Monthly Archives: November 2014

Chiefs vs. Raiders: Game Takeaways

The Oakland Raiders (1-10) beat the Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) 24-20 on a rainy Thursday night at the Coliseum in Oakland.

There’s really no other way to put it. The Raiders were the better team on Thursday night.

“Congratulations to the Raiders,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game. “They outplayed us, out coached us today. [Raiders interim head coach] Tony Sparano did a nice job. I didn’t have the football team ready to go the way we should have.

“We obviously started way too slow and didn’t finish strong enough.”

It was a tale of two halves for the Chiefs, who got behind early by a score of 14-0 early into the second quarter.

The Chiefs defense, which hadn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season, gave up two before halftime to Raiders running back Latavius Murray, who left the game before halftime with concussion.

But before Murray exited the game, much of his damage was already done. He carried the ball four times for 112 yards and two touchdowns, which included a 90-yard scamper early in the second quarter that extended the Raiders’ lead to 14-0.

While the Raiders offense seemed to be clicking early in the game, the Chiefs struggled.

In the first half, Chiefs quarterback

Alex Smith was just 8 of 18 for 48 yards, and the offense was just 1-of-9 on third down conversions.

Coming into the game on Thursday, the Chiefs offense ranked third in the NFL by converting 48 percent of their third down attempts.

After the game, Reid took some of the blame for the early struggles from Smith and the offense.

“I was probably too conservative all the way around early in the game, but [Smith] did his part,” Reid said.

Smith spoke after the game about the early struggles from the offense.

“I mean it’s easy to say. I mean, you’d love to start fast,” Smith said. “We talk about that all the time. It’s a matter of going out there and doing it. I think really, we look back, especially those first couple of series before it started coming down.

“We lacked execution. We put ourselves in some bad spots, and didn’t convert on third downs.”

The rain, which had been pretty steady throughout the day, really picked up in the second quarter, and it wasn’t until the second half that the Chiefs offense started to move the ball.

“We did some good things in the second half,” Reid said. “We threw the ball down the field and I called down-the-field throws. Those were a bit tough early with the weather the way it was, but we’ve still got to execute better and I’ve got to make sure that I put the guys in position to execute better, which I didn’t do a very good job of.”

Midway through the second quarter, Oakland returner Denarius Moore muffed a punt deep in Raiders territory. Veteran Frank Zombo recovered it and the Chiefs were given the ball at the 11-yard line trailing 14-0.

But the offense wasn’t able to put seven points on the board and instead settled for a 24-yard Cairo Santos field goal that made the score 14-3.

Along with third-down conversions, which the Chiefs converted just 2 of 14 (14 percent), the Chiefs finished 1 of 3 (33 percent) in red-zone efficiency, and these are two areas in which the Chiefs have been fantastic this season.

The Chiefs came back in the second half and showed a little life on both sides of the ball.

Late in the third quarter, Smith made a couple of beautiful throws in a row to Travis Kelce for 11 yards and then Dwayne Bowe for 21, which was really the first sign of life from the Chiefs offense on the night.

Then on that same drive on a third-and-1 just inside the red zone, Reid called a play-action pass and Smith found tight end Anthony Fasano wide open down the field for a 19-yard touchdown reception, which gave the Chiefs their first touchdown of the game and brought them to within seven at 17-10.

After a punt on the Raiders’ next offensive drive, the Chiefs offense once again drove down the field and this time it was a Jamaal Charles 30-yard touchdown reception that put the Chiefs on the board and tied the game 17-17 early in the fourth quarter.

Charles finished the game with 19 carries for 80 yards and four receptions for 42 yards, including the 30-yard touchdown.

After the Chiefs took a 20-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter on a Cairo Santos 25-yard field goal, which was the second Chiefs drive that got inside the Raiders’ 10-yard line that resulted in a field goal, Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr drove the ball down the field and scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in the game.

Carr finished the game 18 of 35 for 174 yards and a touchdown, and it was the lone touchdown to veteran receiver James Jones that turned out to be the biggest play of the game.

While Carr played well, the Raiders did their damage on the ground.

Coming into the game, the Raiders had averaged only 63 yards per game on the ground, which ranked last in the NFL.

