NFL@L.A.: Oakland Raiders

Rapid Reaction: Dolphins 34, Raiders 14

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
1:51
PM PT

MIAMI -- Here are some initial thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' dominant 34-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: Miami won its fourth game in five tries and continues to relish its role of spoiler. The Dolphins improved to 4-8 and will have their third consecutive non-winning season. But they continue to share their misery by beating other teams late in the season. This was Miami's most complete and impressive performance of the year. The Dolphins took advantage of their 10 days of preparation and looked very sharp offensively and defensively. It also came against an Oakland team (7-5) that is leading the AFC West.

Defense continues to dominate: The light has come on for Miami's defense. The group has been one of the league's better units for the past month. The Dolphins baffled and battered Oakland's offense Sunday. Miami held Oakland to just 14 points, which were scored in garbage time, and sacked Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer two times. Miami was the NFL's sixth-rated unit in 2010, but started slow this season during its 0-7 start. The group is finally rounding back to its expected form.

Bush continues to thrive: Dolphins starting running back Reggie Bush continues to have his most successful season running the football. Bush rushed for 100 yards on 22 carries. By the fourth quarter, Dolphins fans were chanting "Reggie! Reggie!"

Seymour Watch: A fine could be forthcoming for Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour. He was ejected in the third quarter after a half-hearted attempt to punch Miami guard Richie Incognito. Seymour has a reputation for questionable play and the refs wasted no time ejecting him. This was the second ejection in as many seasons for the former Pro Bowl player. Seymour also was ejected last season for a shot to the face of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after the whistle.

What's next: The Dolphins will play their second consecutive home game next week when the Philadelphia Eagles (4-8) come to town. Miami is looking to win its fourth consecutive game at home.

Raiders rising but can they breathe?

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
4:08
PM PT
For the first three quarters of their 27-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Oakland Raiders looked like the class of the AFC West and a scary good young team that could make enough noise in the playoffs to net the Cincinnatti Bengals two first-round draft choices from the Carson Palmer trade after all.

In the fourth quarter they looked like the same undisciplined, immature Oakland Raiders team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2003.

The Raiders weren't just bad in the fourth quarter Sunday, they seemed hellbent on giving away the game to a Vikings team that has done the same on way too many occasions this season.

First Sebastian Janikowski had a 48-yard field-goal attempt blocked. Then Michael Bush fumbled inside the Raiders 40 yard line just moments after the Oakland defense came up with a key interception in the endzone to thwart a nice drive by the Vikings. In between the Raiders committed an alarming number of penalties.

Some of the dysfunction can be attributed to the scary injury to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was carted off the field because of a neck injury.

Some of the penalties whistled by the officials were probably due more to the Raiders' reputation for reckless, undisciplined play. They are guilty until presumed innocent far too often for it to be a coincidence, which I assume is why coach Hue Jackson decided to take a heavy fine for the team and criticize the officials after they whistled his team for 12 penalties that cost the Raiders 117 yards during the game.

But way too much of the Raiders problem late in Sunday's game has to do with attitude.

This has been a team on its way up for the better part of two years now. They've played -- as young teams generally do -- with a large chip on their shoulder.

Now all of a sudden they have arrived and they seem to have little idea of how to breathe the air up there.

(Read full post)

Memo to AFC West: Know thyself

November, 7, 2011
11/07/11
2:45
PM PT
About the only thing the three teams backing their way into first place in the AFC West can take away from a wretched Sunday is that none of them lost because they didn't come ready to play.

If anything, the Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs seemed to be trying too hard.

Trying too hard, that is, to be something they are not.

The Raiders got off to a 4-2 start this season because they admitted to themselves and the NFL that they were a running team and quarterback Jason Campbell's most important job was not to lose games that Darren McFadden can win by himself.

They had an identity. They were building a culture.

But now that McFadden and Campbell are hurt, the Raiders have lost all that and are trying to reinvent themselves on the fly as a passing team behind Carson Palmer.

Palmer looked a thousand times better this week than he did in his hastily assembled debut two weeks ago, but there's still no reason he should be throwing the ball 35 times a game, not when the Raiders still have a back-up running back as talented as Michael Bush.

While Bush did get 19 carries in Sunday's 38-24 loss to the Broncos, it was clear the Raiders were more focused on their passing game than on establishing the run, chewing time off the clock and controlling the line of scrimmage, as they had done so effectively while Campbell was under center.

Of the Raiders twenty-one first downs on Sunday, fourteen came via the pass. Only four came on running plays. The other three came on penalties.

In other words, they were asking Palmer to make big plays to win the game, not manage the game and keep them from losing it.

That might sound like a subtle difference, but it means everything to a young team that was just starting to tap into its winning formula.

The Chargers can relate.

