While trying to differentiate themselves from their predecessors of the recent past, the Raiders instead have fallen into an all-too-familiar pattern over the last two weeks.
When playing clean, efficient football was required, they delivered a pair of careless performances in which self-inflicted wounds sabotaged offensive drives and assisted the scoring marches of opponents.
The sloppiness they’ve displayed has resulted in two consecutive losses, including a 41-14 blowout Sunday night at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs. And with it, they lost the opportunity to take control of first place in their division and conference.
What makes it all the more frustrating is they seemed to have turned the corner just before their bye week, winning games against the Broncos and Eagles in which they put together their most complete performances in years.
Rather than build on that, they have sputtered out of the bye week offensively, done in by inefficiency in the red zone, costly turnovers and mental lapses that resulted in ill-timed penalties.
“Maybe we are trying to do too much,” said interim head coach Rich Bisaccia. “We come off a bye with a great week of practice and now it’s like, ‘I got to do this.’ Or ‘I got to do that.’ So, I think that may have a little bit to do with it.”
He said the coaching staff talked to the team “about playing free, knowing what to do and then doing what you know.”
Bisaccia was pleased with how the Raiders prepared for the Chiefs. “I thought we believed in what we were doing, in the game plan, and I just felt like they were trying to press a little bit and maybe missed some assignments that way.”
Rather than surging into the second half of the season, they approach it with the cautiousness of a group wary of falling into the same frustrating trap that has derailed their last two seasons.
The sense of urgency is palatable. Still reeling from the flurry of off-the- field blows they have sustained over the last six weeks, the 5-4 Raiders face two virtually must-win games over the next 10 days. The outcomes will go a long way in determining whether they have a realistic shot to make the playoffs.
As they get set to welcome the Cincinnati Bengals to Allegiant Stadium on Sunday before heading to Texas to play the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, the last thing they can afford is to enter a phase of the season that has typically owned them in a downward spiral.
“We are just going to look at what we did wrong and work to fix at it. We are going to look at what we did correctly and build on that,” Bisaccia said. “And really, we have one game to play. We have to get ourselves ready to play the Cincinnati Bengals here at home. We’ll just go from there.”
Time is obviously of the essence.
“We don’t have a choice, you know?” said Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. “We really don’t have a choice, you just go.”
In what direction is the question.
Keep in mind, this is a franchise that has suffered two straight second-half collapses, going 1-5 down the stretch in 2019 and 2-5 in 2020. The Raiders hope to avoid that trend, obviously, but the events of the last two weeks don’t exactly create a lot of hope.
“I think we’re just a better team, honestly,” Carr said, dismissing the notion the Raiders will succumb to bad habits. “We have better players. … I just really believe in our group. It’s a close group.”
That closeness is about to get tested over the next 10 days.