The Kansas City Chiefs were the latest team to rumble through the Raiders, smashing their way to 204 yards on the ground Sunday. That Oakland somehow managed to win the game, hanging on for a 28-26 win despite two turnovers in the final six minutes, did nothing to hide the fact that the defense is in a very bad way.
And it's only going to get worse before it gets better.
Over the next four weeks the Raiders will face the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis, Eddie George and Curtis Martin, four backs who are all licking their chops at the prospect of running the ball against an Oakland defense that has surrendered an average of 194.6 yards on the ground over the last five games.
''We did not play our best brand of football in any phase,'' said Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, ''but I was pleased with our team finding a way to win. That's what good football teams do, they find a way to win. We realize there's some areas of our play we need to improve on quickly. We missed a tremendous amount of tackles. We have to do a much better job of tackling. If we don't it's going to be very difficult to stop anybody's running game. Everyone understands that.''
Understanding it and doing something about it are two different things. For more than a month the Raiders (10-3) have been bemoaning their run defense and vowing to correct it, only to go out the following week and give up more huge chunks of real estate to opposing running backs. Against the Chiefs it nearly proved to be Oakland's downfall. Priest Holmes, who entered the game as the AFC's fourth-leading rusher, pounded the Raiders for 168 yards on 28 carries. Holmes also had another 109 yards in receptions, giving him 277 total yards or 13 yards more than Oakland had in total offense for the game. But it was what Holmes and his backfield mates did on the ground that mattered most.
''Until guys realize how important it is, it's not going to change,'' said Biekert. ''Until it becomes very important to each individual, we're going to have problems. That's just the way it is.'' The Chiefs didn't do anything fancy. They just followed the pattern set forth by the Raiders previous five opponents. Running the ball straight at Oakland's defense Kansas City rolled down the field on its first possession, marching 89 yards in a quick and efficient eight plays.
What made the drive even more impressive was that five of the eight plays gained 10 yards or better, including Holmes' 10-yard touchdown run. It got even shakier for the Raiders when Terry Kirby fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, giving the Chiefs the ball at Oakland's 29-yard line. Kansas City settled for a 43-yard field goal from Todd Peterson to make it 10-0 with just under 10 minutes gone in the game. The Raiders answered back, getting a 49-yard pass completion from Gannon to tight end Roland Williams that set up Tyrone Wheatley's six-yard touchdown run. But that only stopped the bleeding momentarily.
Holmes, who had 67 yards rushing on eight carries in the first quarter, opened the second quarter by carrying for seven yards.Three plays later, he took a short screen pass from quarterback Trent Green and outraced Oakland's defense 67 yards for another touchdown. This time it was Pope and cornerback Eric Allen caught misfiring, both overpursuing the play so badly it left Holmes with a clear lane down the right sidelines.
''I would love to be in a situation where I could come to the ballpark every week and know what we're going to do,'' said Allen. ''But right now we have not been able to find a good, solid defense that works for us. We're finding teams that have seen our weakness and they're going to exploit it until we stop it.''
Kirby's 32-yard kickoff return and a 15-yard personal foul against the Chiefs put Oakland's offense in good shape at the Chiefs' 36-yard line. From there Gannon hit tight end Jeremy Brigham for a gain of 17, then followed up two plays later by play-faking a dive to Tyrone Wheatley and sprinting around the left end on a bootleg for a five-yard touchdown. Sebastian Janikowski's extra point closed the Raiders within 17-14 with more than 12:30 minutes left in the first half, giving the game all the appearances of yet another shootout.
But as bizarre as this season has been at times, nothing played out per usual. With some help from Kansas City's play-calling -- the Chiefs ran the ball just five times in their next three drives -- Oakland's defense stood its ground. When defensive tackle Darrell Russell tripped up Tony Richardson for no gain on a fourth-and-one, the Raiders took over near midfield. Gannon then worked the offense downfield before finding Jerry Rice for an eight-yard touchdown to give Oakland its first lead of the game.
With just 32 seconds left in the half and leading 21-17 the Raiders figured they were in pretty decent shape. Yeah right. A 46-yard completion from Green to Derrick Alexander -- after cornerback Charles Woodson slipped in coverage -- set the Chiefs up at Oakland's 15. When Marquez Pope was flagged for an illegal contact call, negating a Green fumble that was recovered by the Raiders, Oakland was in even worse shape.
But Kansas City kicker Todd Peterson pushed a 28-yard field goal attempt wide right, allowing the Raiders to preserve their four-point halftime lead. Yet as much of an offensive onslaught as the game was in the first half, it took on a decidedly different tone in the second half when both defenses actually played with some life. Oakland forced Kansas City to punt on the first drive of the third quarter and, after a mix-up that forced the Chiefs to re-kick, Tim Brown fielded the ball at his own 12 and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown. It was the 100th touchdown of Brown's career and his first on a punt return since 1991. As it turned out, that would be the last points the Raiders would get.
On its next five possessions Oakland's offense fumbled twice and was intercepted once. Both of the fumbles came deep on the Raiders own half of the field while Gannon's interception came at the Kansas City two-yard line. Those turnovers enabled the Chiefs (3-9) to stay close enough to make it interesting down the stretch. A 36-yard field goal from Peterson pulled Kansas City within 28-20, and when Green found tight end Tony Gonzalez for a 24-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter -- two plays after Gannon fumbled -- the Chiefs were within 28-26 with 1:38 left to play. But on the two-point conversion attempt Green (15-for-32, 253 yards) was hit from behind by Oakland defensive end Regan Upshaw and fumbled.
The Chiefs had one last try but Jerry Porter recovered the onsides kickoff attempt to preserve the win for Oakland. ''We can sit up here and talk about all the bad things that we want, and believe me we'll take it to heart and work on those things,'' said Gruden. ''But these two teams do not like each other. It's great to beat them, a great feeling for our players. I want them to feel that as they walk out of here tonight.''