By Sam McPherson
Once again, the Oakland Raiders came up short in a close game, losing 31-24 to the Dallas Cowboys on the road in the traditional Thanksgiving Day game. It’s the fifth time this season the Silver and Black have lost a game by 10 points or less, and this was the second tough loss in a row for a young team that just doesn’t know how to win the close ones yet, especially on defense.
The Raiders took a 21-7 lead in the second quarter before the Cowboys ripped off 24 unanswered points to grab control of the game in the second half. The Oakland defense took it on the chin in the final 32 minutes of the game, in a disturbingly familiar pattern for the team this season.
If the Silver and Black can learn to play better defense and secure second-half leads someday soon, the Oakland Raiders could find themselves in a better position than their 4-8 record this year suggests.
Offense Grade: C+
This was a game of two halves for the Raiders offense, as the team didn’t do much after halftime until it was basically too late. Oakland had two great drives in a row in the first half: a 12-play, 79-yard touchdown effort followed by a 12-play, 50-yard touchdown push. Both sustained movements were capped by one-yard scoring runs by running back Rashad Jennings.
But after that, Oakland’s offense was shut down by Dallas defensive adjustments. The Raiders next three drives totaled just 36 yards on 10 plays, and by the time Oakland next found itself in Dallas territory, the team had gone from 14 points ahead to seven points behind. That drive ended with the Raiders second turnover of the day, an interception in the end zone.
The other turnover, in the first quarter, was costly as a center-quarterback exchange inside their own five-yard line cost the Raiders a touchdown.
Overall, throwing in the Oakland field goal in the fourth quarter on a seven-play, 53-yard drive, the Raiders offense had a solid day, but they were unable to adjust as the game went on in order to sustain their early success and parlay that into a road win. There were too many dropped passes by receivers, and the running game never got going (50 yards on 25 carries) against a Cowboys defense ranking at the bottom of the league against the run.
Defense Grade: D
With 2:06 left in the first half, the defense looked great. The Raiders, to that point, had held the Cowboys to only 73 yards and one short-field touchdown after the bad fumble noted above in four possessions. But Oakland let Dallas drive 73 yards in the two-minute drill to score a touchdown with just 10 seconds left in the half, and it was a sign of bad things to come.
The Cowboys picked up where they left off in the second half, mounting scoring drives of 88 yards, 65 yards and 79 yards en route to turning a seven-point deficit into a 10-point lead. The Raiders were just not able to stop Dallas from doing much, especially through the air. Tony Romo completed 23 of 32 passes for 225 yards, overall, and Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray scored three times.
Dallas did run for 144 yards on 30 attempts, but take away one 45-yard run by backup Lance Dunbar and the Raiders run defense did a solid job. But overall, the Oakland defense was stout for the first 28 minutes of the game and then pretty bad for the next 32 minutes.
Quarterback Grade: B
Matt McGloin’s third start was another steady effort, as he threw for 255 yards on just 30 attempts. The Raiders had four pass plays of 20 yards or more by the end of the first half, but they couldn’t find the same holes in the Dallas defense in the second half of this game.
The fumbled center-QB exchange in the late first quarter, which gave the Cowboys ideal field position, was a bad moment, and it looked as if the Raiders young signal caller pulled away from center Stefen Wisniewski too soon, causing the turnover.
The interception McGloin threw in the second half wasn’t the best throw, but the play call itself wasn’t a wise one, either — simply tossing a jump ball up in the air on third down for an unproven wide receiver to catch isn’t the best red-zone strategy. Only Calvin Johnson can make that catch, and he was playing somewhere else on Thanksgiving Day.
Considering the Oakland quarterback’s youth and inexperience, he is still performing pretty well. The offense, as a whole, should have been able to take better advantage of the porous Dallas defense in this game, but they just couldn’t. That really wasn’t McGloin’s fault.
Special Teams Grade: A
The Raiders kick coverage team got the game going the right way immediately, forcing a fumble on the opening kickoff and returning it for a touchdown. Any time your special teams can net you a TD like that, it’s a good day for the unit overall.
Sebastian Janikowski nailed his only field-goal attempt, a 45-yard score late in the fourth quarter, but he was unable to execute a successful onside kickoff in the final minute. Janikowski put a circular spin on the non-teed kick, but the Cowboys covered it up to end the game.
Marquette King boomed five punts for a 53.0-yard average, including a touchback and two punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.