The Raiders had the game, and then they didn’t.
“We let it slip,” Raiders safety Tyvon Branch said.
They had the game, then the Detroit Lions had it.
“We can’t finish,” said Oakland coach Hue Jackson. “To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.”
They had the game, and then they had another defeat on their record, now 7-7. “A team went 98 yards against us,” Jackson said. “We didn’t make a play.”
Ninety-eight yards and 2 minutes, 14 seconds remaining on a Sunday at O.co Coliseum that for the Raiders and most of the sellout crowd of 59,069 would become as grim as it was cold.
Ninety-eight yards. The Lions turned a 27-21 deficit into a 28-27 victory.
Everything had gone so well. Up on the big screens at the top of the stadium, the New England Patriots were destroying the myth of Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. Just a couple more minutes, just a few more plays on the field in Oakland, and the Raiders would be tied with Denver for first in the AFC West.
But it was the Lions who covered the yardage. The Lions, with quarterback Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson — as everyone in creation, including the Raiders’ defense, knowing he would — going those 98 yards. The final six were on a pass from Stafford to Johnson with 39 seconds remaining.
There was hope for a miracle, and a man who has worked his share of miracles, Sebastian Janikowski, tried a 65-yard field goal with four seconds to go, but Ndamukong Suh, returning after a two-week suspension, blocked the kick.
On the winning drive, Johnson, who finished with nine receptions for 214 yards and two touchdowns, had catches of 39 and 48, even though he was swarmed by defenders.
“The ball was in the air,” said Raiders linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, who watched the 48-yarder from midfield, “and I thought we were going to make a play. We had the game in our hands.”
Literally, but too often it came down in Johnson’s hands and so the Raiders, in front 27-13 with under eight minutes left and, of course, 27-21 with 2:14 left, lost their third straight game.
“We needed to win the game, for ourselves, and for the crowd,” said Jackson, the rookie coach. “We didn’t do what we needed to do.”
On defense, they haven’t all season. In the fourth quarter, Detroit gained 151 yards.
Jackson knew what he had, or more specifically, what he didn’t have. So on offense, he pushed the issue, having Carson Palmer throw into the end zone on 4th-and-1 from the Detroit 24 instead of merely going for the first down or kicking the field goal. The pass was long.
“We tried to stay aggressive,” said Jackson. “We came up short. But you can’t let a team go 98 yards to close the game. That’s tough.”
That’s the Raiders, who still make too many penalties — 10 for 86 yards Sunday, who still don’t make the needed plays, Calvin Johnson somehow getting free on the 48-yarder even though shadowed by several men in home black jerseys.
“We had our opportunities,” sighed Jackson. “When you don’t capitalize on them, you leave the door open for a team like that.”
And Detroit blithely stepped through.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.