Raiders believe playoff push is possible with road odyssey in rear view


Raiders believe playoff push is possible with road odyssey in rear view

ALAMEDA -- When the Raiders last played a home game, they were a 1-1 team preparing to begin a lengthy road trip that many believed would sink their season. 

Playing five straight games away from home -- all against playoff-caliber opponents -- is a lot of any team to overcome, much less a rebuilding team whose wide receiving corps has been turned upside down and whose defense had just been diced up by the Chiefs. 

Sure enough, the Raiders opened the road trip by getting punked by the Vikings, a Week 3 blowout that had many waving goodbye to Jon Gruden's club. But the Raiders didn't fold. Instead, they rebounded with back-to-back wins over the Colts and Bears to ensure the long odyssey wouldn't doom their campaign.

They were outgunned in a Week 7 loss to the Packers. The journey came to a close with a loss to the Texans in Week 8, a game the Raiders let slip through their fingers, sending them back home at 3-4. 

Still, the trip proved to the Raiders and the NFL that the Silver and Black can compete with the best in the league. A 3-4 record after a grueling trip is nothing for the Raiders to hang their head over. With the AFC having a down year, the Raiders are just 1 1/2 games behind the Texans for a wild-card spot, with winnable games coming up. 

Their performance, especially in the last four games of the trip, showed what they can do. 

"Well, we feel like we're pretty good," Gruden told the media Wednesday. "I feel like we are getting better and that's all we can control. We are just going to try and keep getting better every day. We would have liked to have had the last win, but there are a lot of teams in this league right now who are just hanging on. It's a tough business. We got a lot of injuries, we've had some tough deals, but I love this team."

Sunday's game against the Lions will kick off a second half of the schedule that is far easier than the Raiders' opening seven games. November will see the Raiders face the Lions, the struggling Chargers and Bengals at home before visiting the punchless New York Jets.

All four of those games are winnable. At least two of them are losable, especially for a young team that's rebuilding. Other than a Dec. 1 game in Kansas City, December also sets up well for the Raiders, with bouts against the Jaguars and Titans at home and road games at the Chargers and in Denver against the Broncos,

Aside from the Chiefs, who are without quarterback Patrick Mahomes, none of those teams should scare the Raiders. The Chargers have a boatload of talent, but they have scuffled to a 3-5 start and just fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. A loss to the Packers in Week 9 could send the Bolts' season down the drain and make them ripe for picking off.

After going through a road gauntlet almost unheard of in the NFL and coming out still breathing, the Raiders believe they can do what seemed impossible after Week 3.

"We never have a doubt," quarterback Derek Carr said about making a run at the playoffs. "We know we have a very good football team, we just have to put it all together. All three phases, every game. Be clean, be efficient. Try and eliminate the penalties, that kind of stuff. If we can do that, we feel very confident we can play with anybody. Right now we have to take care of business this week and get a home win against a good football team."

The Lions will pose a big challenge to the Raiders. Like Oakland, they enter Week 9 with their playoff hopes teetering on a razor's edge. They are a talented team, getting great play from quarterback Matt Stafford and a defense that has frustrated the Chiefs and Packers.

[RELATED: Raiders' Mullen ready for starting job after wake-up call]

A loss Sunday to the Lions likely would put a fork in any playoff talk for the Raiders.

But a win would get them to 4-4 with a Thursday night game against a banged-up Chargers team coming up in Week 10, with the Bengals and Jets to follow.

Is a four-game winning streak in the cards? Even three of four would get the Raiders to 6-5, with four winnable games remaining on the schedule.

The path is there. Can the Raiders walk it?

Ex-Bucs claim Barrett Robbins' absence just excuse for Raiders' loss

Ex-Bucs claim Barrett Robbins' absence just excuse for Raiders' loss

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

A number of factors went into the Raiders' demoralizing defeat at the hands of Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. The story behind the mysterious disappearance of Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins is revealed in NBC Sports' latest Sports Uncovered podcast, which was released Thursday.

Robbins missing the biggest game of his life no doubt played a role in the 48-21 thrashing the Raiders suffered. As did coach Bill Callahan's puzzling decision to alter the game plan at the last minute. But some Raiders believe Gruden and the Bucs knew their plays and formations, making the rout all but a certainty, blaming Callahan for giving the game to his former boss.

To a few former Buccaneers, though, all of that is just a bunch of excuses.

"The fact that your center went to Tijuana and got lost, and all of a sudden, um, he's not the quarterback," said Booger McFarland, who was a defensive tackle for the Bucs. "He's not the star wideout. He's not the star defensive player. He's the center."

"I've seen [Bill] Romanowski at a couple different events," Shelton Quarles said. "I've seen Rich [Gannon] at a couple of different events. And we've had conversations, and they're like, 'Oh, well you guys got lucky because Barret Robbins was out. We had a backup center, and our game plan was to run the ball down your throat.' OK, well, then just run your game plan. If that's something you practiced all week then run that."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

As for the charge that Gruden and the Bucs knew the Raiders' plays, Tampa Bay had seen the scheme before. Every day.