On Thursday, they ran the ball 30 times for 179 yards and two touchdowns, which mostly came from Murray in the first half.

The key play on the final touchdown drive from the Raiders was on third-and-9 from the 29-yard line. Carr attempted a back-shoulder throw to receiver Andre Holmes and Chiefs cornerback Ron Parker was penalized for defensive pass interference after the ball fell incomplete.

Upon further review, most of the contact came from Holmes, but the flag was thrown and the Raiders were given a first-and-10 from the 20-yard line.

Just four plays later, Carr found Jones in the back of the end zone for the 9-yard go-ahead touchdown.

But the Chiefs still had a chance. Smith and the offense got the ball back on their own 39-yard line after a nice return from rookie De’Anthony Thomas.

With the Raiders smelling their first victory of the season, the Chiefs offense could only pick up 13 yards on the drive before a fourth-and-13 pass from Smith to receiver Frankie Hammond fell incomplete.

Just like that, the Raiders picked up their first win of the season and the Chiefs snapped their five-game winning streak.

“I mean it’s tough there when you get down in that kind of situation and you have no timeouts, you know they know you are one dimensional,” Smith said of that final drive. “Those guys just kind of pinned their ears back. They’re good players and they’ve been doing it a long time.

“You kind of want to avoid that situation, but when you’re in it you try to make some things happen.”

Despite the early struggles and the overall sting of losing to a rival, Charles said he’s proud of the way the team fought back and gave them a chance at the end.

“I can be proud of the guys, we came back in the second half and we fought our way back to try to give our team a chance,” Charles said.

It’d be easy for people on the outside to make excuses for this game, whether it was the short week and travel or the weather and field conditions, but that’s not something you’re going to hear from the Chiefs players or coaches.

“We both had the same odds,” Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali said. “You can’t sit here and make excuses, but they played better than us and wanted it more than we wanted it. We just have to learn from this and play the game.”

Smith agreed.

“We are about to handle this the right way,” Smith said. “We’re going to build from it. As weird as that is to say, you only got two choices to be able to handle something like this. We can regroup and get it together.

“We still got a lot in front of us.”

While the Raiders enjoy their first win of the season, the Chiefs focus is now squarely on the Denver Broncos, whom the Chiefs are battling for the top spot in the AFC West.

With Golden Tate blossoming, Cardinals can’t just focus on Megatron

Despite a four-inch height difference, the two put their natural athleticism and ability on display in 2012 and 2013 when Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson matched up against Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Even though Johnson bested Peterson both times, Arizona won both games.

This year, however, the two might be a sideshow.

During the three games Johnson missed in Weeks 6-8, first-year Lions receiver Golden Tate stepped in to fill Megatron-sized shoes in the offense, averaging 116.3 yards per game and catching two touchdown passes. As another 100-yard threat, Tate gives Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford a viable option when Johnson draws double-teams.

And that means Arizona’s defense can’t just devise a game plan around Johnson anymore. It has to play honest Sunday, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said.

“You can lean toward Calvin, but then that puts one-on-one matchups to Tate vs. someone else, and he’s playing extremely well,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “I think it helped Calvin to miss the games that he missed to allow Golden and Matthew to get on the schedule and the way that they are right now.”

Tate has gained more than 100 yards in five of his last six games, leading him to the top of the receiver stats. His 66 receptions are second in the NFL, his 454 yards after catch are tied for second, his 909 receiving yards are fourth and his 91 targets are fifth.

Last Sunday, he finished with 109 yards and Johnson had 113. It was the first time since 1999 that the Lions had two receivers catch at least seven passes with at least 100 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But if there’s a game for Tate’s run to end, it’s Sunday. In six career games against Arizona – all with Seattle – he has 15 catches for 178 yards and no touchdowns.

Tate’s blossoming will make it tough for the Cardinals to double-team Johnson as much Sunday, but Arizona is better equipped to handle both receivers with Antonio Cromartie defending the side of the field opposite Peterson. He has 21 tackles and three interceptions this year, on pace for his best season since 2008. Last week against St. Louis, Cromartie and Peterson were targeted a combined seven times and allowed just six receiving yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“We’re very equipped,” Peterson said. “Both of us are definitely capable of getting the job done, but we have a very, very special game plan. Can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.”

