4-3 Raiders not ready to throw in towel

The Raiders insist they're not ready to hit the panic button after suffering their third straight loss and that's understandable considering they didn't hit much of anything Sunday afternoon in Kansas City.

Oakland's offense failed to hit on several scoring opportunities. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski failed to hit on a 47-yard field goal attempt. And the defense failed to hit, or even come close, to Kansas City fullback Tony Richardson on a game-clinching touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.

The resulting 20-10 loss to the Chiefs sent the Raiders season, once on a meteoric climb, into an all-out nosedive. What started as a snowflake of problems three weeks ago has quickly turned into a blizzard and is on the verge of becoming an avalanche. At 4-3, Oakland has dropped all the way to third place in the AFC West. The only team the Raiders don't trail in their own division is Kansas City, which at 4-4 is only a half-game back.

''We're making too many mistakes, that's the bottom line,'' said Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon. ''In a game like this, a divisional game against a good opponent on the road, you can't make mistakes. We just have too many mistakes in our game and it shows up. It shows up on third down and it shows up in the red zone.

''When you lose three in a row it's not good. We're in a rut.'' To say the least.

For the first month of the season the Raiders were the NFL's elite team, pounding their first four opponents into submission with a crisp, efficient offense, solid special teams and a bend-but-not-break defense.

Since then, however, Oakland has plummeted into the ranks of mediocrity on all fronts. And with San Francisco, Denver and New England next up on the slate, it's no stretch to say the Raiders are at their most critical juncture of the season.

''Things happen in life for a reason, even in sports,'' said safety Rod Woodson. ''If it takes losing three games to make us wake up and play well the rest of the season, I'll take the three losses. But we still have to see.''

That's because Oakland has yet to show it can shake itself out of the doldrums. The offense has gone cold, putting up just one touchdown and one field goal against a Chiefs defense that ranked last in the NFL in total yards allowed.

Actually, moving the ball against Kansas City wasn't so much of a problem as scoring was. The Raiders put up 417 yards against the Chiefs but got into the end zone once, turning the ball over on two their last three possessions.

That followed the pattern set forth two weeks earlier against St and again the following week against San Diego. Oakland moves the ball up and down the field but keeps getting shut down near the red zone.

The problems were many, to be sure. Problems that were nowhere to be found in September but now seem to be everywhere. There was Janikowski, who missed three straight field goal attempts heading into the game, getting a 47-yard kick blocked on Oakland's opening drive. There was Gannon, seeing a short pass intended for Jerry Porter instead tipped into the air and landing in the arms of a Kansas City defender. There was the normally sure-handed Jerry Rice fumbling late in the fourth quarter. ''Maybe we're trying too hard right now,'' said Rice. ''This offense has so much variety and sometimes you can get caught in that, 'we can do this' or 'we can do that.' But the bottom line is it comes down to (playing) basic football.''

That includes converting opportunities in or near the red zone. The Raiders took the opening drive against Kansas City and moved all the way to the Chiefs' 26 before stalling out and settling for a field goal attempt. Janikowski had one of his attempts against San Diego hit the upright but against Kansas City the ball never got the chance to hit the uprights. Chiefs' defensive tackle Derrick Ransom got a hand up and blocked the attempt and when the ball finally stopped squirting around the ground, Kansas City pounced on it at the Raiders' 37.

Considering five of the last six games between the two teams have been decided by three points or less, Janikowski's blocked attempt was an ominous note for the Raiders.

''We've got to find an answer,'' said wide receiver Tim Brown. ''Some kind of way we have to get into the end zone. We move the ball up and down the field till we get to the 30 and then everything becomes a job. That's where you make your money and right now we're not doing it.''

The Chiefs capitalized on Ransom's block but they certainly took their sweet time. Holding the ball for more than six minutes, Kansas City ran 12 plays but managed to net just nine yards. A crack-back blocking penalty killed the drive after the Chiefs had moved to Oakland's three-yard line and an 11-yard sack by Rod Coleman pushed the ball back to the 28. Morten Andersen, who will never be confused for Janikowski, split the uprights with a 46-yard field goal and a 3-0 Kansas City lead. Oakland answered back but not without a helping hand from Chiefs' linebacker Glenn Cadrez along the way. The Raiders had driven down to the Kansas City seven when Gannon hit Charlie Garner for a short two-yard gain. Cadrez was in coverage and gave Garner an extra shove out of bounds, drawing a personal foul from the referees.

Given new life, not to mention a first down, the Raiders cashed in two plays later when Gannon lofted a one-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Doug Jolley.

The Chiefs got another field goal from Andersen late in the second quarter and could have had more but Trent Green's pass for tight end Tony Gonzalez ended up in the hands of Oakland linebacker Bill Romanowski at the Raiders' three-yard line. Kansas City missed another scoring opportunity in the third quarter when Green was again intercepted in the red zone. Terrence Shaw was the lucky recipient for the Raiders, picking off Green's pass at the Oakland 19 to open the second half. As was the case for most of the game, though, the Raiders couldn't cash in on the Chiefs' mistakes and were forced to punt. That opened the door for Kansas City, which saddled up Priest Holmes and went to work.

Holmes, the NFL's second-leading rusher heading into the game, carried the ball only 10 times in the first half but hammered away at Oakland's defense in the second half. After the Chiefs moved down to the Raiders' 20, they handed the ball off to Holmes four straight times. The last time Holmes burst through the middle of the defense and into the end zone to help put the Chiefs back on top, 13-7.

A 32-yard field goal by Janikowski cut the lead to 13-10 early in the fourth quarter but that was the last time the Raiders would see the end zone. Oakland's next two drives ended with turnovers, first with Gannon's tipped pass landing in the hands of Kansas City's Marvcus Patton and then when Mike Maslowski stripped Rice of the ball and pounced on it for the Chiefs. ''Those are things that come up in football and are the difference between winning and losing,'' said Raiders head coach Bill Callahan. ''But we had plenty of opportunities throughout the game to not let it get down to that point.''

Kansas City put the final touches on the game when Green hit Richardson with a tidy four-yard touchdown throw. While the surprisingly tame Arrowhead crowd danced in the aisles, the Raiders walked off the field looking forlorn, lost and like they wanted to hit something.

But they didn't and, they say, they won't. At least not yet anyway.


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