Somewhere along the line they've gotten away from the balanced, disciplined team that's always been a tough out in the playoffs and turned into wild, gun-slinging team that's overly dependent on the increasingly erratic Phillip Rivers.

Rivers threw three more interceptions in the Chargers 45-38 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, giving him an NFL-worst 14 on the season. He also threw the ball a ridiculous 46 times. Yes, it was a high scoring game and the Chargers were behind for most of it.

But this wasn't the first time San Diego has gotten this unbalanced. Last week in a 23-20 loss to the Chiefs, Rivers threw 41 times. In all, he's attempted 40 or more passes four times this season. The Chargers have lost three of those games.

Gone, for now, are the Charger teams that could always turn to a LaDanian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles or Mike Tolbert to pick up first downs and make big plays when it needed them.

Here, for now, is a Charger team asking way too much of its quarterback.

The Chiefs are an entirely different story. Win or lose, every game they play is ugly. They tend to win when they embrace the ugly, as the San Francisco 49ers have done so well this season. They lose and lose uglier than any other team outside Indianapolis, when they try to be what they are not.

The Chiefs can only win with defense now that Jamaal Charles is out for the season with a torn ACL. In Sunday's 31-3 loss to the previously winless Dolphins, Kansas City didn't play much defense at all. Matt Moore torched them for three touchdowns (the first time in three years a Dolphins quarterback has passed for three touchdowns) and Reggie Bush rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown, looking like a lead back for the first time in years.

About the only team in the division playing the way it has to play to win games is the Denver Broncos (3-5), who are suddenly just one game out of first place.

Tim Tebow completed just 47.6 percent of his passes against Raiders, the worst completion percentage of twenty-four starting quarterbacks around the league. He also rushed for 117 yards, didn't throw any interceptions or lose any fumbles, and managed the game well enough for a resurrected Willis McGahee to win it for Denver with 163 yards and two touchdowns.

In time, you figure the Broncos will adjust their approach around Tebow's unique skill set and away from his obvious shortcomings. They will embrace what he already is and minimize the damage from what he is not.

There's a lesson in there.

Winning the AFC West isn't going to be all that hard this year. You just have to be yourself.



It is an empowering moment, no matter which cards you're holding and how good the percentages of actually winning the hand are. There's just something about wrapping your hands around the sides of your chip stack, shoving them into the middle of the table in a no-limit poker game and letting everyone know this is it.

No one says "All in" softly. You say it fast and you say it strong or you don't say it at all.

I imagine that's how things feel in the Raider front office this morning as the group of people stepping in to replace the late Al Davis made a bold move to acquire Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer for what could be two first-round draft picks.

It was a move Davis would've loved. A 60-yard touchdown pass over the head of the safeties when everyone was expecting a run.

It feels great in the moment. Empowering, strong, aggressive. Like you just grabbed some control over a game rooted so deeply in chance.

It feels even better when you make that move from a position of strength. To continue the poker metaphor, with a big chip stack to intimidate the other players, or the best hole cards at the table.

The Raiders have neither.

(Read full post)

Palmer trade good for Raiders?

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
10:09
AM PT
Herm Edward believes both sides win in the Bengals trade of Carson Palmer to the Raiders.

Shelburne: Raiders on the clock

October, 17, 2011
10/17/11
9:56
AM PT

The transition was never going to be easy. Life without Al Davis was going to be sad and strange for the Oakland Raiders no matter what. But they must have thought they would have some time before big decisions needed to be made and a new direction needed to be established.

Time to grieve and mourn. Time to adjust and get their bearings. Time to figure out whether Mark Davis really wanted to assume his father’s role, and whether former coach John Madden might want to become more than a trusted voice from the past.

Well, that time is up. After what appears to be a season-ending injury to quarterback Jason Campbell, the Raiders future begins now.

What happens next will give the rest of the league a pretty clear picture of who will run the franchise in Al Davis' stead, the way they will run things, and just how different life after the cantankerous legend will be.

Kyle Boller can probably get the Raiders through the next few weeks, but nothing he's done in his NFL career suggests he's the guy to lead a team to the playoffs.

Rookie Terrelle Pryor is still in the project stage of his career and months away from being ready for game action.

And the NFL's trade deadline is Tuesday afternoon, so any effort to pry Carson Palmer away from Cincinnati owner Mike Brown's stubborn grip will need to happen stat.

There are other options on the free agent market out there: David Garrard, Trent Edwards, Brodie Croyle and Jake Delhomme are available, and Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn could probably be taken off Denver's hands for a set of decent draft picks.

But the Raiders don't really have any of those until 2013.

None of these options would really look any better if Davis were still running things. (Actually, if Davis were still in charge, I suspect Daunte Culpepper would already be booked on a flight to Oakland.)

And yet somehow it seems worse now. The uncertainty of how involved Mark Davis wants to be going forward, the timing so soon after Davis' passing, the real promise the team had begun to show this season.

