I want to try something different in writing about this game, partly born out of time restraints, and partly due to a discussion I heard recently about the nature of sports writing. The more that we study and understand the game, the more accurate we become as we break down stats and individual plays, the more specialised we become in our analysis. As a fan I have no issue with this, in fact I thoroughly enjoy it, but as a writer I am also interested in story telling and part of being a sports fan is the narrative that surrounds our sport.
This Thursday night we had a close game between two teams having very different seasons. The Oakland Raiders were not only winless this season, but hadn’t won a competitive game for an entire calendar year. The amazing this is that wasn’t even the longest losing streak on the roster as poor Antonio Smith was on the Houston Texans last year, and had a personal streak of losses that was twenty four games long. That is an entire season and a half of suiting up, putting yourself through the gruelling battles of line play, and losing.
The Kansas City Chiefs on the other hand, having lost their opening two games, came into this game with a seven and three record, having putting together solid win after solid win. Their offence is not exactly high octane, but they have the NFL’s leader in sacks on a defence that has been keeping them in games. The narrative I had heard from some coming into this game was that having beaten the Seahawks the previous week, they could be looking through this game on short week, as they have the Broncos coming to town in week thirteen before travelling to Arizona in week fourteen.
The game itself was a visually dulled, rain filled affair, full of mud and power. Both defences played well for the most part, but with interesting lapses. The game started with three offensive series that finished with punts. The Chiefs struggling with their run and pass games whilst the Raiders had some success with the ball in the air, but not enough to sustain a drive. Finally, the Raiders managed to put together a scoring drive but the first real highlight was not what I was expecting from this Chiefs defence. On first and ten from their own ten yard line, the Raiders line up heavy against a single high safety and hand the ball off to Latavious Murray, who runs a simple counter play, beating Josh Mauga in the hole and winning the foot race with safety Eric Berry to the end zone. It took one move and the right play call to go ninety yards and put the Raiders fourteen points ahead.
It wasn’t until near the end of the third quarter that the Chiefs finally scored a touchdown as they finally dragged themselves back into the game. Alex Smith played in his usual steady way, throwing for two hundred yards and two touchdowns without an interception, and finally gave his team a three point lead with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.
However, on the very next drive Derek Carr took his team eighty yards to score the game winning touchdown. One of the most striking moments of the post game celebrations was having taken a knee to kill the game, Carr walked away with the ball and took a knee. In this game he demonstrated the arm strength and play that should give the team hope, but he will need to be surrounded with more talent although he does look to be forming a good understanding with Andre Holmes.
The weirdest moment of this game, was in fact one of the weirder things I have ever seen in the NFL. I had been pretty impressed with all three young linebackers that were starting for the Raiders, but whilst trying to kill the Chiefs drive to seal the game Sio Moore managed to sack Alex Smith with some help from Khalil Mack. So far so good, but the ensuing celebration by the pair of them went on so long that the Raiders had to call a time out and kill the clock as the young pair were still on the wrong side of the ball as the Chiefs prepared to snap the ball. I have never seen that before!
The Raiders finally have their first win of the season, but more importantly for me, they have a quarterback and some linebackers that they can build round. It is going to be a long road before they are even challenging for the playoffs, but there are the beginnings of a foundation.
For the Chiefs this is a game they really could rue, losing to the Raiders could cost them in the playoff hunt unless they can do something impressive against the Broncos or Cardinals. They are still in the hunt, but the AFC is very competitive and losing this game to the Raiders could haunt them in the weeks to come.