Barber: Raiders let victory slip through their fingers vs. Chiefs

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OAKLAND - In some ways, Sunday’s game played out exactly as predicted. The Kansas City Chiefs came to the Coliseum with a 9-2 record, in first place in the AFC West, to take on the Raiders, who were 2-9 and in last place. Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes made some amazing throws, tight end Travis Kelce was open for three solid hours and the Chiefs scored 40 points while racking up 469 yards.

But really, it was a surprise. Because the Raiders were competitive throughout. They fell just 27 yards shy of Kansas City’s total and hung in for a 40-33 loss that wasn’t resolved until the visitors recovered an onside kick with 30 seconds to play.

I know you won’t believe me, but the Raiders proved to be the Chiefs’ equals in almost every capacity. They ran well, they passed well, they made some third-down stops, they even mustered the semblance of a pass rush on Mahomes. Strangely, it was fumbles that doomed Jon Gruden’s team.

I say “strangely,” because in a season full of Raiders shortcomings, the running backs had done a bang-up job of hanging onto the football prior to Sunday. Before he retreated to the injured reserve, starter Marshawn Lynch didn’t fumble once in 105 total touches. His primary backup, Doug Martin, had fumbled once in 101 touches. Jalen Richard had coughed it up once in 85 touches, but that came as a punt returner; he muffed a kick against the Cardinals in Week 11 and got it back. DeAndre Washington hadn’t fumbled in 22 touches.

That’s exactly one fumble out of the backfield in 11 games.

But the ball turned into a live carp in Game No. 12, and it was an equal-opportunity perpetrator. Martin, Washington and Richard each fumbled one time. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, it was the first time in Raiders history that three running backs had lost fumbles on offense in one game. Sunday, the Chiefs turned those three miscues into 13 points. You do the math.

“I don’t know about three running backs on the same team fumbling in one game. That’s kind of flukish,” Richard said afterward. “But we still had a chance to win the game at the end. So that made us feel a little better, that we just didn’t get our ass whupped because of us.”

No, but they did lose a close one because of the shaky hands.

Let’s review the flubs. Kansas City was up 7-0 about 3½ minutes into the game when Martin ran off left tackle and was stripped by defensive end Allen Bailey. Edge rusher Justin Houston recovered for the Chiefs at the Oakland 49-yard line, and KC drove to the 10 before kicking a field goal.

“When they saw one person fumble the ball, they smelled blood,” Martin said.

Flash forward to early in the second quarter. The Chiefs were still up 10-0, but the Raiders were driving. They had a first down at the Kansas City 28-yard line when Washington fumbled as he ran into the back of guard Gabe Jackson. Chiefs rookie linebacker Dorian O’Daniel pounced on the ball. That initiated a long Chiefs drive that resulted in another field goal and a 13-0 lead.

“I didn’t see him — so that’s kind of how he got me,” Washington said of defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, who caused the fumble. “You know, defensive guys, they get paid to get the ball, so you gotta protect it.”

After Washington’s miscue, Raiders running backs coach Jemal Singleton dressed him down a bit on the Oakland sidelines. “He’s supposed to get in us,” Richard said. “I ain’t expecting nothing less from him. And then when I had mine, I was expecting the same thing. … He know we better than that.”

Richard’s came late in the third quarter. The Raiders had gotten their bearings by then, but still trailed 26-16. The defense had just forced a punt. The offense set up at the Oakland 34-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Richard broke into the open and started juking guys left and right. It has been a common sight this year. Gruden recently referred to Richard as the Raiders’ MVP. He picked up 17 yards on this run, but cornerback Kendall Fuller ripped the ball loose just before Richard’s knee hit the ground, and safety Daniel Sorensen came up with it.

The Chiefs wound up converting this turnover into a touchdown and a 33-16 lead, which the Raiders never fully overcame.

“I had made a couple guys miss. I was coming back across the middle,” Richard explained. “The guy that I was stiff-arming actually got me with his other arm while we were going down to the ground.”

And yes, he heard it from Singleton: “He told me straight up, ‘I see you with the ball with one hand again, and I ain’t putting your ass back out there.’ I was like, ‘All right, Coach, I’ll go two hands.’ ”

If the Chiefs had lost three fumbles against the Raiders, instead of one, they might have been able to overcome them. The reverse was not true. The Raiders played one of their best games of the season, but they aren’t good enough to spot a playoff team three turnovers and come out with a win.

In the aftermath, the backs took full accountability.

“Obviously, we didn’t take care of the ball, so that’s the reason why we didn’t win, I feel like,” Richard said.

Martin took it a step further. “As the lead back, the top back in the room, I look at those fumbles as I have three,” he said. “As the running back I set the tone, and the tone was fumbling the football.”

As with most teams, ball security is a big point of emphasis here. The Raiders run drills in practice where runners tote a football attached to a stretchy cord, Singleton yanking at the other end. They talk about protecting the goods all the time. The formula worked, until it didn’t.

Apparently, Singleton foreshadowed Sunday’s events. On the field for pregame warmups, he told Richard, “Something bad’s gonna happen today, and we’re gonna have to play through it.”

Singleton nailed it. Bad things happened, three times. And the Raiders did play through it. They fought on, and they kept the game close. They just didn’t win.

The fumblers weren’t exactly morose in the postgame locker room. No one was kicking his locker or sitting silently with a towel draped over his head. They were resigned. That’s what happens when you lose 10 games (and counting). Players get used to failure. They begin to accept small accomplishments where they can find them. They take solace in pushing an explosive team like the Chiefs to the brink, even when they let victory slip through their hands.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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