Disappearing act

All season long the Raiders have talked about keeping things together during tough times, about weathering the storm and handling any pressure that might be thrown their way.

Sunday night in San Diego, all that went out of the window.

Oh sure, the locals put up a pretty good fight for the first 30 minutes. They even had the Chargers thinking the game might go down to the wire. After all, 10 of the previous last 17 games between these two longtime AFC West rivals were decided by a touchdown or less.

Whatever fight the Raiders had left in them, however, died a quiet death at halftime, down in the bowels of Qualcomm Stadium.

Down 17-10 at the break, Oakland was in good shape to pull off the upset and salvage a little something from an otherwise frustrating and disappointing season. Instead, the Raiders came out and laid down over the final two quarters. That's not a good sign for head coach Norv Turner, whose job security is already in question.

Neither is it a good sign for the Raiders players, who spent all week before the game with San Diego proclaiming they still had something salvageable to play for. If not the playoffs, the players said almost to a man, then pride would be the rallying cry.

Well, we see what playing for pride got the boys in black. A big fat goose egg in the second half against the Chargers and their eighth loss of the season.

This wasn't like some of Oakland's earlier games this season. In those losses, one could point to breakdowns in certain situations. This time the mistakes were widespread and not limited to one side of the ball.

Quarterback Kerry Collins and the offensive line went through their weekly ritual of ‘Think fast, here comes another sack.' Collins actually showed some deft mobility in the pocket on a few occasions, or at least as deft as he can get while trying to sidestep wearing cement cleats.

Most of the evening, though, Collins was doing the same things we've seen him do with increasing frequency as the year has wore on: scramble, get hit, throw off his back foot and miss open receivers.

Running back LaMont Jordan didn't have much better luck. After opening the game with a handful of strong sprints, Jordan coughed up a fumble late in the first quarter which gave San Diego the ball deep in Oakland territory. The Chargers eventually scored to take their first lead of the game and never looked back.

The receivers? Passes they dove for earlier in the season when the playoffs were still a possibility fell harmlessly incomplete to the turf.

Defensively the Raiders didn't play all that poorly but they made enough mistakes to allow the Chargers to win their fifth straight game. San Diego quarterback Drew Brees is a quality quarterback, to be sure, but Oakland at times made him look like the second coming of Joe Montana.

Whatever halftime adjustments Norv Turner and his staff made obviously need to be thrown in the waste basket. During the pivotal third quarter when the Chargers took control of the game for good, the Raiders managed just two yards of offense while giving up 119 to San Diego.

Those final 30 minutes at Qualcomm Stadium might just be a preview of things to come as Oakland tries to navigate its way through the final month of the season. Turner's biggest challenge in these last few weeks won't be coming up with a gameplan against the Jets, Browns, Broncos or Giants. Nope. What will keep Turner busy — and probably sleepless — will be in keeping his players from folding their tents.

That's what happens when teams lose. Team goals get quickly replaced by individual agendas and the whole concept of playing as one morphs into an every-man-for-himself mentality.

We've seen it happen before in Oakland. Back in 1997 the Raiders collapsed internally under the guidance of Joe Bugel. Same thing in 2003 when the players threatened a mutiny of then-head coach Bill Callahan.

Now we're seeing signs of it happening this year. The first few cracks in Oakland's armor emerged a few weeks back when wide receiver Randy Moss gave Turner a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement during an ESPN interview.

More problems became evident during the loss to Miami when defensive linemen Ted Washington and Tommy Kelly had to be stopped from making tuna fish out of one another. Turner and the Oakland players tried to downplay the sideline incident, but it was just another sign of trouble.

Now on the heels of that comes the second-half disappearing act in San Diego, when for all intent and purposes the Raiders might have been better off staying in the locker room rather that coming out for the third quarter.

None of this is going to give owner Al Davis a much-needed restful night of sleep. Neither will Davis smile when he opens the morning newspaper and finds the other three teams in the AFC West — front-running Denver (9-3), Kansas City (8-4) and San Diego (8-4) — all surging toward the postseason.

Meanwhile Davis and his 4-8 Raiders will be staying home for the holidays and the playoffs for the third straight year. This is also the third straight season Oakland has had a losing record, something that hasn't happened to the Raiders since the franchise's first three years of existence.

As Christmas draws nearer and the playoffs become more of a distant memory, it will become harder for the Raiders to concentrate on football. Some players have already checked out on the '05 campaign and more are likely to follow in the coming days.

Oakland once had a locker room full of players who could have prevented this kind of thing from happening. Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Tyrone Wheatley ... the list of quality individuals was lengthy just a few short years ago. The current Raiders team only has a handful of those type of players. Two of them — defensive tackle Warren Sapp and defensive back Charles Woodson — are injured and rarely appear in the locker room anymore.

So if you're searching for the perfect gift for Turner, how about some glue? That might be the only way he can keep this team together.

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