Raiders aim to tune out distractions in clash with Bengals
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There are a lot of unknowns surrounding the Oakland Raiders this week.
On Monday, they fired general manager Reggie McKenzie and don't know who they will hire to replace him -- or if they will replace him.
On Tuesday, the city of Oakland sued the Raiders and everybody else in the NFL who took part in ratifying the team's move to Las Vegas for 2020.
On Wednesday, the team responded by rescinding its offer to lease the Oakland Coliseum for $7.5 million in 2019 and said all options for a home site are open next year -- yes, including Oakland.
So here is what we do know: Somehow amid the chaos and upheaval, the Raiders, still representing Oakland, must play the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. In terms of playoffs, the game is meaningless with the Raiders at 3-10 and the Bengals 5-8.
But in the context of a week full of unknowns, the fact that everybody knows where the game will be played becomes notable.
The Bengals are on a five-game losing streak because of undisciplined mistakes. The Bengals are forced to win out to avoid a third straight losing season for the first time since they had six straight sub-.500 seasons from 1997 to 2002. That resulted in the team hiring Marvin Lewis.
Mistakes are mistakes. Some can be overcome and some cannot but two eventually killed the Bengals in their 26-21 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, and those are things they will be looking to correct heading into their home finale this week against the Raiders.
The Bengals took their second close loss of this skid last week, and among the things that cost them were two key first-half penalties.
The Bengals had fourth-and-goal from the 1-inch line with 5:19 left in the second quarter while trailing 14-6 but settled for a field goal when Alex Redmond was called for a false start. Then, Jordan Willis was called for offside with one second remaining just as the Chargers moved past midfield right before halftime. The mistake allowed the Chargers to get a field goal after a Hail Mary attempt was incomplete and would have ended the first half.
"That killed us," Bengals linebacker Nick Vigil said. "That wins or loses games. Moments like that. And the score before the half. You either win those situations or lose them. Today we lost them."
"That's some rookie (expletive) I can't be letting happen. It is frustrating," Redmond said. "I just made a critical mental mistake, probably cost us the game. I have no excuses."
Especially when the Bengals can't take advantage of aggressive play-calling from Lewis, who tried to go for it on fourth down three times and even tried a two-point conversion in the first half for the first time as a head coach.
Cincinnati's latest loss did feature some encouraging things like running back Joe Mixon's effectiveness, a decent performance from quarterback Jeff Driskel in his second straight start and an improved pass rush.
"As players, we can't do anything about who is showing up," Driskel said. "All we can do is put in the effort during the week and play our tails off on Sunday. That's what we're going to do -- continue to compete, continue to not just play for the people in this building but for this city as well. We're not counting ourselves out, so we hope the people in the city aren't counting us out either. We're excited about the rest of the games, and I hope the fan base can get excited as well. We understand we need to prove that on the field."
For the Raiders, their young and injury-plagued offensive line is a mess. Guards Gabe Jackson (elbow, ankle) and Kelechi Osemele (toe) did not practice Wednesday, and veteran Jon Feliciano was put on the injured reserve list. With rookies at both tackle spots, that leaves center Rodney Hudson as the only reliable vet up front and he was limited in Wednesday's practice (ankle, knee).
"I know that both of them are as tough as they come and if there's a will, there's a way," Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said on Wednesday. "They have the will, I know that. We'll just hope for the best. Like we've done at other positions on offense, we'll have to rally around the next guy up."
Who would that be?
"It's going to be determined here in the next few days," Gruden added. "We'll use today to get Chaz Green and Denzelle (Good) and Cam Hunt some work and hope for the best."
Quarterback Derek Carr understands that his front line may be more critical this Sunday than it has for a while.
"Their front, obviously we know they got good players," Carr said. "It just is what it is this year. Guys are hurt, guys are leaving the building and we are getting new guys in. It's next man up, but just the mentality that Coach Gruden and I have together is, however it unfolds we are going to give Cincinnati our best shot."
After a rough start, Carr has dinked and dunked his stats to read 317 of 456 for 3,434 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions, of which none were given up in the last eight games. That's good for a 97.2 passer rating and the team seeks its first back-to-back wins after a 24-21 comeback victory over Pittsburgh. That followed a strong showing in a 33-30 loss to Kansas City.
The win over Pittsburgh was Carr's 16th career fourth-quarter comeback, more than any other NFL quarterback has managed in the time since 2014.
Updated December 13, 2018