AFC West: Cable Era Begins With Whimper for Raiders
(Sports Network) - When the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams fired their coaches within 24 hours of one another following Week 4, every pundit from coast to coast was asked which team had the better chance to immediately rise from the ashes.
Strangely enough, it was the Raiders - they of the 20 wins since 2003 - that were offered up as the best hope.
Some of that had to do with the woeful state of the Rams, but the thinking had at least a little to do with the way the Raiders had played over the first month of 2008.
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Had they been pretty? Nope. The Silver and Black were blown out by Denver to start the year, surrendered late leads to fall to the Bills and Chargers, and trashed a terrible Kansas City team piloted by Tyler Thigpen back in Week 2.
But the Raiders had been mostly competitive, and noting the presence of young talent like Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and especially JaMarcus Russell, it was thought that Lane Kiffin's firing might actually have a stabilizing effect on a team that had collectively wondered who the coach was going to be on almost a daily basis, basically since the spring.
So much for that theory.
To recap, the Rams came out with fire on Sunday and managed to beat the formerly surging Redskins in D.C.
The Raiders, in game number one under interim head coach Tom Cable, looked listless in a 34-3 loss at the last-place Saints.
At first blush, it sure seemed like Kiffin's play-calling prowess was missed. Against an injury-scarred Saints defense that had struggled to hold down Minnesota's woeful attack just six days earlier, the Raiders managed only 12 first downs and zero end zone trips.
Russell did not look comfortable in a return to the state where he starred collegiately, completing just 13-of-35 passes (37.1 percent) for 159 yards with a pair of turnovers. The former No. 1 pick completed only seven passes to wide receivers all day.
Russell got little help from the running game, which generated only 74 yards on 21 collective carries (3.5 per rush) among McFadden, Bush, and Justin Fargas, who returned to the lineup after missing time with a groin injury.
Meanwhile, the supposed stable part of the roster - the defense - looked lost in space against Drew Brees and the high-octane Saints attack.
Brees completed a blistering 26-of-30 (86.7) percent of his throws for 320 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover, and was sacked just once all afternoon.
The Raiders held Reggie Bush (14 carries, 27 yards) in check but had less success against Deuce McAllister (13 carries, 65 yards), who consistently found chunks of yardage.
All in all, a pretty uninspiring debut for Cable.
"It wasn't what any of us were looking for," said Cable, who became the sixth Raiders head coach out of the last seven to lose his debut. "We came here to win a football game and we didn't...We have work to do and we'll get there."
Cable makes his home debut as head coach this Sunday, when Brett Favre and the 3-2 Jets come to town.
BRONCOS: There wasn't much positive for the Broncos to take home from their 24-17 loss to the Jaguars at Invesco Field at Mile High on Sunday, but in the small category marked "encouraging," Michael Pittman's name stood out.
Subbing for the injured Selvin Young (groin), Pittman rang up 20 carries for 109 yards on the afternoon, also catching three balls for 16 yards out of the backfield.
The 33-year-old veteran recorded his first 100-yard game since signing as a free agent with the Broncos in the offseason, also hitting triple-digits for the first time since Oct. 16, 2005, when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In reality, the performance was just an extension of the solid work Pittman had done as a backup over the first five weeks, when he received just 6-8 touches per game but scored four touchdowns and proved capable of a big gainer in both the rushing and passing games.
With Sunday's outing, it looks like Pittman is going to see his opportunities to impress increase.
"If you play like that, you get the opportunity to have more playing time," said head coach Mike Shanahan. "One of the reasons he got as much playing time as he did is because of the way he played last week. He sure didn't hurt himself in this game."
CHARGERS: Radical inconsistency has been a prevalent theme with the 2008 San Diego Chargers, who played their Jekyll-and-Hyde reputation to the hilt in the past two games.
One week after performing poorly in a 17-10 loss at the Dolphins, San Diego (3-3) put together a complete performance in a 30-10 win over the Patriots on Sunday night. Given their peaks and valleys, it would surprise just about no one if Norv Turner's club went to Buffalo (4-1) this week and struggled against the resurgent Bills.
In addition, this week's challenge is made even more formidable by the fact that the Chargers will immediately follow it with a trip to London to meet the Saints as part of the NFL's international series. In all, the team will be spending 10 days away from home, making for an arduous road trip that will further test a team that has yet to put together a complete performance away from Qualcomm Stadium.
"I don't know exactly the way to do it," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers of the correct way to handle the road swing. "As far as when you're getting on the plane, you're thinking about a 10-day trip...When Buffalo is over and you're getting on that plane, rather than a four-hour flight back home, you've got a four-hour flight to your new seven-day home."
Still, Rivers thinks San Diego, which will have a bye week waiting for it after the London sojourn, will navigate the challenge with dexterity.
"I think we'll handle it just fine," said Rivers. "I think really to me the distraction week is right now. It's getting practice, getting prepared to go and all that. This is the week of preparation that can get you, so I think it's going to be key that we zero in and not worry about when we're leaving Friday and all that. We need to treat it like we would if we were going to Miami and coming right back or just a normal week and let everything else take care of itself the following week."
CHIEFS: The most prominent name bandied around in the run-up to the NFL trade deadline was that of Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez, but the Tuesday afternoon deadline passed with Gonzalez still a Chief.
It had been speculated in recent days that teams such as the Giants, Eagles, and Bills might have an interest in the 32-year-old Gonzalez, an almost- certain Hall of Famer who is stuck on a team that looks incapable of winning anything major while he is still a part of the roster. Gonzalez had reportedly lobbied general manager Carl Peterson for a trade to a contender.
The Chiefs' inability to move the nine-time Pro Bowler is a good thing in the short-term, since he arguably remains their most consistently productive offensive player.
While working with three different quarterbacks during the club's 1-4 start, Gonzalez still managed to haul in 21 passes for 193 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The tight end had been mum on the subject of a possible trade in recent days, but cornerback Patrick Surtain was one of several teammates sympathetic to his plight.
"We're a very young team, and we knew we were going through some ups and downs this year," Surtain told the Kansas City Star. "He doesn't feel he has many more years to play, and he wants an opportunity to win. Who can blame him? He has every record you could want individually, but he wants the chance to play for the Super Bowl.
"He feels he has a better chance somewhere else."
Now, it appears that Gonzalez won't get that chance, at least until after the season.