Inside slant

Coach Norv Turner continues to insist his Oakland Raiders are getting better. It's a difficult point of view to fathom the day after a 35-10 whacking by the Atlanta Falcons sent the Raiders to 4-9 for the season.

But Turner is adamant and has refused to accept the popular theory that the Atlanta game represented a falling back to old flaws -- turnovers, penalties, general mistakes and utterly slipshod rushing defense.

Turner sees it all as a series of circumstances, all different, all impossible to categorize in such simplistic terms.

"People talk about a step forward or a step backward or whatever," he said. "To me, each game is so different (as are) things that happen in a game.

"We played the Kansas City game and had no turnovers. That was a positive. When you have no turnovers, you're helping your offense, you're helping your defense, you're helping your field position ... everything. It's hard to play a game with no turnovers.

"Then I look at Atlanta. Atlanta went to Tampa Bay a week ago and turned the ball over twice inside the 10, threw an interception on first-and-goal at the 1 and couldn't overcome it. They lost 27-0 on the road.

"I'm sure people looking at that thought that was a big step back. But you have a chance to go out and play again the next week. And so, it's disappointing the way we played (at Atlanta).

"It doesn't matter who you're playing, where you're playing or what you're doing -- you have to take care of the football and we've gotten a lot better than that.

"The turnovers we had (Sunday) were different than the ones we were having early (when) most came at the quarterback position. We've been doing a good job securing the ball and we let it get away (in the Atlanta game)."

Turner said it wouldn't have mattered who the Raiders played, including teams they beat -- if they surrendered the ball three times in the first half, they would have lost.

As for the improvement he says he sees, Turner would only say "it's unfortunate it doesn't show up in the wins and losses."


-- RB J.R. Redmond had the best game of his NFL career and the worst, all at the same time. He averaged 8.3 yards a carry (8 for 50 yards) but also fumbled leading to an Atlanta score.

-- RB Amos Zereoue had his most productive game (10 carries for 50 yards) in six weeks and his third best game of the year.

-- QB Kerry Collins had three passes tipped at the line, one deflection going for a touchdown. It was the second time in three games he has had such a pass taken back for a score.

-- NT Ted Washington's foot injury appears to be more serious than Sapp's ankle damage and he is unlikely at this juncture to play against the Titans. He was scheduled for an MRI during the team's day off.

DE Warren Sapp was injured and couldn't finish the Atlanta game thanks to a chop block from Atlanta left tackle Kevin Shaffer.

Shaffer was penalized on the play, not that it did Sapp any good. He had x-rays and may not be able to play this week against Tennessee.

The controversial blocking technique that Denver has used for years was something new to Sapp.

"I've played these guys for years and never got chopped," he said.

Of course, this is the first year Alex Gibbs, former line coach in Denver, has coached in Atlanta.

Needless to say, Sapp was bitter.

"It's a nasty play, man," he said. "It has no place in the game. But you've got no choice when you're being taught (to chop). You've got to do what you're coached to do."

Years ago, Raiders Howie Long and Matt Millen railed against the late Bobb McKittrick, one-time line coach for the San Francisco 49ers, for the techniques including leg-whips that he taught. Long confronted McKittrick outside the tunnel at the Los Angeles Coliseum over the issue and challenged him to fight like a man.

Sapp will be closely monitored on a daily basis to see if he can play Sunday against Tennessee.

--Every time former Falcon FS Ray Buchanan made a tackle Sunday, the Georgia Dome exploded into boos.

"It was funny listening to the fans," he said. "They'd better have booed me because I am the enemy. But they were friendly. They kept asking me how I was doing."

There was also plenty of friendly taunting between Buchanan and his ex-teammates.

"When you have a long-term relationship with guys, you know it's going to be fun to taunt one another," he said. "They're my boys. They respect me and I respect them."



PASSING OFFENSE: C minus -- Not only did Kerry Collins have a pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown but two others were tipped and three other passes were nearly intercepted. Only six of his 14 completions were to the wide receivers, a clear indication how much Ronald Curry (IR) is missed. Protection was adequate but not as good as the one sack allowed might indicate.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Norv Turner had said a week earlier the Raiders knew their limitations and that is why they didn't run. Against Atlanta's gambling, blitzing defense, they tried and it worked for a 5.7-yard average and 131 yards on the ground. It was their first 100-yard rushing game since Week 4. J.R. Redmond was 6-for-50 and an 8.3-ayrd average but also fumbled leading to a Falcons score. Excellent blocking and intelligent running existed, but there is another way to look at this success: the Falcons didn't fear the Raider rush and said "go ahead ... so what?"

PASS DEFENSE: A minus -- Strange though that may seem in a 35-10 loss, the Raiders did the job they wanted to do on Michael Vick. They kept him uncomfortable on the run and stayed with his receivers. Result: no big plays (long pass play 22 yards). However, in another sense, they paid the price.

RUSH DEFENSE: F -- The price was paid here -- 219 yards. Rush defense was a disaster. The Raiders got out of position, did a lousy job of tackling and made T.J. Duckett a one-day hero (four rushing touchdowns). As Charles Woodson said, you HAVE to be disciplined enough to stay your ground in your gap and quit trying to jump the play and leave vulnerable spots. It is a lesson the Raiders have spent 10 years learning -- or not learning -- no matter who is coaching them.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Shane Lechler had punts of 67, 55 and 52 yards and still got bad reviews because Allen Rossum ran one back 50 yards. Shouldn't coverage be prepared to deal with punts nobody else in the league can match since they see Lechler do it in practice every day? Sebastian Janikowski's 52-yard field goal was a season best. If the Raiders looked bad on special teams it was because Atlanta's teams play at 200 mph. They also commit a lot of penalties to negate the good things.

COACHING: B -- After seeing an opening to run, Turner decided to proceed with a sincere effort. It was rewarded. The plan to concentrate on Michael Vick was definitely the right call and might have been the deciding factor had not sloppy run defense wiped out the effort. Perhaps the boldest moves of the year since the Buffalo game in Week 2 but it becomes a virtual footnote because of the score.

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