On Thursday night, the Oakland Raiders lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, 21-13, in a critical game that dropped them from the first seed in the AFC to the fifth, and from a potential first-round bye to a playoff game on the road.
While the Chiefs’ stout defence and Derek Carr’s abysmal night will be the big take-aways, the Raiders shot themselves in the foot with what’s been their biggest weakness all season: penalties.
In the second quarter, the Raiders punted to the Chiefs, with Kansas City leading 14-3, and executed perfectly, pinning the Chiefs and dangerous punt returner Tyreek Hill down at the 29-yard line.
However, a flag was thrown because running back Taiwan Jones went out of bounds on his own during the punt coverage.
On the ensuing punt attempt, Raiders punter Marquette King floated one right to the middle of the field to Hill, and he was gone.
As NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth noted during the game, the Raiders defence all ran left, thinking they were going to pin Hill against the sideline again. However, the ball floated down the middle, leaving Hill, one of the fastest players in the NFL, plenty of room to operate.
It is unclear of the direction of the punt was intentional, but just before the snap, Hill drifted over to the left sideline and King may have been trying to punt away from him.
The touchdown was critical, moving the score to 21-3. While the Raiders pitched a shutout in the second half of the game, on a night when their offence struggled mightily, getting that score back could have been huge.
This has been the Raiders’ problem all season long, more so than a weak secondary. The Raiders lead the league with 122 penalties, 22 more than the next closest team. In a Week 8 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Raiders committed an NFL-record 23 penalties for 200 yards and still came away with the victory.
The Raiders have been able to overcome these blunders with an explosive offence and strong pass rush that creates turnover opportunities, but it seemed inevitable that this luck would swing the other way.
On Thursday, a combination of their offence finally slowing down and their own mistakes caught up to them. They’re still strong contenders to make the playoffs, but the chances of them maintaining home-field advantage through the postseason are now slim.
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