Campbell's injury, in one swift fall, has brought home the reality of Davis' death.

The Raiders need to do something big, and they need to do it quickly. This team is too good to stand pat and hope Boller and Pryor can do the job.

Darren McFadden and Michael Bush make up arguably the best backfield in the NFL. Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey are making plays. Tight end Kevin Boss looks like a brilliant free agent replacement for Zach Miller. The Raiders defense is young, talented and hungry. Coach Hue Jackson has won the locker room over. Nobody has mentioned Robert Gallery in a while. And Nnamdi Asomugha's name only comes up in passing.

The Raiders aren't yet great again or even sniffing that level, but after so many years of being so bad, there is reason to believe in them.

Though Davis had been deteriorating for years, his death felt sudden.

But now, the time for being sad or stunned has ended. The Raiders might not be ready to move on, but they have to now. Whoever is calling the shots in Oakland has a big call to make.

It can’t wait.

EXTRA POINT: The NFL is such a specialized game, you wonder sometimes how much influence a head coach really has. Maybe most are like political candidates; good at the big picture, locker room speeches, and managing the many competing voices within an organization. But two very different men proved something Sunday. Coaching still matters.

The Philadelphia Eagles won for embattled coach Andy Reid. And the San Francisco 49ers might just have won because of new coach Jim Harbaugh.

All last week, the Eagles players defended Reid to his critics. Sunday, in an ugly, gut-it-out kind of win over the Washington Redskins, they walked that walk to give Reid his first bit of breathing room in months.

In San Francisco the story -- and the reputation (for good and bad) of Jim Harbaugh -- is growing by the game. His bluster, toughness and attention to detail have transformed this team into a contender in the NFC West faster than anyone could have imagined. His team clearly believes in him. An entire city is starting to.

In the short term, people will remember the 49ers’ win over the Lions Sunday for the post-game altercation between Harbaugh and Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz (I have no idea how Pete Carroll had enough self-control not to tweet anything in reaction, by the way), but if San Francisco keeps playing winning football, the win will mean a lot more than that.

What's Harbaugh's deal? He can coach.



NFL@LA Four Corners

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
1:24
PM PT
Each Friday we will update you on the four NFL teams most likely move to Los Angeles; ranking them in order of the likeliest to call L.A. home within the next few years.

1. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-1)

Last week: San Diego beat the Denver Broncos 29-24 at Mile High. The Chargers withstood a late rally from Tim Tebow to start the season 4-1 for the first time since 2006. Ryan Mathews had 125 yards on 24 carries, Malcolm Floyd had 100 yards and 1 touchdown on just three catches and Philip Rivers threw for 250 yards and touchdown. San Diego was up 26-10 with seven minutes left in the game before Tebow came in and scored two touchdowns and forced San Diego to sweat out a late two-point conversion attempt and onside kick.

This week: The Chargers have a bye this week, which means they can enjoy their 4-1 record a little longer before getting ready to fly to New York to play the Jets next week.

L.A. Story: Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani conducted a Q&A with fans on the team’s website this week and once again took a shot at AEG, which again confirms what we’ve said all along, that the two sides are negotiating. AEG wants a share of the team at half price and the Chargers want to sell a share of the team at more than full price. Something tells me they’ll meet somewhere closer to market value at some point. Here is what Fabiani had to say: “AEG has been aggressively promoting its project, which it has every right to do. And AEG’s promotional efforts get a lot of attention. That’s just the way it is, and there’s nothing we can do about that. For our part, the Chargers must remain focused on our downtown San Diego options while explaining to our fans that there are many, many impediments in the way of the AEG project. You mentioned perhaps the biggest one of all: AEG wants to buy a significant chunk of a team at a discounted price. That is just not going to happen, at least as far as the Chargers are concerned, and from what I read, not as far as the NFL is concerned either.”

2. OAKLAND RAIDERS (3-2)

Last week: Oakland beat the Houston Texans 25-20 at Reliant Stadium in one of the most emotional wins in Raiders history. The Raiders, who dedicated the game and the rest of the season to owner Al Davis who died 24 hours earlier, found a way to upset Houston in a game that came down to the final play when Raiders safety Michael Huff intercepted Texans quarterback Matt Schaub’s pass in the end zone with no time remaining to clinch the win for Oakland. After the game Raiders coach Hue Jackson got down on his knees and cried as did Davis son, Mark, watching from the owner’s box. There were ten men on the field for the Raiders on the last play but Raiders CEO Amy Trask said, “No, we had eleven.”

This week: The Raiders will play their first game back in Oakland since the death of Davis as they face the Cleveland Browns at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. A tribute to Davis and a moment of silence will precede the game and the Raiders are encouraging fans to get to the stadium early for the moment of silence and stay in their seats for what Trask said there would be a surprise ceremony at halftime.