"It's the same offense that Jon Gruden ran when he was there," McFarland said. "So, we practiced against the same offense for a year. So, if you're not going to change any of the same audibles that Gruden uses in Tampa, then that's on you."

In the end, Robbins' absence didn't play a huge role in the Bucs' romp. Gruden and the Buccaneers were ready for anything and everything the Raiders were going to throw at them, and Callahan was outmatched from the opening kick-off.

The Raiders approached the matchup as if they had already won the Super Bowl. Owning the league's No. 1 offense and facing a Bucs team no one expected to be there, some members of the Silver and Black were ready for the parade.

"I was like, 's--t, I'm about to get my second ring,'" defensive tackle Sam Adams said. "We about to drag these jokers. They ain't doing nothing against us. Nothing. We about to whoop these jokers."

But once Callahan made the last-minute game plan switch, Tim Brown and the rest of the Raiders entered Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego knowing they weren't bringing home the Lombardi Trophy.

"We go into the Super Bowl knowing that we don't have a chance to win," Brown said.

[RELATED: How Davis told Trask of Robbins' Super Bowl disappearance]

The Raiders' defeat at the hands of Gruden and the Bucs can be laid at the feet of many people.

Barret Robbins was an easy scapegoat at the time. The center went out and partied too hard and missed the game, so it's his fault. Years later we know better. The Raiders knew better in the moment.

Even if he had suited up, the Bucs were prepared to slow down Callahan's offensive attack. Almost like they knew what was coming.

How Raiders' Al Davis told Amy Trask of Barret Robbins' Super Bowl absence

How Raiders' Al Davis told Amy Trask of Barret Robbins' Super Bowl absence

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, shines a fresh light on some of the most unforgettable moments in sports. The fifth episode tells the story of "The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl," chronicling Barret Robbins' absence from Super Bowl XXXVII.

Amy Trask had a conversation with Barret Robbins on the morning of Super Bowl XXXVII. The brief exchange between the then-Raiders CEO and Pro Bowl center didn’t raise any red flags.

A phone call with owner Al Davis a short while later, however, indicated that something was very wrong.

“Quite early that morning, I had gone out on a run and saw Barret in the lobby,” Trask said. “I ran into him, went up to my room and not long thereafter, Al called me and said, ‘Barrett’s not playing.' I said, ‘I just saw him in the lobby. He can play. I just had a conversation with him. He can play.’ And Al shared with me that others had made the decision to send Barret home. I hung up the phone, looked at my husband and I said, ‘We just lost the game.’ ”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

The Raiders ended up getting trounced by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that night at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, and losing their top-notch center just before the game didn’t help. The distraction of Robbins' disappearance the night before, while on a bender that carried from Friday through Saturday evening, certainly didn’t help.

Neither did the fact that coach Bill Callahan changed the game plan at the last minute, or that Jon Gruden was on the other sideline and used his knowledge of the Raiders’ scheme and personnel against the team that traded him to Tampa Bay during the 2002 offseason.

All of those topics are discussed during Thursday’s episode of NBC’s “Sports Uncovered” documentary podcast, which delves deep into Robbins’ sudden disappearance and the root causes of it, exploring the role his mental health played in that period and over his entire life.

Robbins admitted that he wouldn’t have been able to play in the game. He was not mentally able to do so after a night of partying and a mental-health episode that put him in a bad state. The Raiders evaluated Robbins after he returned to the team hotel Saturday evening and decided he wasn’t able to play.

Team doctors concluded that he wasn’t in a proper mental state to play in the biggest game of his life.

“On [Sunday] morning, I woke up and stretched and walked with Willie Brown and saw the doctors and everything,” Robbins said in an archived interview with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Greg Papa. “And, if they would have told me I could have played, I don’t know if I could’ve at that point. To be honest with you, I was sick.”

The Raiders sent him away and checked him into the Betty Ford Clinic in Riverside. It was only there, for the first time in his life, that Robbins was accurately diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He wasn’t properly treated for the condition before then, which led to problems off the field with substances of abuse.

Robbins was transported to a hospital on Sunday and barely watched any of the game.

“I saw a couple of plays on TV,” Robbins said. “They were watching it when I got there, but I didn’t sit up and watch it. I was there while I was, you know, on suicide watch. … It was a bad situation, obviously, and to recover from that, I don’t know if I have.”

[RELATED: The real reason why Barret Robbins missed Super Bowl XXXVII]

The Raiders haven’t gotten over that loss, either. It ended a short but dominant run and ushered in an era of futility unlike any in Raiders history. The Raiders have made the postseason only once since losing the Super Bowl.

The loss was difficult for those heavily invested in it. Among others, Trask took it particularly hard.

“When we lost, I cried myself to sleep that night wearing the same clothes I wore to the game,” Trask said. “I put my head on my husband’s shoulders and cried myself to sleep. But I never, ever lost sight of the fact that Barret Robbins is a human being. As badly as I felt, and as miserable as I was, and as hurt as our fans were and our organization was, I can only imagine Barret’s pain.”