This touchdown catch by Keenan Allen (right) was set up by a costly taunting penalty vs. the Raiders' Mike Jenkins earlier on the San Diego drive. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
With just one game remaining this season for the Raiders, it can’t be said they’re not playing hard.
The effort still seems to be there. With so many young players trying to establish themselves and a large group of players (18) on the verge of seeing their contracts expire, Raiders players are not only playing for pride and for their coaching staff, but are auditioning on film for GM Reggie McKenzie – or other GMs around the league.
However, after Sunday’s 26-13 loss to the Chargers, it's certainly apparent the Raiders aren’t playing intelligent football.
In Sunday’s game, officials threw penalty flags 15 times against Oakland, with 12 accepted – a season high for the Raiders. Six times, the Chargers were given first downs via penalty.
There were roughing-the-passer and taunting penalties, that were particularly unnecessary and costly. The taunting call against cornerback Mike Jenkins – when he slapped the ball out of running back Ryan Mathews’ hands after forcing him out of bounds for no gain – was particularly painful, helping the Chargers advance to a touchdown.
“We have to play smarter,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen told the media after the game. “Penalties are going to happen in the game, but we can’t have the not-smart penalties, which cost your football team.”
Indeed, with the Raiders often outmatched in 2013, Oakland’s margin of error is razor thin, and mistakes – interceptions, fumbles, penalties, missed tackles and blown assignments – have been painful for a team that has now lost five straight games and seven of eight to fall to 4-11 with this season’s finale coming up Sunday against the powerful Broncos.
After starting out 3-4 this season, it now seems a lock that Allen will have back-to-back 4-12 seasons on his resume for the first two seasons of his four-year deal. And, though it seemed certain earlier this year that Allen would return for 2014, the team’s downward spiral isn’t helping his cause.
The lack of discipline shown in a higher number of penalties over the second half of the season is a worrying trend. As Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com pointed out, the Raiders have eight or more penalties in seven of their past 11 games.
The Raiders fought back Sunday, and appeared to get back within a touchdown of the Chargers with more than four minutes remaining when Rod Streater caught a long pass from Matt McGloin and tumbled into the end zone for an apparent touchdown. But officials ruled the ball got away from him, and that he didn’t have possession – negating the score. Had the TD held up, the Raiders would still have had a chance to pull out the game.
But, bad things often happen to bad teams, and the Raiders – talent thin to start the season and even thinner because of injuries – certainly fall under that category.
Publicly, the players still seem very much in support of Allen. They’re playing hard and speaking up in his defense.
“I think the coaching staff has done a good job this year,” veteran safety Charles Woodson told Gutierrez. “What it boils down to is … we as players have to put it all together, and I can’t put that on the coaching staff.”
Defensive end Jason Hunter, who was flagged twice vs. the Chargers, said some of the penalties are occurring now because the team is pressing. In trying so hard to make big plays, players are making mistakes.
“Sometimes when you press hard and try too hard, things don’t go how you want them to go,” Hunter told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group.
That certainly was the case in Defeat No. 11.