L.A. Story: The chances of the Raiders returning to Los Angeles were remote with Davis as the owner. He did not want to give up his controlling interest in the Raiders and since that controlling interest consists of only a 46 percent ownership stake in the team he was also in no position to sell a 30 percent stake which is what both Los Angeles stadium groups are looking for. He also didn’t want the Raiders to share the L.A. market and stadium with another team. Remember, he walked away from a new stadium at Hollywood Park in 1995 when the league wanted him to agree to share the stadium with a second team in the future. Now the question is will Carol and Mark Davis be willing to sell the team to one of the two Los Angeles groups looking to build a new stadium in L.A. since the Raiders have been unable to get a new stadium built since moving back to Oakland and their only hope now for a new stadium is sharing one with the 49ers in Santa Clara. That is, of course, if they can ever get the funding for it.

3. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-4)

Last week: Minnesota won its first game of the season 34-10 by beating the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Vikings, who had squandered a 20-0 third quarter lead and a 17-0 third quarter lead this season and been outscored 67-6 after halftime finally got a lead big enough that they could keep. The Vikings went up 28-0 in the first quarter and never looked back despite only kicking two field goals the rest of the game.

This week: The Vikings try to make it two in a row this week as they travel to Chicago to play the Bears. Minnesota will try to snap a three-game skid against the Bears and if the Vikings are to be successful they will need a better performance from Donovan McNabb whose completion percentage (56.8) and yards per attempt (6.43) rank 27th in the league.

L.A. Story: The Vikings moved down the list this week after a Ramsey County panel on Tuesday decided not to call a countywide referendum next year on a proposed half-cent sales tax hike to help build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills. The decision eliminated an obstacle that team officials said would have delayed the project and added to its cost. The Vikings, however, are still not out of the water yet. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said that the Vikings, who have offered $407 million towards the project, would probably need to raise that figure to $500 million to make the stadium a reality. Even then, as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune points out, “there is still no state funding plan, no clear political roadmap to getting the needed 102 votes at the State Capitol and continued doubts about the sprawling suburban site the Vikings have chosen for a 65,000-seat stadium.”

4. ST. LOUIS RAMS (0-4)

Last week: St. Louis had a bye last week, which was probably good news for the winless Rams.

This week: The Rams will play the Green Bay Packers this Sunday at Lambeau Field in a game that could get ugly real fast. While Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks to lead the undefeated Packers to an eighth straight win at Lambeau Field, the winless Rams, who own the league's worst road record over the past four seasons, are just looking to stop the bleeding. Don’t expect that to happen this week.

L.A. Story: Last week we had former Los Angeles Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood saying he would like to see the Rams come back home to Los Angeles where they rightfully belong while he was on a book tour and this week TMZ caught up with Eric Dickerson at L.A. Live who said, “The ideal situation would be for the Rams to come back to L.A. That’s what I would like to see. I would like to see them come back here and become the Los Angeles Rams.”

NFL@LA mailbag

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
10:32
AM PT
Welcome back to the NFL@LA mailbag where I’ll be answering all your NFL in Los Angeles questions. You can send me a question in the comments section below, on Twitter or you can find me on Facebook. We’re pretty flexible around here. And remember if you didn’t get your question answered or want to discuss anything further we will have an NFL@LA chat on Friday at 1 p.m.

You have pointed out that the Jaguars stadium lease make them unlikely candidates to move to LA. Can you provide some more details on what makes that arrangement so prohibitive for a move out of Northeast Florida? Are there any potential loopholes there?
-- Sean Lawton


Well, first of all, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said he has no plans to sell the team or move the team. All the other teams that are rumored to move have owners that would either sell the team or move the team if they don’t get a new stadium. Jacksonville is always brought up presumably because it’s, well, Jacksonville. The Jaguars' lease to play at EverBank Field runs through the 2029 season, and if the Jaguars wanted to leave before then, they would be required to prove they had lost money in three consecutive seasons or convince a local judge that the city was failing to properly maintain the stadium. The odds of any NFL team losing money in any year, let alone three consecutive years, or a judge allowing the local NFL team to leave town are remote. Of course, leases can usually be broken for a negotiated price, but it seems the penalty would be too steep considering the other candidates available.

If Farmers Field is built in Downtown Los Angeles, How will the tailgating situation turn out with the lack of parking in Downtown? I read that the number of the parking lots in use now around LA Live will be further reduced by a number of construction projects (hotels, condos, etc.) that will take place in the future.
-- jamills21


Great question and it’s honestly the biggest problem AEG and Farmers Field must tackle along with finding ample parking, especially if they play weeknight games. AEG officials have said there will be room for tailgating and that there will be 32,000 parking spaces within a 15-minute walk of Farmers Field. The problem with that parking number is that it is good on weekends but many of those spaces would be occupied on a Monday or Thursday night for a game. And while there may be tailgating areas around Farmers Field it wouldn’t be like the ample room you’d find at the Rose Bowl or the projected stadium in the City of Industry which is being built in the center of 600 wide open acres.

