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Raiders need to avoid another collapse following 6-4 start

Updated November 28, 2020 - 11:30 am

The Raiders are 6-4 and have everything ahead of them. Everything to play for. Every reason to be focused and inspired with the thought of contending for a playoff berth.

You know, just like last season.

The Raiders will try to put a last-minute loss to the Super Bowl champions behind them when they visit Atlanta at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. The real challenge: Avoid a repeat of 2019 when traveling east.

It was after 10 games last year when the Raiders visited a reeling Jets side.

New York was 3-7 at the time. The Raiders arrived a 3-point favorite and were drilled 34-3.

Atlanta is 3-7.

The Raiders are a 3-point favorite.

Best 3-7 ever?

“Everything is different,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said this week when asked to compare 6-4 this season to last. “Every day-to-day thing we do is different. They way we travel, the way we eat, the way we meet, the way we greet each other.

“Everything is different. We are what we are — 6-4 with six games left.”

How an NFL team with so much on the line could offer such a dreadful performance as the Raiders did in that rain-soaked defeat to the Jets is one of sport’s great mysteries, but they ineptly obliged. The Raiders were awful. It happens almost weekly across the NFL. Teams fall flat in the most alarming spots.

The Raiders would lose five of their final six games to finish 7-9.

“We got our face kicked in a little bit,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said last year following the loss to New York. “Hopefully, it wakes everybody up. … We better show up (in Kansas City) or they’re gonna beat us by 50.”

That didn’t happen the following week.

The Chiefs only won by 31. And so the slide really began.

But things appear drastically dissimilar this time, because the Raiders side that lost to Kansas City 35-31 at Allegiant Stadium last time out is a more complete team than the one seen in the Massacre at the Meadowlands.

In fact, when you consider the Raiders have won three of their last four games, the best they looked was in losing to the Chiefs.

Gruden this week ratcheted up his inner Lou Holtz and called Atlanta the best 3-7 team he has ever seen. I suppose it’s all relative. The Falcons aren’t very good.

Not even with an offense that includes names like Matt Ryan and Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones (questionable) when his bum hamstring obliges. Todd Gurley is another, but the running back is out for Sunday’s game.

They began 0-5, fired coach Dan Quinn, replaced him with Raheem Morris and have had a devil of a time closing out games.

The defense borders on awful most weeks. If anything, bet the over of 54, given both the Falcons and Raiders allow more than 27 points on average.

“They’re 3-7, and that’s a joke,” Gruden said when continuing to promote Sunday’s opponent. “I don’t know how they’ve lost some of these games. I’m sure they don’t either. They’re a lot better football team than their record.”

Sam seeing ghosts

Gruden’s team, included today in a tight race for a final few playoff spots, had better not play the part of punch line again.

It probably wouldn’t serve them well a month from now, when three AFC wild-card berths are really being fought over by five or six teams.

Last season at this time, same record, same situation, same 3-point favorite on the road back east, the Raiders played a Jets team whose quarterback (Sam Darnold) was suffering from mononucleosis and being skewered across social media for having said he saw ghosts during a then-recent 33-0 loss to New England.

All Darnold did was complete 20 of 29 passes for 315 yards against the Raiders, with two touchdown passes and a scoring run.

That was then. This is now.

“I could care less about 6-4,” Gruden said. “I just care about what we do at the end. Comparing stuff is for ESPN analysts, and those days are in my past.

“We got a long way to go, but we’re making progress. We’re making signs on offense and showing some things on defense. We just have to play a lot better together.”

The first step: Beating the best 3-7 team he has ever seen.

Whatever that means.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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