Truth be told, yes, it could.
After a 23-20 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Oakland not only has to bear the burden of a four-game losing streak but now the Raiders have to go to the worst place of all to try to get things turned around -- Denver.
For anyone keeping count, the Raiders haven't won at the Broncos' home since 1994 and have won just two games total against Denver in that time. Not exactly what the doctor ordered. Then again, not even a physician could cure what ails Oakland at this point.
With a free-fall slide on the verge of reaching epic proportions and with the weight of the NFL world now bearing down even more heavily on their shoulders, the Raiders simply have stopped making plays, be it big or small.
The scapegoat has changed from week to week. Against St it was the offense. Against San Diego it was kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Against Kansas City, it was a combination of both of those plus the defense.
''We had a lot of opportunities, not just in this game but in the four we lost,'' said Oakland safety Rod Woodson. ''We had opportunities, opportunities, opportunities but no one stepped up to the plate. So we're 4-4.''
A very shaky 4-4 at that.
This was, in many ways, a defining moment for the Raiders. Backed against the wall following back-to-back losses to AFC West foes, Oakland went into the game against San Francisco desperately needing a victory, if for nothing else other than just to restore some life into a locker room. Instead, the Raiders took another one on the chin and afterward, in the bowels of Networks Associates Coliseum, the players dressed in a solemn quiet that had the locker room resembling a funeral parlor.
''We've got work to do, that's what it really comes down to,'' said Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski, shortly after Jose Cortez's 23-yard field goal in overtime sent Oakland tumbling into November with its losing streak intact. ''There's no saviour that's going to come in and be the guy to take over and lead us to a win.. It's the guys in this locker room. And if there's anyone pointing fingers in here, just remember, you've got four pointing right back at you.''
That's because the Raiders' troubles are coming from all over.
Their offense, after bursting open the 2002 season by averaging more than 40 points in their first four games, has scored just two touchdowns and three field goals in the last eight quarters. Against San Francisco, Oakland put up 13 points in the first half but only found the end zone once in the final 38 minutes.
This coming on the heels of a game against Kansas City one week prior in which the Raiders scored just 10 points total against the Chiefs, owners of the NFL's most generous defense at the time.
On the flip side, Oakland's defense actually played the 49ers to a standstill through three quarters and appeared on the verge of having its best game of the season. Then came the fourth quarter and overtime, when San Francisco slowly drained the life out of the Raiders by running off the game's final 30 plays while forcing Oakland's defense to stay on the field for more than 15 minutes straight.
The sum total of it all was a fourth straight loss for a team that opened the season with four straight wins. With a .500 record, the Raiders have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse, and if they're not careful, they're playoff hopes could get flushed before too long.
Not that Oakland didn't have its chances against the 49ers. It's just that when it came down to it, when a play had to be made, the Raiders weren't able to do it, at least not when it counted. After trading leads back and forth through three quarters, Oakland's attack dried up in the fourth quarter when the 49ers held the ball for all but 4:25 minutes. In overtime it only got worse as the 49ers won the toss and never surrendered possession.
Paced by scrambling quarterback Jeff Garcia, who repeatedly burned the Raiders in the air and on the ground, the 49ers kept Oakland's defense on the field by continually converting third-down plays. Third-and-eight? Garcia hit Tai Streets for a gain of nine. Third-and-seven? Garcia scrambled around right end for 10. Third-and-11? Garcia again for 10, setting up Fred Beasley's two-yard plunge on fourth down for a critical first down.
And on and on it went.
Oakland's offense, which scored on Charlie Garner's 10-yard touchdown run with 6:28 left in the fourth quarter, never saw the ball again.
The 49ers, who had missed a chance to win the game at the end of regulation when Cortez shanked a 27-yard field goal attempt, pounded the Raiders with a steady beat in overtime. They took possession on their own 22 then marched rhythmically downfield, using 16 plays and more than 8:30 minutes of the extended period to drain the life out of the first sellout crowd of the year at Networks Associates Coliseum.
When Cortez trotted onto the field for his eventual game-winning kick, most of the 62,660 in attendance had already started making their way for the exit doors. Those that stayed did so out of self-cruelty, watching as Cortez easily split the uprights with his 23-yard field goal.
''It's just a lot of little things,'' said Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson. ''When the offense gives you 20 points, as a defense it's kind of on you to win the game. We didn't do that.''
Now comes Denver and former Raiders head coach Mike Shanahan, who is 12-2 against his former employers.
''That's the task ahead of us,'' said Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon, who passed for just 164 yards and one touchdown in his lowest output of the season. ''Either we're going to do it or we're not.''
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