Raiders

Three quick takeaways from Raiders' 28-20 loss to Dolphins

Three quick takeaways from Raiders' 28-20 loss to Dolphins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Raiders held a halftime lead for the third time in three weeks. They let yet another one slip.

That put the Silver and Black in a bind. They aren’t adept getting out of chokeholds.

That, above all else, is why the Raiders haven’t won.

The Silver and Black remain winless after Sunday’s 28-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Raiders just can’t close, on offense or defense. They are better than 0-3 suggests, but that doesn’t matter at this point. A season that suffered a blow before its start with the Khalil Mack trade still has the Raiders stumbling through three games -- and their season heading downhill fast.

Can they turn things around? Time will tell on that front, but a prolonged winning streak is required to ignite the season. Right now, the Raiders can’t even get the car to start.

Here are three quick takeaways from Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins.

Raiders still can’t finish

The Raiders have struggled mightily to close out games, albeit against tough competition. The offense slowed as Sunday's game wore on, and the defense got beat on a pass from receiver (!!!) Albert Wilson to Jakeem Hunt as the Dolphins took a fourth-quarter lead.

Derek Carr and the Raiders' offense had plenty of time to snatch it back, but the team’s signal-caller threw an interception in the end zone. Two plays later, Albert Wilson took a shovel pass 74 yards to put the Dolphins up two scores with two minutes remaining.

The 2016 Raiders had the fourth-quarter magic, which worked out well in a 12-4 season. That is long gone. They start hot and clearly have solid game plans, but they have struggled to make adjustments late in games, and haven’t executed well enough down the stretch to earn a victory.

As long as this is the case, the Raiders will struggle. Their fans, in turn, will have their hearts broken far too often.

Struggling to break through

The Raiders' offense can move the football. The Silver and Black racks up yards with the best of them but has had trouble crossing the goal line this season. That has been problematic each week, and the trend continued against the Dolphins.

The Raiders could’ve gone up big in the first half, but they only scored one touchdown despite being in the red zone three times. That kept the game close, and a Marshawn Lynch TD run put the team up two scores late in the third quarter. It could’ve been a blowout by then, if the Raiders converted on proper chances. Instead, the Dolphins raged back, took a fourth-quarter lead and sustained it.

The Raiders didn’t exceed 20 points in either of the first two games for the same reasons, and the team needs work inside the 20-yard line to operate at maximum efficiency. It cost the Raiders on this day, and put them in an uncomfortable yet familiar position with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Hey, Jordy

Jordy Nelson had 53 receiving yards through two games. Then he exceeded that on one catch.

Nelson went 61 yards on the game’s second play to set up the Raiders’ first score. He hit another long one later in the game, all while in a matchup that Jon Gruden exploited on several occasions.

This comes after Jared Cook was the primary target in Week 1 and Amari Cooper went off in Week 2.

Nelson had six catches for 173 yards in this game.

Nelson is growing accustomed to a new quarterback and offensive scheme after a decade in Green Bay, but he found a rhythm early against Miami and made a few big plays. It shows he can be a weapon in the passing game, and should force defenses to play honest with Cooper and Cook. That will be a long-term positive for an Oakland offense with plenty of weapons.

Raiders report card: Grades for offense, defense in win over Steelers

Raiders report card: Grades for offense, defense in win over Steelers

OAKLAND — Raiders fans haven’t had much to celebrate this season. Their team has been terrible, easily among the NFL’s worst, lacking the talent required to win consistently.

On Sunday, they gave this long-suffering fan base a reason to cheer.

The Raiders eliminated two fourth-quarter deficits and beat the Steelers 24-21 in dramatic fashion at the Coliseum. Tight end Derek Carrier’s game-winning touchdown catch came on fourth-and-goal, with 21 seconds remaining.

The Raiders are playing better football lately and, as you’ll see in this report card, showing encouraging signs that the team can turn things around under coach Jon Gruden:

Rushing Offense

The Raiders weren’t able to get much going on the ground.

They averaged just 2.2 yards per carry against a tough Steelers defensive front, and running backs Doug Martin and Jalen Richard were stuck in the mud. The Raiders will need better balance in future weeks.

