Raiders improve after bye week, almost upset Falcons
The Raiders were completely revitalized on defense, forcing three Matt Ryan interceptions in the first half - Ryan had thrown three picks all year and the Raiders had yet to notch an interception. The Raiders' secondary, riddled with injuries, had been porous all season, and the pass rush had applied almost no pressure through the Raiders' first four games. Against the Falcons, coverage was tight and the pass rush forced Ryan to rush his decisions, which resulted in interceptions. The debut of recently acquired Andre Carter certainly helped the Raiders pressure Ryan in certain situations. Michael Huff also improved tremendously at the cornerback position that he struggled in before the bye - he is a safety and has been forced to play corner due to injuries.
The Raiders dominated the Falcons statistically, out-gaining them 474-286, picking up six more first downs, converting a better percentage of third downs, and winning time of possession 36:26 to 23:34, all while remaining even in the turnover battle. So how did the Raiders lose this game?
There were two key factors. One was the penalties. The Raiders, notorious for committing unthinkable amounts of penalties, had been very disciplined and mistake free under new head coach Dennis Allen through their first four games, but this week, they backtracked very badly. 12 penalties for 110 yards is sickening, and you won't beat the undefeated Falcons with those numbers holding you back. A couple of bad holding penalties cost Darren McFadden some big runs, and the defense bailed out the Falcons on third down with a penalty at least once. The Falcons had only two penalties for 25 yards.
The other factor was that Carson Palmer's terrible - terrible - interception, which he apologized to both teammates and fans for after the game, was easily returned for a touchdown by Asante Samuel. Denarius Moore was running a route to the sideline and Samuel was sitting inside of it just waiting to jump the route - as he often does. Not only did Palmer attempt to make the difficult throw, but he threw it on Moore's back shoulder, making it even easier for Samuel to swoop in and the take the ball back to the house. Palmer nearly redeemed himself after taking the Raiders back down the field with a surgical, uptempo drive that tied the game at 20, but he had a chance to take the lead over the Falcons, rather than tie the game, and he blew that chance.
The Falcons received the ball with :40 remaining after the Raiders tied it up, which was too much time for Matt Ryan - my current vote for MVP. Ryan led a game-winning drive from his own one-yard line with :59 left and no timeouts against the Panthers, so what else could he be expected to do from his 20 with :40 and two timeouts? He made it down the field with a controlled, efficient attack and set up Matt Bryant for the clutch 55-yard field goal.
I don't believe in moral victories, but I do believe in confidence-boosting losses. The Raiders found out on Sunday that they can compete with the league's only remaining undefeated team, and even though the loss stings, they have to feel good about their chances going forward. The defense was night and day from before the bye week, and the offense remained solid, though one turnover cost them substantially.
With games against the Jaguars, Chiefs, and Buccaneers the next three weeks, the Raiders will look to string together some wins and gain ground in the very wide open AFC West.