(Read full post)

Covering Al Davis' L.A. Raiders

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
10:33
AM PT

AP Photo/Nick Ut
Al Davis always kept it interesting for those who covered his team.
In 2001, I wound up sitting next to Al Davis in his second favorite place, a courtroom. For those opponents -- and there were many -- Davis couldn’t battle on the field, he wouldn’t hesitate to call in the lawyers.

On this occasion, he was suing the NFL, claiming it had sabotaged his efforts to build a football stadium at Hollywood Park.

In covering the Raiders in their final three years in Los Angeles for the L.A. Times, I had formed a unique relationship with Davis. He fiercely disapproved of the Times’ coverage of the Raiders, but he still wanted an avenue to vent his feelings in one of the nation’s largest newspapers. So, during my tenure on the beat, he gave me a lot of access.

On that day in 2001, however, seven years removed from the last Raiders game in Los Angeles, his feelings had changed.

“When you first joined the team,” he said to me during a lull in the testimony, “we thought you were one of us. But you turned out to be one of them.”

“What do you mean by them?” I asked.

“You know exactly what I mean,” he said in a menacing tone, flashing the glare that has melted friend and foe alike.

Former Lakers coach Pat Riley used to refer to the media as “peripheral opponents.” To Davis, no opponents were peripheral. You were either on his side or on their side. And the media was no exception.

For Davis, who died Saturday at 82, the key to his all-consuming passion for his beloved Raiders, the measuring stick by which he judged those around him, wasn’t yards gained or tackles made or even games won. It was loyalty.

He demanded it, rewarded those who demonstrated it and shunned those who did not.

Marcus Allen was one of the most complete players to ever put on a Raiders helmet, a Heisman Trophy winner, Super Bowl MVP, game-breaking runner, skilled receiver and highly effective blocker. Yet for reasons unexplained, Davis turned on Allen and benched him, robbing the team of one of its most valuable weapons.

While Davis may have been a complex character riddled with quirks, history will judge him by his accomplishments that will extend well beyond his lifetime. He helped create the merger that turned the NFL into most powerful entity in American sports.

In defying the NFL by moving to L.A. for 13 seasons beginning in 1982, Davis launched a colorful, rewarding era in the city’s sports history, an era that many local fans still cling to. It’s been almost 17 years since the Raiders returned to Oakland, yet every Sunday when the team is home, L.A. fans pack flights headed up to the Bay Area, dressed in their silver and black, loudly proclaiming their belief in “the greatness of the Raiders.” Silver and black is still prevalent everywhere in L.A., rivaling the purple and gold in popularity.

While fans in droves have deserted the Dodgers, mired in mediocrity and controversy, local Raiders supporters remain steadfast for a team long gone. It is that loyalty that has been a driving force in the effort to bring pro football back to L.A.

(Read full post)

Shelburne: Why the Raiders are my team

October, 10, 2011
10/10/11
10:07
AM PT
I've thought many times over the years why the Raiders are my team. I'm not rebellious or litigious or cantankerous. Not an outlaw or an outcast. When I've been to games in Oakland, I've taken pictures with the hard-core fans dressed in Raiders gear; I haven't joined them.

I did grow up in Los Angeles when the team was here from 1982-94, but the move to Oakland should have turned me off, not made my heart grow fonder.

I've never really found a decent answer for it, so for a long time I settled on the idea that the Raiders were my team for the same reason that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas: because maybe it's good to get away from yourself a little bit, do something that doesn't make a lot of sense but still feels good, and make no apologies for it.

Then Al Davis died over the weekend.

I finally got it. It was Al.

I'd never met him. I didn't need to. There was something so authentic about the man and the team he built in his image. Something so human and real, in the best and worst of ways.

He was shrewd and mean and controlling and brilliant and tough. His ego got in his way as many times as it pushed him toward greatness. His loyalty was as legendary as his temper. The next time he kissed up to someone would have been the first time. Same goes for apologies.

But was he real.

If he said something, he meant it. If he did something, there was a reason. If he felt something, it came from his gut or his heart. You could question his motives or his logic, but there was never any doubt about his sincerity.

When people talk about the Raiders being Al Davis' team, that's what they mean.

How many teams, in any sport, are as consistent in their image and spirit as the Raiders? From era to era, through thousands of players and hundreds of coaches, across decades and in two different homes, the Raiders' soul has always been the same.

Most teams are defined by their stars or their legends. Their brand changes as the faces who lead them move on. They adapt to their surroundings, taking on the characteristics of the town that cheers for them.

