Challenge to Oakland Raiders. Get tough. For once, get tough. Get tough against the Indianapolis Colts, who are no big deal. Just get tough.
Seems like an insulting challenge, right? You think you’re tough. You’ve proven that. You’re a spectacular 11-3. You are the surprise of the NFL. The darlings of the NFL. And you already have qualified for the postseason, so what’s the complaint?
Just this — you’re not tough.
Sure, you have 11 wins, but you almost never put away a team. You let teams hang around, give teams extra chances to beat you. With you guys it almost always comes down to the fourth quarter. You’ve won most of those close, heart-thumping games, but when it counts — say, in the playoffs — you might lose a close game. Bad things happen in the playoffs. You need to take charge. Until now, you’ve been leading a charmed life.
Raiders, you’ve got to start putting teams away. Sorry for the nasty image here — but you have to step on opponents’ throats and refuse to let them up. Step on their throats early. That’s football. That’s winning football.
Last Sunday against the Chargers, you allowed that ordinary team to hang around, that team with nothing to play for. And the Chargers did hang around and you had to pull out the win at the end — a field goal with 2:40 left in the fourth quarter. Sure, a win is a win, but that win was not impressive. You can’t play like that in the postseason. If you do, you could lose.
Hey, Raiders, congrats on your 11-3 record, but you aren’t as good as that record. Some of your games could have gone the other way. You live too dangerously. You put yourselves in danger. Needless danger. Get tough. Especially on offense.
Your running game is a finesse running game. Spare us the finesse. It’s all fancy cuts by the backs and zone blocks by the linemen. Not how you put away a team, not how you wear down an opponent.
You need to dominate physically — a cliché way to put it. Call it football-speak. It means you need to knock the snot out of the opposing defense. OK? It means your offensive linemen take the will to fight away from the opponent’s defensive linemen. Your line knocks them back and makes them cry uncle. Or just plain cry.
Do this to the Colts. Let’s see you do it.
The Colts are ready for a fall. Ready to quit in the first quarter if you give them the incentive, if you beat them up at the line. Their playoff chances are hanging by a thread. They may be phoning it in. Cut their phone line.
Can you do that?
Can you sustain long, time-consuming, powerful, painful drives? Can you keep their offense off the field? You don’t want Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to get into his groove. Risky, that. You don’t want receiver T.Y. Hilton to go crazy — he can. And you sure don’t want Frank Gore — an old favorite around here — to stick it to you. He can.
The only time you played tough, run-dominating offense was against the Broncos, the defending Super Bowl champs. What a game that was. You kept using Denver Kirkland as an extra offensive lineman to take out defenders Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. And he did take them out. Made them quit. Do the same thing to the Colts. Take out the Colts in the first quarter. Break their will. Show them the pain of playing is not worth it. Make the game a joke. Make it so silly Matt McGloin plays quarterback in the fourth quarter so Derek Carr can rest his pinkie.
Why is all this important?
Because you can’t be a finesse team in the playoffs. Forget about it. Losing strategy. You need to hurt teams within the rules and make them quit. But there’s something else. You need to close out your remaining opponents, close them out early, so you can properly close out the season.
You’re in great shape right now. First place in the AFC West. Control the division. Control your own destiny, as they say. You win your final two games, you get a bye the first week of playoffs. You guarantee a home game the second week. Nice.
It gets even better. If you win out and the Patriots lose one game and you both finish 13-3, you hold the tiebreaker. You would finish first in the entire AFC and have all home games until the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Houston. Sweet.
But if you don’t close out your schedule with wins — closing out is the dominant theme for you — well, if you don’t close out correctly, you could end up with the same record as Kansas City. And Kansas City murders you in tiebreakers because the Chiefs whipped you twice. So troubling on so many levels.
You finish second to the Chiefs in the AFC West, you play a wild-card game. An extra game. A road game.
You could lose that game — if you are the kind of team that doesn’t close out when you need to, doesn’t take care of business. You could win but get essential players hurt. A wild-card game is a big risk. You don’t want that risk.
So, get tough with the Colts. Get tough with yourselves. Play like a Super Bowl team. Close them out in the first quarter and, after that, enjoy the ride.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.