Grade: C-minus

Passing Offense

Derek Carr was awesome in this game, with 322 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 73.5 completion percentage. He orchestrated two fourth-quarter scoring drives, including the game winner with time winding down.

Carr was his best in that final period, slinging the ball all over the place with confidence and aggression. He threaded several needles, making tough throws in tight windows to keep the offense moving. He was as good as his stellar 2016 campaign, when he was a legitimate NFL MVP candidate.

Oh, and he hasn’t thrown an interception in eight-plus games. An incredible run for a quarterback who’s clearly getting comfortable working within Gruden’s offense.

Grade: A-plus

Rushing Defense

The Raiders didn’t face James Conner, who missed the game with an ankle injury. That clearly was a plus, considering the Steelers weren’t able to get much going on the ground.

Pittsburgh had just 40 yards on 19 carries in what was the Oakland run defense’s best performance to date.

Grade: A

Pass Defense

Gareon Conley is really evolving into an excellent cover cornerback. He had another tip that resulted in an interception, which is becoming a regular occurrence these days.

Conley blanketed Antonio Brown all day, holding the Steelers’ elite receiver to five catches for just 35 yards. That’s a win, even though JuJu Smith-Schuster had a big day with 130 yards and two touchdowns.

Grade: C

Special Teams

Daniel Carlson has become Mr. Reliable kicking field goals, and Johnny Townsend might’ve had his best day as a pro. He had three punts over 50 yards, and dropped another inside the 20-yard line.

Grade: A

Overall

The Raiders found a way to win a close game. That’s important in this team’s development, especially for young players who have lost so often this season.

Carr is rounding into form, and players are working hard for Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. These are all encouraging signs for a team in the midst of a full-scale rebuild.

There’s optimism the Raiders can win again before the season’s out. That in itself is a step in the right direction.

Grade: A

Jared Cook shares spotlight with Raiders’ other tight ends vs. Steelers

Jared Cook shares spotlight with Raiders’ other tight ends vs. Steelers

OAKLAND — Jared Cook has been the Raiders' most consistent pass catcher in 2018. He’s having a Pro Bowl season, and gaudy numbers make him the most popular and well-recognized tight end in Silver and Black.

He played a vital role in Sunday’s 24-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Cook’s position-mates also made huge contributions in this win.

Lee Smith and Derek Carrier caught fourth-quarter, go-ahead touchdown passes Sunday, and Carrier’s won the game. So, while Cook will get the accolades, he’s happy to share the spotlight with his fellow tight ends.

“Those guys work their tails off to be here, and to see those guys get rewarded for their hard work is great,” Cook said after the win. “It was especially great for Derek. He came wide open on that last play, and it wasn’t even supposed to be designed to him, but he was ready. He caught that thing and got in there. I’m so happy they did, I’m so happy they did.”

The Steelers were focused on covering Cook, wide receiver Jordy Nelson and some of the more prominent Raiders, leaving Smith and Carrier wide open for their respective touchdown catches.

The Raiders have become increasingly reliant on tight ends with so much turnover in their receiver corps. Amari Cooper was traded, Martavis Bryant is on injured reserve and Nelson has been banged up, so the Raiders have spread the ball around more than expected.

That’s why Smith and Carrier got involved at important times.

“Jared was awesome. He clearly is our MVP,” Gruden said. “In my opinion, he is phenomenal, and Lee caught another touchdown. We are short receivers, and I think we had four active today. We went with four tight ends for that reason, so good for them.”

Raiders tight ends have made the most of their opportunities. Smith and Carrier are more traditional tight ends, while Cook often lines up at receiver positions both in the slot and outside.

"Jared is the bell cow in our room,” Smith said. “He's the one that makes the big plays. He demands a lot of attention. We talked about it all week. If you hit him on the backside, he'll drag everybody the other way. It just worked out that way.

"By no means do I think I'm going to turn into a touchdown machine. Derek scored again today, Jared finding the end zone is a regular occurrence. I found a way to get in and help the team win. It was a momentum-shifter. It was a lot of fun, good stuff."