OAKLAND — The Raiders are confusing to me. I bet they’re confusing to you. I bet they’re confusing to themselves. They look terrible and then they don’t look so terrible. Confusing.
They started off Friday’s exhibition game against the Detroit Lions in depressing fashion — I won’t give the final score because who cares. New quarterback Matt Schaub, the main character in this story, completed a few nice passes in his first drive, completed some under pressure, and you were thinking this guy isn’t so bad even if he has a reputation for throwing the ball to the other team.
Wouldn’t you know it, in his very first series, on pass No. 4, he got intercepted. One defender tipped the ball to another defender. Pick. It’s like Schaub’s life is a recurring nightmare.
He didn’t just get picked off. The guy who intercepted the ball ran it back 38 yards and he looked like he’d go to the house. Schaub’s specialty is to throw picks guys run to the house. Schaub was motivated for that not to happen. He himself ran the guy down and took him down. Schaub would have died before he let that guy score. Schaub never ran so fast. He didn’t want to look like a chump in his home debut, even if it was a mere exhibition game.
Anyway, the Lions scored right after that, a 28-yard pass to Golden Tate. Tate was in the clear by about 20 yards, the Raiders’ defense thinking about other things. If you were a Raiders fan it was groan material. It was thinking the home guys never improve. It was thinking there is a curse on this team in this stadium in this city.
Things didn’t get better for the Raiders right away. Schaub went three and out on the next series, took some serious hits. You thought a Lions defender might launch him above the Oakland hills. And then, of course, the Lions had a beautiful long drive, had their way with the Raiders’ defense and scored another touchdown.
And you were wondering if the Raiders’ defense ever can stop anyone.
More stuff happened I won’t tell you about. Let’s check in when the Raiders got the ball early in the second quarter. The most interesting thing happened. The Raiders began to play football, the kind you pay money to see. The Raiders started to look like a team instead of some pipefitters and cost accountants and criminal lawyers in a beer league.
Mostly I’m saying Schaub looked good. He’s the man. He’s the one who matters, at least for now until rookie Derek Carr learns what he needs to learn, shows he’s better than Schaub. In this drive, Schaub led the Raiders on 11 plays covering 60 yards to a touchdown. He made nice throws, smart throws. He played under control. He saw the complete field. He was a leader. He did not ruin the drive by throwing a pick. He did not make you groan.
There was more. His offensive line, which earlier was giving him near-death experiences, afforded him a measure of safety. His running backs ran well. Maurice Jones-Drew was quick and he was strong, and he is — seems to be — a welcome addition to the Raiders’ backfield. And Darren McFadden, who always gets hurt, didn’t get hurt. He even scored a touchdown. Maybe falling behind Jones-Drew on the depth chart raised his pain threshold.