NFL: Raiders provide sorry display of NFL football
By Monte Poole
The Oakland Tribune
OAKLAND, Calif. — As the final, pointless minutes drained from the Oakland Raiders’ 23-3 loss to Denver on Sunday, even some of the blind loyalists, the Kool-Aid drinkers, were wrinkling their noses and spitting it out.
They evidently had seen enough of their beloved Raiders, who submitted perhaps their least inspired performance in 15 games under coach Tom Cable, dating back to last season.
And they definitely had seen enough of quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who ran to three his season-opening streak of faulty performances.
The exodus from the Coliseum began early in the fourth quarter and gained momentum after Oakland punted from its own end zone with 9:19 to play, thousands fleeing through every visible aisle.
Given the Raiders’ encouraging start this season — a passionate effort in losing to San Diego followed by a comeback win at Kansas City — this was a throwback game. Back to the worst of 2006, when Raiders boss Al Davis summoned Tom Walsh from his Idaho bed-and-breakfast to unveil an offense that consistently tripped over its own ineptitude.
Even the Raiders, at least those willing to be honest, conceded this was sorry display of NFL football.
“I can’t explain it,” linebacker Kirk Morrison said, shaking his head.
“Obviously, there are some problems that need to be fixed,” cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said.
“We have to play better,” Cable said. “The fans deserve a better football team than what we showed today.”
Those fans obviously thought so, as their response was harsh and relentless, most of it directed at Russell.
The light shower of boos raining after the Raiders offense opened with three plays and a punt intensified when the second series ended with JaMarcus being intercepted by Broncos safety Renaldo Hill.
And when Oakland’s third series ended with Russell heaving another pick, there was enough disgust from the three-quarters capacity crowd (45,602) to shake the stadium.
Soon enough, there was more fighting in the stands than the Raiders put up on the field. As police rushed to make arrests, the Broncos rushed (215 yards on the ground) because they could.
Though this was a team loss, coaches and players, the blunt end of the wrath landed upon Russell. He was blasted each time he came out to open a series, fans alternating from vociferous booing to chanting “Russell sucks.” It was at least as loud as anything experienced by the likes of Donald Hollas or Kerry Collins or Josh McCown — all failed Raiders quarterbacks past.
That Russell represents the future makes it worse. He has Al’s full support — until further notice — and his salary is commensurate with being a franchise quarterback. Moreover, there is no plan for change. Does anyone really believe the answer is Bruce Gradkowski or Charlie Frye?
Is the venting upon Russell fair? Probably not. But one of the many reasons quarterback is the most challenging position in sports is because it receives a disproportionate share of blame, no matter how much there is to go around.
And JaMarcus, with his buttery body and errant slings, is an easy receptacle for a frustrated fan base to dump its emotions. He not only is the leader of an impotent offense, he is a chief contributor to its impotence.
But there is more at work here than fans disappointed with the quarterback. There is growing disappointment with the general direction of the Raiders offense.
This year’s No. 1 draft pick, wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey, has started three games and caught one pass. The 2008 No. 1, running back Darren McFadden, lost one of three fumbles Sunday and has not consistently produced. The 2007 No. 1 was Russell.
That’s three identifiable offensive cornerstones, three reasons for hope — and three players so far unable to sustain drives.
And when a spasm of relief like Richard Seymour arrives, it smacks into several doses of bleak reality.
So the noise will be there as long as the Raiders roll out an inferior product. Fans have varying degrees of tolerance, but turning on the team so early surely goes back to the long-simmering frustrations that form after six years of supporting a team that has given very little bang for the buck.
Under these economic conditions, bang for the buck is important. Oakland’s largely blue-collar fan base will spend hard-earned money if it buys a good time.
This particular good time ended with the tailgating.