Lombardi: Raiders are better than their record, other Week 5 thoughts

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In 1966, Al Davis was ready to make a move — in a big way. As the AFL commissioner, he believed the AFL was ready to overtake the NFL. And the time was right to strike.

Davis wanted his teams to ignore the long-standing “gentleman’s agreement” between the leagues of not going after veteran players unless a club had renounced its interest. When the Giants signed Bills kicker Pete Gogolak, violating the agreement, the first bomb was launched. Davis, never the pacifist when facing confrontation, then instructed his AFL teams sign star NFL veterans to future deals. Bears tight end Mike Ditka, Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel and 49ers quarterback John Brodie all signed future deals helping to raise the salaries for veteran players.

What Davis didn’t realize was Lamar Hunt, the founder of the AFL and owner of the Chiefs, was secretly meeting with Cowboys president Tex Schramm in the parking lot of Love Field, making a deal for the merger. Hunt never told Davis of his intentions and when the merger was finally announced, Davis wasn’t happy, to say the least, and carried his unhappiness over the snub with him for the rest of his life. After the merger, Davis returned to running the Raiders, but his displeasure toward Hunt and the Chiefs never subsided, intensifying the rivalry. Do you ever wonder why there is so much hatred between the teams? Now you know.

Having been to many Chiefs-Raiders games in my life, missed calls, bad calls, phantom calls, great endings are all part of the illustrious history. Once Larry Nemmers officiated three straight Raiders-Chiefs games. Because Nemmers was from Springfield, Mo., Davis believed he was planted there to make bad calls, which he often did. There is always some strange magic at work in these games — going in both directions.

Often after the game, we are discussing the officiating crew more than the game itself, which was the case Monday night as the Raiders received a beneficial call late in the first half and then had to endure a second half of make-up calls that were hard to explain. The salient takeaway, outside of the officials, was the Raiders are a good 1-4 team that doesn’t know how to win games at the end and the Chiefs are still hard to beat when Patrick Mahomes plays at the Mahomes expected level. Let’s begin with the Raiders.

There are some 1-4 teams that are not good — Washington and Pittsburgh being the prime examples. Only examining the record can be deceiving, as the Raiders are a good team — not a great team, but better than their record. They have been in every game with a chance to win or tie at the end and have not made the one play to get them over the top. A play here or there and the Raiders could be a playoff team — but as Bill Parcells always reminded me, “You are what your record says you are.” We keep score because the record matters. Last season, the Raiders won all those close games. This year, they have fallen short. Monday night they had two plays to get one yard and failed. Had they gotten that one yard, they might have moved the ball into field-goal range to win the game.

They are so close, yet, so far. Why? Is it the new system? The lack of playmakers besides Davante Adams? Or is Derek Carr not delivering? The Raiders' biggest problem starts and ends with themselves. They continue to make mental and physical mistakes and commit untimely penalties that keep them from operating on all cylinders. Once the Raiders stop beating themselves and understand what it takes to play at the highest level, they can play and beat anyone in the NFL. Monday night showed them how close they are — and how far they must travel when they return after the bye. One thing is for sure, Vegas isn’t going to treat the Raiders as a 1-4 team. They will be valued, and their opening lines will be reflective of their ability to play with anyone anywhere.

As for the Chiefs, I thought Andy Reid’s expression at the end of the game when greeting Raiders coach Josh McDaniels was telling. Reid was clearly happy with the win but had a deeply worried look in his eye. His team isn’t as good as last season — in part because they miss the explosive nature of Tyreek Hill and must be perfect on each possession. Mahomes often is perfect, but if he has one slip-up or if one of those four trips into the red zone Monday night doesn’t result in a touchdown, the game isn’t going in the Chiefs' favor.

The Chiefs’ offensive line has not played well, causing Mahomes to take a beating Monday night. If that continues, it can be cause for great concern. Both of the Chiefs’ tackles struggle in pass protection, and unless Mahomes can get rid of the ball, or move, which he often does, he will struggle to stay upright. The defense isn’t good enough to play a constant man-to-man game in the back end. Without tight end Darren Waller on the field, the Raiders failed to take advantage of favorable matchups when the Chiefs played man-to-man coverage. With only one of their best players on the field, the Raiders still got the ball to Adams, which isn’t a good sign for the Chiefs. Facing Buffalo this week, handling Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis will be an issue, and if Isaiah McKenzie is healthy, those matchups greatly favor the Bills.

