ALAMEDA — Two weeks ago, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio personally laid down the law. He fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.
“I made the call,” Del Rio said.
And you notice that Norton wasn’t assigned to other duties. He was fired.
“Listen,” Del Rio said at the time, “Nobody should feel comfortable. Because what I’ve been watching is not good enough.”
It was exactly the right move by Captain Jack. Surely no one doubts this is a season on the brink for the Raiders.
For all the happy chat about how the team is within a game or so of making the playoffs, it should be noted they are a loss or two from missing them, too.
At one point Del Rio said the team needed a 10-6 record to be a safe bet for the postseason prom. But sitting at 5-6, that means running the table, which looks like uphill sledding.
Sunday's game with the Giants is an absolute must-win. Granted, the Raiders should beat the roller-coaster 2-9 Giants, with their quarterback melodrama. We can assume a Raiders win, but with the caveat that a loss would be near catastrophic.
From there, three of the next four are on the road. There’s next week at 6-5 Kansas City, which is leading the division; home against 6-6 Dallas, which has NFC playoff hopes; a trip to the hottest team in football, the 10-1 Eagles; and finishing up in Los Angeles against the resurgent 5-6 Chargers.
There’s not a cupcake on the horizon.
So no wonder Del Rio spoke up.
“The message has been delivered,” he said this week. “I think I laid out … how imperative it was that we find the urgency to give ourselves a chance.”
OK, delivered. But was it received?
The Raiders beat Denver last Sunday, but the narrative was overtaken by the Michael Crabtree sideshow. Barely three minutes into the game, the Raiders receiver initiated a fistfight with defensive back Aqib Talib over a disagreement about jewelry.
(Just writing those words has me shaking my head.)
The melee was so over the top that Talib and Crabtree were ejected and Crabtree was given a two-game suspension by the NFL. Fortunately for Raider nation, it was reduced to one game, or the Raiders would have been without their top receiver and touchdown catcher for next week’s critical Kansas City game.
But still, to do something that dumb at this critical juncture is mind-boggling.
As color commentator and former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon said on air at the time, “This is just selfish. When your own self-interest is more important than the team, you put yourself and the team at risk. That’s terrible.”
Crabtree, who rarely can be bothered to speak to the media, has since said in an interview that the entire dust-up was spontaneous and that he was just “trying to get a catch and help my team win a game.”
This was on from the beginning. Denver DB Chris Harris Jr. said before taking on Talib, Crabtree sucker-punched him in the stomach. Harris, an All-Pro, hit the turf, stayed down and glared at the Raiders’ bench when he got up.