The Raiders never change, because Al was always Al. No matter where they go or who coaches them, no matter who throws passes or catches them. Their linemen always jump offside or pick up stupid holding penalties. Their linebackers always get whistled for personal fouls. Their quarterbacks always throw deep. They hire who they want to hire, regardless of the color of their skin or the length of their resume. They fire who they want to fire, and always, “with cause.”

It’s something to latch on to and love. The reason I can’t give them up.

It felt strange watching the Raiders play the Houston Texans on Sunday, knowing Al Davis was not there to celebrate the 25-20 win. I'm sure it felt even stranger for the coaches and players who knew him best.

But it felt right that the Raiders won, and fitting that some of the players he took the biggest chances on played the largest role in the victory. Sebastian Janikowski -- the portly kicker he blasphemously used a first-round pick on in 2000 -- kicked four field goals, three of them over 50 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey, the speedy wide receiver he foolishly reached for with the seventh pick of the 2009 draft, had a career day with seven catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. Michael Huff, the safety from Texas he drafted ahead of Matt Leinart in 2006, sealed the win with an interception in the end zone.

Al Davis' last years were not his finest years. He'd grown old and frail. His body was crumbling from the inside and the outside. It seemed, on far too many occasions of late, that his iron grip on the Raiders was squeezing them too hard and into a sad, strange place they should not be.

But when the end comes, the last bit of life fades and matters little, and the entirety of a man, in this case a legend, becomes large again.

Al Davis will be recognized as a pioneer

October, 9, 2011
10/09/11
3:25
PM PT
He was born on Independence Day in 1929, just before the Great Depression, at a time when this nation was desperately in need of those with maverick, innovative mentalities. For the young among us, rife with short memories, limited historical perspective and abound with cynicism, Al Davis was old and beyond his prime, deemed as someone who should’ve left the Oakland Raiders -- and the game -- long before he eventually left us all.

But in the hours after his passing at 82 on Saturday, as a football nation reflected on all the things he did, we learned that history will be much kinder to the iconic figure who single-handedly personified Raider Nation over the past four-plus decades.

As well it should.

On this day, and undoubtedly in the days to follow, we won’t hear too much about seven consecutive years of double-digit losses, laughter at slogans like Commitment to Excellence and Just Win Baby, or lamentations about the Raiders wasting a No.1-overall pick on JaMarcus Russell. What we’ll hear instead is something a bit more apropos for a man recognized as an aficionado and a pioneer, as responsible for progress in the NFL as anyone, even if most of it occurred before the past decade.

We’ll hear about the championship game appearances and three Super Bowl titles. We’ll hear about the mystique of the Silver and Black and how Davis relished the Raiders’ menacing reputation. But what we should hear about most is Davis the pioneer, of his fearless approach toward integrating minorities on an elevated level from the playing field, ensuring that one’s character and productivity weighed more heavily than one’s ethnicity and gender.

“That’s what I’ll remember most about him,” ESPN analyst and former NFL player Keyshawn Johnson said on "Sunday NFL Countdown."

And to that, all of us should hum a collective “Amen.”

Long before the NFL introduced the Rooney Rule in 2003, requiring NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations opportunities, Davis had already hired Tom Flores, who is Hispanic, in 1979 and won two Super Bowl titles with him.

Long before Tony Dungy won a Super Bowl in 2007, Davis had already hired Art Shell in 1989 as the first black head coach in NFL history.

And at a time when no one in the male-dominated NFL fraternity thought about women contributing to their game, Amy Trask, a former intern in Oakland, was brought into the Raiders’ organization fulltime by Davis in 1997. She serves as the only female chief executive officer in the NFL.

It was nice to hear Mike Ditka credit Davis for the league being “one entity” in this day and age, recognizing that the NFL and American Football League would not have merged had it not been for Davis’ willingness to pursue NFL players when he was serving as AFL commissioner in 1966. Several football analysts made sure to do the same throughout Week 5 of the NFL season Sunday, as every home team dedicated a moment of silence to pay homage.

(Read full post)

NFL keeps word on close games in L.A.

October, 9, 2011
10/09/11
2:35
PM PT
The NFL kept its word and Los Angeles got to see the ending of perhaps the most emotional game so far this season.

As ESPNLosAngeles.com reported last month, the NFL decided to rethink its television rules and allowed Los Angeles to see the conclusion of the Oakland Raiders-Houston Texans game instead of switching to the start of the San Diego Chargers-Denver Broncos game.

Although Los Angeles is the secondary market for the Chargers and obligated by league rules to carry all Chargers road games in their entirety, KCBS 2 in Los Angeles stuck with the ending of the Raiders-Texans game, which came down to the final play when Raiders safety Michael Huff intercepted Texans quarterback Matt Schaub’s pass in the end zone with no time remaining to clinch a 25-20 win for Oakland.