If Arizona gives Johnson single coverage, they have a 6-foot-5 receiver on a 6-1 cornerback. If they double Johnson over the top, Tate is single-covered and can explode for another 100-yard game.

Bowles has proven this season he has the personnel to adjust the game plan to stop specific threats – See what they did against the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray. Sunday won’t be any different, except the Lions have more options in their passing game this season.

“They’ll be matchups in different situations,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “We never want them to know if we’re playing man or zone all the time. You never want to give a quarterback that opportunity. There’ll be people in and out. There’ll certain matchups that we like and we’ll have those on certain downs and distances.”

Locking up Carson Palmer is right move now — and beyond

TEMPE, Ariz. — When I first wrote that I thought it was the right move for the Arizona Cardinals to extend quarterback Carson Palmer three weeks ago, he was still on the mend from a nerve injury, not yet back to 100 percent.

His future could’ve gone one of two ways at that point: He could’ve not fully recovered from the axillary nerve contusion in his throwing shoulder and, at 34, been close to a real retirement. Or the rest of this season could’ve unfolded exactly as it has.

Since mid-October, Palmer’s performance has reaffirmed my belief that locking him up long term, as the Cardinals did Friday afternoon by signing him to a three-year extension worth $50 million, was the right move for him and the franchise.

This goes without saying but Palmer is the best quarterback the Cardinals have had since Kurt Warner retired after 2009. Forget his age for a minute, but if Palmer is able to win games at the rate he has, why wouldn’t the Cardinals bring him back?

Palmer is undefeated this season, 12-2 in his past 14 games dating back to Week 8 of last year — the best record in the league during that span — and 15-6 with the Cardinals, the best start for a quarterback in the franchise’s modern era.

While Warner was good, if Palmer leads the Cardinals to a playoff run — even the Super Bowl — this season and does it again next year, he should be considered the franchise’s best quarterback ever, at least since they’ve been in Arizona.

The stability he’s brought to the team has produced a season not seen by the Cardinals since the 1970s — a win Sunday and this would be the first time the Cardinals have been 8-1 since 1948. A lot of that has to do with coach Bruce Arians, but his scheme can only go so far. He needed a quarterback who could execute it. He found that in Palmer, who fits the physical mold of an Arians-style quarterback but with the savvy of a veteran. What we’re watching happen this year — the league’s best record at 7-1, Arizona sitting atop not just the NFC West but the overall NFC — is a product of Palmer understanding the offense, which was a major issue for the Cardinals a year ago.

And he’ll only get better. As I wrote a few weeks back, why throw that all away? At this rate, if Palmer can stay healthy, and with how Arians and general manager Steve Keim can turn over a roster, the Cardinals can be a playoff contender as long as Palmer remains in the lineup.

With just next year guaranteed, the Cardinals are protecting themselves from injury or a decline in production. But if Palmer can give them another year — maybe two at best — and then hand the keys to Logan Thomas in 2016 or 2017, would this extension still be worth it? Yes.

In October, I listed reasons to be skeptical of keeping Palmer around: He’ll be 35 in December, he threw 22 interceptions last season, he missed three games with a nerve injury, and his arm wasn’t what it used to be.

As he closes in on a month shy of his 35th birthday, Palmer’s shown he’s still able to be more productive than he’s been in years. He’s doing it with smarter play and a mobility that has jaws dropping seemingly weekly. Maybe it’s the maturity that accompanies being in the league for 12 years and in his mid-30s.

He’s also cut down on his interceptions, throwing just two in five games, a direct result of understanding the offense. While his shoulder hasn’t been tested like it was in Week 1, Palmer has shown that it’s not a major concern anymore even if he’s 10-for-26 on passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air this year, but just 6-for-18 since Week 6. He’s still on pace for 3,601 yards and with the help of a couple big games, he could hit 4,000 yards for the third straight season.

Even if he’s not taking as many deep shots post-injury, Palmer has figured out ways to win. At the end of the day, that’s all the Cardinals need out of a 34-year-old quarterback.

And that’s what they’re getting.