until Nov. 3. After Sunday’s game in Minnesota, their travels take them to Indianapolis, London, a bye week, Green Bay and Houston.
Oh, and since taking that 10-0 lead over the Chiefs into the second quarter last week, the Raiders have been outscored 62-14.
“If we don’t get this corrected, it’s going to continue to poke its head up,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “We just need to … hold ourselves accountable and make sure that there aren’t any people who are feeling comfortable after this loss because there are a lot of things that need to be fixed. And unless we fix them, it’s going to be a long season.
“We experienced that last year, and I’m not trying to go through the same thing, and I know there’s a lot of guys on this team that’s not trying to go through the same thing.”
No, Whitehead is not seeing signs that this year’s team might follow a similar indifferent path as last year’s. But, as Whitehead said, they cannot start pointing fingers at one another.
“I think we’re more of a close-knit team,” he said. “I’m not seeing it, and neither do I want to see it, and that’s why I just put that in guys’ minds: Look, we’re too good of a team to experience what we experienced last year.”
Getting off the field on defense would be a start.
It looked like things were starting great when Kirk Cousins‘ pass to Adam Thielen fell short on third-and-9 of the opening drive. Alas, Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley was flagged for defensive holding … away from the play.
Four snaps later, Cousins hit Thielen for a 35-yard touchdown. The Raiders followed with a three-and-out on which they gained all of two yards.
Later in the first quarter, on third-and-18, Arden Key was flagged for roughing the passer on a screen pass. The Vikings continued marching and scored another TD.
“Third-down penalties suck,” Mauro said. “There’s no way around it. Again, that’s on us. We’ve got to be smarter. We’ve got to execute better.”
It is a familiar refrain in Silver and Blackdom. Same as the yarn spun by Whitehead.
“Whenever you have guys trying to do too much and play outside of what their job entails, it creates gaps in the defense, and that’s when big plays happen,” he said.
“I think, for a long time around here, it’s been losing season after losing season, and it’s like, we have the team to get back on track. We have the team to get things rolling.”
But is it too late, three games into the season?