The Raiders had their chances, made big plays, and their decision to not tie the game late made me uncomfortable. I always ask myself” “What would Bill Belichick do in those kick-or-not situations?” Tying the game would have made the Chiefs play more aggressively at the end of the game. Had the Raiders scored to take the lead, it would have made them just as aggressive. Not sure I understand the benefit.

If the Chiefs are going to beat the Bills this week, they will need to play at a higher level in every area. Monday night, the Raiders averaged 6.8 per play and the Chiefs only 5.3. The Bills averaged more than 10 yards per play on Sunday against the Steelers. I know the Steelers are not as good defensively as the Chiefs, but they have a better offense than the Raiders. Can the Chiefs continue to have eight or more play drives against a better defense? On Monday night, they had four drives of nine or more plays. Buffalo is much better defensively than the Raiders, will present more problems and have better answers on third down. The game opened with the Bills being a one-point favorite and now the line has moved to the Bills -3. What makes the game even more important is home field in the playoffs WILL matter for both teams — and this game will be the tiebreaker if needed.

Don’t you love great Monday night games? They not only provide us with great entertainment but with questions for the coming weeks.

Washington Commanders

The last two weeks, all I heard at the Borgata Sportsbook is the “sharps” are all over the Commanders: at Dallas and home against Tennessee. My initial response is why? What have the Commanders done to deserve such praise? They are poorly coached, poorly managed during the game and, for all their supposed talent on defense and at the skill positions, they never seem to play with any consistency.

This week they will face the struggling Bears and opened as a one-point favorite on the road. The line quickly shifted to a pick-’em or the Bears laying a point. You will never read or hear me endorse the Commanders against anyone as I don’t trust them. Their head coach, Ron Rivera, threw his starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, under the bus after being asked about the gulf between his team and the rest of the division at his presser, instantly diagnosing the issue: “Quarterback.” Rivera is 27-39 the last four-plus years and has only three winning seasons in his 11 years as a head coach. Yet he is rarely mentioned as being on the hot seat. He might not be there, but his team is on my never-play list.

Observations from Week 5

Betting on Brandon Staley is risky. The Chargers coach’s decision to go for it on fourth down late in Sunday’s game in Cleveland was horrendous, only to be outdone by Browns coach Kevin Stefanski decision to go for it on fourth-and-and inches in the third quarter with over five minutes remaining in the quarter at his own 25. What is the reward if he gets the first down? Three more plays? He might have to punt anyway, so why take the huge risk? Giving the Chargers those three points ended up costing him another game. Staley is a known risk-taker and horrible decision-maker, but Stefanski is giving him a run for his money. His decisions the last two weeks have killed the Browns.

The Lions were 0-6 on fourth down and two of them occurred in the first half, resulting in the Patriots building a 16-0 lead on Sunday. Lions quarterback Jared Goff looks more and more like an indoor-only quarterback and as the weather begins to change, whenever the Lions are outdoors, Goff should be an instant play-against.

When Dak Prescott returns the Cowboys should not change their approach. They are winning with a great defense, timely offense and protecting the ball. They have found a winning formula and should allow Prescott to enhance their offense, not change it.

The Rams cannot protect Matthew Stafford, have no run game and can only get the ball to Cooper Kupp. Yes, they are still the Super Bowl champs, but they look mediocre at best on both sides. The line of 11 this week against Carolina looks too good to be true. The Panthers will be better on offense with P.J. Walker than Baker Mayfield. Mayfield looked nothing like a No. 1 pick and was playing at the lowest level possible. With new interim coach Steve Wilks taking over for Matt Rhule, there is always an instant surge, and there is talent in Carolina, especially on defense.

The Jaguars should be ashamed of themselves for losing at home to the Texans. They gave the game away with turnovers and horrible fourth-down decisions. Coach Doug Pedersen continues to take chances on fourth down even though his team ranks 22nd overall and was better in 2021 on fourth down. Last season they converted 58.06% on third down, and this season they are at 36%. Pederson has lost two games this season because he passed up the points.

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