The game was dedicated to Raiders owner Al Davis, who died Saturday at the age of 82. There was a moment of silence for Davis before the game and Raiders players and coaches wore a black Raiders patch with “AL” written in silver in the middle to honor Davis.

With 3:43 remaining in the Raiders-Texans game, Oakland held a 25-17 lead with Houston driving as the Chargers’ game against the Broncos kicked off. At that time a scrawl came on the screen that read, “We will be going to the Chargers/Broncos game immediately following the conclusion of the Raiders/Texans game.”

It was the first time the league decided to tweak what had been a non-negotiable rule regarding primary and secondary television markets for over 35 years. Los Angeles is the secondary market for the Chargers and league rules require "all secondary markets must carry in their entirety all road games of their local team."

The Chargers are deemed Los Angeles' "local team" and therefore a "secondary market" because "its affiliates' TV signals reach within 75 miles of the Chargers stadium," NFL spokesperson Dan Masonson said.

The NFL decided to change its television rules in Los Angeles after it forced KCBS 2 to leave the final 27 seconds of the Sept. 18 Raiders-Buffalo Bills game to show three minutes' worth of commercials and the opening introductions of the Chargers-New England Patriots game.

At the time of the cutaway, the Raiders were holding a 35-31 lead but the Bills drove down and scored the game-winning touchdown with 14 seconds left on a fourth down pass, leaving Raiders fans in Los Angeles furious, not just because of the outcome but because of their inability to watch it live.

The league will now monitor the early game and see if the result is still in question before deciding to leave it for the late game.

NFL@LA Four Corners

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
7:35
PM PT
Each Friday we will update you on the four NFL teams most likely to move to Los Angeles; ranking them in order of the likeliest to call L.A. home within the next few years.

1. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (3-1)

Last week: San Diego beat the Miami Dolphins 26-16 at Qualcomm Stadium. It is only the second time since 2002 that the Chargers have started the season 3-1 and they have done it by defeating three winless teams. After so many years of starting the season slowly, however, the Chargers will take their fast start anyway they can get it. “The only thing faster would be 4-0,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “It's a little faster than it has been around here. It's usually a flip of 3-1.”

This week: The Chargers finally face a team that has won a game, although the 1-3 Denver Broncos aren’t exactly a juggernaut. San Diego will travel to Denver Sunday afternoon for an AFC West game and a win would give the Chargers a three-game winning streak and a 4-1 start to the season for the first time since 2006. Rivers, who had thrown six interceptions through the first three games of the season, finally went a game without throwing a pick but the team is still 16th in the NFL in red-zone efficiency, scoring eight touchdowns on 17 trips inside the 20-yard line.

L.A. Story: Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani is still pushing for the public to largely finance a football stadium in downtown San Diego, which would also serve as an extension to the San Diego Convention Center but after having the idea criticized by politicians and convention center officials, all involved the parties have “clammed up.” San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, convention center spokesman Steve Johnson, Sanders’ stadium point man, Fred Maas, spokesman for San Diego’s hoteliers, Mike McDowell, and Fabiani all declined to speak to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the project this week. “It’s time to have the discussion, but nobody wants to convene the discussion,” Tom Lemmon , business manager for the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, told the Tribune.

(Read full post)

Cheap Seats: Almost Greatness

October, 3, 2011
10/03/11
11:08
AM PT
On Sunday it was hard to watch and impossible to look away.

Trailing from ahead

After Tony Romo's first pick-six Sunday afternoon, you kind of shrugged and felt a little better about starting the Lions defense in your fantasy league. After the second one, your stomach started to turn. And after Romo's third interception, when Fox announcer Troy Aikman politely said, "I see what he saw, or... what he didn't see," you had to know how this movie was going to end.

The Cowboys were still ahead at that point, but the game was over. It was just a matter of how the Lions would complete their comeback; death by Megatron or Stafford?

As compelling a story as the Lions are so far this season, this game was about Romo.

Something happened to him on his way to extending the heroic storyline of how he put on a Kevlar vest and came back from a broken rib and collapsed lung to lead the Cowboys to a 3-1 record and into first place in the NFC East. Something weird. Something familiar.

It's often said that Romo crumbles in big moments, but that's not really it. It's not the pressure of the moment that turns him bad, it's what could happen if he were to say -- seize it.

Tony Romo is great at comebacks. He's poised and gutsy and brave. All the qualities you want from your quarterback when the game is on the line. Did you see him yelling and flapping his arms and almost leading the Cowboys down the field in the last minute of the game Sunday? Another 30 seconds on the clock and he might've pulled it off.

