There were impressive elements about the Raiders Sunday.
But as much as anything, their 27-24 win over the Dolphins cemented the fact their season so far has been a disappointment, and that they’ve either underachieved or we all overvalued them last year.
They managed to overcome a hail of dropped passes, mental mistakes, and errors the likes of which we didn’t expect from the team that showed such promise last year.
They were able to put the Dolphins away to improve to 4-5, but it’s hard to know if a team that was looking for its mojo found it.
Their star receivers (Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree) drop too many passes, and their defense has plenty of issues, especially when you consider the fact they were playing the league’s worst statistical offense.
But when the game was on the line, they were at least able to rely on an offensive line that can overpower opponents, and they did just that late, paving the way for Marshawn Lynch‘s game-sealing second touchdown. (Right tackle Marshall Newhouse also gets points for effort and gracefully flying through the air, after he gave up a strip-sack late.)
Coupled with an efficient quarterback and a tight end who is a major weapon (Jared Cook), you can understand why they feel so frustrated. They should be so much better than they have been this year.
But after losing five of their previous six games, they’re not looking for an artistic success, and will be content to take a win any way they can get it and hope they get back to playing the way we anticipated.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. The fact they Dolphins traded running back Jay Ajayi last week made it clear they thought they could do without him. But you have to wonder if they just hated being around the guy.
The Dolphins averaged 4.8 per carry (though that was inflated by Kenyan Drake‘s 42-yarder), and showed there might be something to their committee approach in the backfield.
It was as good as they’ve looked offensively, and that’s not what you expect when you give away a Pro Bowler.
And while he’s an easy punchline and has struggled this year, Jay Cutler was actually just fine, finishing 34-of-42 for 311 yards and three touchdowns. That’s an impressive night for anyone, much less a guy coming off a rib injury.
2. The Lynch-back-to-Oakland story is excellent.
And for a change, he did something on the field to go with it.
Lynch had just five carries for 8 yards in the first half, but finished with 57 yards on 14 carries, including a 22-yard touchdown run. That was his longest run of the year, and he broke out in the third quarter after a slow start.
He showed a Wildcat Cutler-esque lack of effort when he was split wide as a receiver, failing to flinch or move an inch off the line on the snap. But they didn’t bring him there to catch passes.
He’s a great ambassador for the Raiders while they try to keep their current home fans happy, and there’s a very limited ceiling on what he offers on the field, averaging 3.7 yards per carry this season.
But he’s still capable of having some moments, which makes him worth having around, as long as he’s not the foundation of the offense.
3. Meanwhile, the Dolphins haven’t really embraced Jarvis Landry as late, but he keeps making plays.
The league announced that Landry’s third-quarter touchdown grab allowed him to surpass Anquan Boldin for the most receptions in a players’ first four years in the league.
Landry has 344 receptions so far, after catching six for 32 yards and the score Sunday.
That’s a lot for a guy who the team doesn’t seem quite sure what to do with. But his production so far makes it clear he won’t lack for options if he hits the market after this season.
4. Raiders wide receiver Johnny Holton doesn’t get many snaps. But when he gets them, he makes them count.
Holton’s only play in the first half resulted in a 44-yard touchdown reception.
It was just his second catch of the season, but the other one was a 64-yard touchdown earlier this year against the Broncos.
He had two catches last season (for a measly 34 yards), but the Raiders might want to look his way a little more often as they try to energize their offense. He doesn’t have the classic Raiders sprinter-speed, but the former undrafted rookie from Cincinnati has made big plays when he’s given chances.
5. The Lee Smith “I was just kidding around” penalty in the first half was ridiculous.
The Raiders tight end was clearly goofing around when he jumped in the air and play-headbutted a Dolphins defender in the first half.
The league can relax the celebration rules to account for human emotion, but they apparently can’t enforce common sense.