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Lowell Cohn: Raiders show they're making progress


OAKLAND -- After the game, after the former Oakland Raiders beat the former Pittsburgh Steelers 21-18 in the latest installment of their former torrid rivalry, world-famous defensive back Charles Woodson stood in front of his locker ready to talk ball.

His locker used to belong to Nnamdi Asomugha who was the team spokesman. Now Woodson is the team spokesman. So that corner of the locker room containing that particular locker will forever be known as Talker's Corner.

As he stood in Talker's Corner, Woodson wore a snazzy jacket and a vest and a tie with a jumbo knot and he looked like a British Lord. "We are becoming a football team," he proclaimed, the elder statesman making a serious judgment about where the Raiders have been, where they are and where they hope to go.

For a long time, the Raiders were not a football team. They were a comedy troupe including clowns and assorted goofs impersonating a football team. They were the anti-football team.

Many expected the comedy to continue this season. It has not. The Raiders are not a great team. They may not even be a good team. But they definitely are a team, a real team in the National Football League. And that is progress. Believe me, it is.

On Sunday, they defeated the Steelers who are hurt and limited and slipping. But the Steelers' quarterback is Ben Roethlisberger and he is a big-time quarterback and he wins games all on his own. He almost won Sunday's game all on his own — back to that in a moment. It's just that the Raiders' defense controlled him just enough, controlled him and his receivers and certainly controlled his running backs.

The Raiders' defense played a tough, stout, hard game. The Raiders start 10 new guys on defense — almost unheard of. It's a whole new crew with a whole new attitude and that defense is good. "I know we didn't have a lot of big names, but I knew they were football players," coach Dennis Allen said afterward.

Indeed they were and are.

Think about this. The defense played an entire football game, played the full 60 minutes or however many minutes it actually was on the field. Afterward, linebacker Nick Roach, admitting the Raiders are not there yet — you know where "there" is — said, "We always feel like we're just one game away from getting the thing rolling."

Unlike the plucky defense, the offense played only half a game. There was the First Half Offense and then there was the Second Half Offense. And you never would confuse the two.

The First Half Offense, which was very good, scored 21 points and pushed around the Steelers. Pittsburgh couldn't stop it. The game started with Terrelle Pryor's 93-yard touchdown run, a pure beauty of football execution. You'd have to say the Raiders were daring and risk-taking in the first half.

The Second Half Offense was dead on arrival. It's like the coaches administered sedatives to the players at halftime. Well, that's not quite correct. The coaches may have administered sedatives to themselves.

In the second half, which began 21-3 Raiders, Oakland didn't play to win. It played not to lose. That clich? Offensive coordinator Greg Olson started off most series with a run. That's a great way to kill the clock but it's also a good way to kill the win. Why? Because there was way too much clock to kill and the runs were no big deal.

The result? Led by Roethlisberger who never quits, Pittsburgh outscored the Raiders 15-0 in the second half and made a game out of something that should have been no game, as in null and void.

Afterward, Allen said, "We didn't complete the ball when we had an opportunity to complete the ball."

Allen uttered that provocative statement with a No.2 pencil stuck down through a crevice of his hat, the well-sharpened point pointing at his jugular. Watching him, I was afraid he'd move the wrong way, stick the pencil point in his neck and inadvertently commit suicide in front of the media. Happily, he didn't.

Allen was saying, it seemed, that the play calling in the second half was peachy keen. It was the execution that stunk, specifically on pass plays — the few there were in the second half. Allen seemed to be absolving himself and his coaches and squarely laying blame on Pryor and whomever Pryor was throwing to.

Ooh.

Pryor, trying to be diplomatic, trying not to get in Allen's doghouse, said "It made sense to hold the ball and try to run it first."

Actually, it didn't make sense to do that the entire second half with Pittsburgh breathing down their necks, with Roethlisberger hanging in there. Allen and Olson almost coached their young team to a loss.

Allen also said this: "You have to have that killer instinct and we've got to be able to come out and be more effective in the second half."

He should have been speaking about himself. He's still a young coach and he needs to learn how to finish off a near-dead opponent just as Pryor needs to learn. Allen probably needs to learn not to trash his players.

None of that matters right now because the Raiders won. A win washes away all blemishes. The Raiders took care of business and showed they are better than a certain echelon of the NFL. In the past, they had no business to take care of because they had no business being on the field.

Their record is 3-4, a losing record, but not a disaster record. Next week, they play the 3-5 Philadelphia Eagles, another team in the Raiders' echelon or below, a team the Raiders can beat. If the Raiders win, they will have a two-game win streak and a .500 record.

Such heights. Such absolutely dizzying heights. Nose-bleed territory.

<I>For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.</I>