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Archive for Monday, September 21, 2009

Raiders finally may have character

September 21, 2009

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— There was resiliency and pluck, with big plays at crucial times, all punctuated by a comeback finish worthy of celebration.

So give it up for the Raiders, whose 13-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday was a desultory show of football camouflaged by a splendid display of character.

Yes, character, the essential component required in building a quality football team.

Oakland lost the statistics war, lost it in every way — far fewer yards, far fewer first downs, much less time of possession. The Raiders were, well, dominated in most of the facets that look so pretty on paper.

“It was as poor as you can play offensively but still find a way to win a football game,” coach Tom Cable conceded.

Two players often criticized for underachieving took it upon themselves to deliver, safety Michael Huff by twice saving the team’s collective backside, and quarterback JaMarcus Russell by finally finding a way to push it into the end zone.

For his efforts, including two second-half interceptions, Huff was given the first game ball of his four-year NFL career, making him the only Raider to receive one immediately.

Russell might consider awarding his teammate another game ball — or a trophy or a certificate or a dinner — out of sheer appreciation.

Huff’s interceptions firmly told Matt Cassel and his teammates there could be no presumption of a Raiders collapse, that any K.C. comeback would have to be earned.

And it whispered to Russell that he likely would have a chance to do something besides spend the afternoon squandering opportunities.

When the Chiefs came back, going 72 yards on nine plays, with Cassel exploiting Stanford Routt’s ineffective coverage to hit Dwayne Bowe with a 29-yard strike to go up, 10-6, with 2:38 remaining, Russell still had 158 seconds to redeem himself.

He responded by taking the Raiders 69 yards, ending with Darren McFadden’s five-yard dash for the game-winning score.

So awful throughout, hitting only three of 17 passes, Russell completed four of seven on the final drive, including a 19-yarder to rookie wideout Louis Murphy and a 28-yarder to Todd Watkins to make his last impression of this game a thing of beauty.

“On those last drives,” assessed linebacker Kirk Morrison, “we looked like a different football team — on both sides of the ball.”

They looked like a Raiders team determined to win.

“It’s the character of this team and who we are becoming,” Cable said. “But we have got to get a lot better on offense.”

Which is to say when the running game clogs up as it did Sunday, with 67 yards on 25 carries, the quarterback has to complete more than seven of 24, as Russell did. The Raiders punted seven times. Only two of their drives gained more than 17 yards.

But give it up for team character. The Raiders showed more of that than anything else.

But here’s the thing about team character. It’s an innate quality, present at every practice and meeting and game. It doesn’t show up in one city and disappear in another, doesn’t reveal itself in triumph and evaporate in defeat.

The Raiders had it Sunday, had it for one game. If it’s not there consistently, for the full season, this was nothing more than a mirage.

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