Ray Ratto

Raiders ride playmakers to relevance

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Raiders ride playmakers to relevance

Hue Jackson has come to realize over the fullness of time that Darren McFaddens only real opponent is injury. If hes playin, hes doin the sayin, and what he says he says loud and clear.In fact, McFadden shouted so loudly Sunday that Rex Ryan is probably deaf in one year, and he did it so resonantly that Bill Belichick has been scheming for McFadden since the moment he stopped screaming at his New England Patriots for losing to Buffalo.Between the 70-yard burst that helped define Oaklands 34-24 victory over the New York Jets, the option pass that had him and the Jet defenders thinking he might flash back to his high school quarterback days, and the 18 other carries (at 5.6 yards per clip), McFadden became the new face of the Raiders.

Although, it must be said, he would do well to leave room for wide receiver Denarius Moore, who is now the teams second bonafide playmaker on an offense that for so many years has tried to get by with none.Therein lies the major difference at this moment between Oakland and San Francisco and the 2-1 record they share. The 49ers grate on your eyes, win or lose. The Raiders are a pyrospectacular.Put another way, consider how hard it is for a team to score 34 points and beat the two-time AFC finalist while converting zero third downs. Thats what comes when, as Jackson likes to say, You let playmakers make plays. You become an all-or-nothing team.And when you throw in kicker Sebastian Janikowski, now you have a certifiable freak of nature in addition to the more traditional offensive incandescents.In short, what you have is the offense Al Davis has wanted to recreate since Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson. And in a league where six of the top nine scoring teams are Buffalo, New England, Houston, Baltimore and the Raiders, this seems more and more like the American Football League every week.The only real issue Davis might have with Jackson after these three weeks is that the head coach does tend at times to exhort the crowd to make more noise -- a detail Al surely regards as extraneous to the job at hand.Particularly right now, after having polished off the Jets -- the Raiders of the new millennium -- and prepping now for the Patriots -- the Steelers of the new millennium.Having a full house is one thing. Having home TV is yet another. But treating both audiences to the likes of McFadden and Moore and Janikowski, plus a defense that makes and allows big plays with equal facility, and the Raiders may be quietly but surely become the next cool thing for football fans.They have not been that for quite some time, as most of you know. Being dull and dysfunctional and dry and destitute is a bad marketing hook. And the Raiders have tried to be intimidators and rule-breakers and conspiracy freaks and a lot of other things, but the one thing they were in their greatest days was a room full of playmakers.They are not yet ready for the big room, to be sure. They havent been at this long enough to walk into a stadium, even their own, and act like they own the joint. Jackson likes to talk about the Raiders being bullies, but theyre not that yet. There is still growth to be done and smarts to exhibit and a consistency to establish and cling to in good times and bad.And lets be honest here -- beating the Jets isnt the same as beating the Patriots. Not yet. New England may still have some weaknesses, as the suddenly bad-assed Bills are showing a very surprised nation, but they are the Patriots until further notice.But as Jackson said, were getting there. Were not there yet, but were on our way.Now he just has to break himself of the habit of urging on the crowd. If the crowd doesnt get it after Sunday, and if it cant replicate its enthusiasm Sunday against the Belichicks, then no amount of urging from the sidelines will work.Besides, one of the side perks of being a playmaker like McFadden, Moore and Janikowski is that you also get to be a crowd shaker. They all seem to have that down, and it's only been three weeks.

MLS respects timing more than dominance, so Quakes have a counterpuncher's chance

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USATSI

MLS respects timing more than dominance, so Quakes have a counterpuncher's chance

The San Jose Earthquakes cheated the reaper Sunday, which is news in and of itself. I mean, they’re a playoff team so rarely that getting to a 35th game is quite the achievement, and they should not begin the arduous process of sobering up until Tuesday morning.

I mean, their playoff game with Vancouver is Wednesday night, so slapping themselves back into form is probably a priority.

They got an improbable stoppage time goal from Marco Urena Sunday against Minnesota to sneak through the back door into the final Western Conference playoff spot Sunday, their first appearance in the postseason in five years. It was as electrifying a moment as Avaya Stadium has seen since it opened, and one of the best goals in franchise history if only for its importance.

That said, the Quakes also enter the postseason with a losing record (13-14-7) and the worst goal difference (minus-21) for any playoff team in league history. They are the most cinder-based of the league’s Cinderella stories, and are dismissed with prejudice by most observers as being as one-and-done as one-and-done can be without being none-and-done.

This is a league, though, that has respected timing more than dominance. In 2016, the Montreal Impact finished last in the East and got to the conference final; in 2012, Houston (which was a relocated Quakes team) just snuck in to the postseason and reached the final; in 2005 and 2009, the worst (Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake) ended up first.

In other words, the Quakes’ pedigree, modest though it is, still allows it a counterpuncher’s chance. Its attack, which is third-worst in the league, playoffs or no, is matched by its defense, which is fourth-worst in the league. Their years as a de facto vehicle for Chris Wondolowski are coming to a close, sooner rather than later. They are in no way an elegant team. They are working on their second coach of the year (Chris Leitch).

But therein lies their mutating charm. Their postseason pedigree stinks, but there is a no compelling reason why they cannot cheat a result or two. After all, the lower scoring a sport is, the greater chance for an upset, and the Quakes’ history screams that no franchise could use one more.

So they head for Vancouver, a raucous crowd and a difficult side, carrying with them only their humble resume and the indomitable cheek demanded of the upstart. I mean, anybody in their right mind would much prefer the Whitecaps’ chances, but you gotta be who you gotta be.

Plus, the Quakes are getting a 35th game, which is more than they had a right to expect, all things considered.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

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USATI

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.