But Tony Romo is terrible at basking in his own glory. It freaks him out. Things are going well for the Cowboys and you can feel the self-sabotaging pick-6 coming. Is it the Eastern Illinois, undrafted-out-of-college thing? Is it something else? Impossible to say, but whatever the case, it's a problem for the Cowboys who are often going to be favorites and are always going to be in the spotlight.

If there's any consolation for Romo or the Cowboys, it's that they weren't the only ones who choked in a big moment and backed their way out of a win Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets all punted away their shot at glory too.

Nightmare scenario

Philadelphia, the NFL's so-called "Dream Team," so often compared to the NBA’s “Big Three” in Miami, was worked by Jim Harbaugh's suddenly-not-pathetic 49ers in the fourth quarter, dropping to 1-3 on the year.

They fell asleep in the fourth quarter, after going up 20-3 at halftime and presumably figuring no team with Alex Smith as its quarterback could rally back.

Then rookie kicker Alex Henery missed a couple of field goals and San Francisco running back Frank Gore got going, after realizing none of Philly’s big-name free acquisitions play linebacker or safety.

"I think it was a little bit too happy in here," Eagles defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said.

"Just because you've got a lead in the game doesn't mean you've played a good game."

Kind of like how it's not a good idea to throw a disco party in July and let LeBron step to the mic and start predicting multiple championships.

Like the Heat, the Eagles may very well rally back to make the playoffs and live up to their preseason hype, but they have a long way to go, a lot of chemistry to build, and a lot of ill-wishers to dodge along the way.

Never mind

Remember way back to last week, when people were talking about the Raiders becoming an elite team again? Never mind.

While it was nice to see a sellout in Oakland for Sunday's showdown against New England, the Raiders are never going to be an elite team with Jason Campbell as their quarterback. They might be good, they might even make the playoffs because Darren McFadden is that awesome, but the NFL is a have or have-not league now.

You either have a good quarterback or you don't. Campbell has learned how to manage a game effectively. But he's never going to win games by himself. And he's always going to have games like he did Sunday.

Although he finished with over 300 yards passing, this game was lost on the two awful interceptions thrown at key moments. His interception in the Patriots’ end zone at the end of the second quarter was one of the most destructive, weirdest interceptions you'll ever see.

No wait, the interception he threw directly into the hands of 325+pound defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was weirder. (How do you not see Vince Wilfork?)

Hang on

True, Mark Sanchez spent most of the game looking at the wrong side of Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and getting rid of the ball like he played in a Mike D'Antoni offense, but his performance in what became Fumble Night in America wasn't the way to make anyone think he is ready for what lies ahead.

Sanchez, under constant pressure, fumbled four times, lost three of them and added an interception just to complete the cycle of dysfunction. Baltimore scored three defensive touchdowns.

New York has been passing more since All-Pro center Nick Mangold went down with a high-ankle sprain two weeks ago. They had hoped Sanchez was up to the task.

From the Four Corners

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
7:37
AM PT
Each Friday we will update you on the four NFL teams most likely move to Los Angeles; ranking them in order of the likeliest to call L.A. home within the next few years.

1. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (2-1)

" Last week: San Diego beat the Kansas City Chiefs 20-17 at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chiefs had lost their first two games by a combined score of 89-10 and had been outscored 74-14 in their last two games in San Diego but the Chargers simply couldn’t put the winless Chiefs away. It wasn’t until Chargers safety Eric Weddle intercepted Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel at midfield with 55 seconds left that they clinched the win and only their second 2-1 start since 2006.

" This week: The Chargers get to face another winless team at Qualcomm (both of their wins have come at home against the winless Minnesota Vikings and Chiefs) when they play the Miami Dolphins on Sunday and try to move to 3-1 for only the second time since 2002. Miami’s 30th ranked defense may be exactly what Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers needs to break out of the funk he’s been in. Rivers has thrown six interceptions through the first three games of the season; the most interceptions he has thrown during any three-game stretch in his career.

" L.A. Story: Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani sounded as excited as AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke about California Gov. Jerry Brown signing SB 292 and AB 900 on Tuesday, two bills that will expedite legal challenges to big-ticket statewide projects such as stadiums and arenas. Fabiani is hoping the bill will expedite challenges to his proposed Chargers stadium and convention center expansion in downtown San Diego. Although expediting legal challenges is the least of Fabiani’s worries. First he has to get politicians, citizens, hoteliers and the convention center behind his plan to scrap the current convention center expansion and get behind a dual stadium/convention center project and find a way to finance it. I guess, once he get past those hurdles and an environmental impact report he can get excited about expediting legal challenges.

(Read full post)

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TEAM LEADERS

PASSING
Philip Rivers
ATT COMP YDS TD
570 379 4286 31
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
B. Oliver 160 582 3.6 3
R. Mathews 74 330 4.5 3
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
M. Floyd 52 856 16.5 6
A. Gates 69 821 11.9 12