MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- With every early miscue, and missed opportunity, the sense of foreboding grew larger.
Just like in Weeks 1 and 2.
What’s that they say about trends becoming the norm, rather than the exception? Because, for a third straight game, the Raiders haven’t figured out how to either put teams away early or close them out late.
Sunday’s 28-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins again saw the Raiders with a halftime lead and then saw Jon Gruden get too conservative on offense and the Raiders' defense, that is not deep enough, fail to sustain early-game efforts.
Oakland is outscoring opponents by a combined 35-17 in the first half thus far but getting trounced 64-17 after halftime, 37-3 in the fourth quarter? And as The Associated Press notes, the Raiders have not trailed for a single snap in the first three quarters of games this season.
“We got hurt on a jet sweep,” Gruden said. “We got hurt on a trick play and didn't finish the drives in the red zone. That's the story of [the loss to Miami]. Although there are a lot of stories behind the scenes.”
One of those stories involved fullback Keith Smith, who had a costly dropped pass on fourth-and-1 last week in Denver.
Already leading the Dolphins 7-0, Gruden threw early caution to the wind and went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Smith, the lead blocker, got the ball up the gut, instead of clearing out defenders for Marshawn Lynch. And Smith was stuffed.
“We were at the 1-yard line,” Gruden said. “We ran a wedge play with the fullback. It looked great on film.
“He’s a 240-pound fullback. It's less than half a yard. We didn't get it done. Bottom line.”
Hit the end zone and the Raiders are up two touchdowns. Kick the field goal and the Raiders merely need to kick a field goal to take the lead late rather than throw a pass into the end zone that will be picked off (more on that later).
And if Jordy Nelson, who nonetheless had a monster game with 173 receiving yards on six catches, can outrun Minkah Fitzpatrick on his 66-yard gainer four plays before Smith was stuffed, Smith isn’t in on the wrong end of that stuffing.
“We left a lot of points, a lot of touchdowns out there,” said Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who threw for 345 yards on 27-of-39 passing with a TD and two INTs. “I think that's been a thing for us, really, the last couple of weeks. I think that we can score more touchdowns and help our defense out. I think that not only can we, but we should. And we will.”
Another lost opportunity for the Raiders came late in the first quarter when a scrambling Carr threw a ball deep into triple-coverage for Amari Cooper. On first down.
Cooper lost sight of the play and, in bracketed coverage, stopped running as Xavien Howard played center field and picked it off at the 4-yard line before returning it 39 yards.
“Coop had him beat,” Carr said. “So I let it go, but he never saw me. He never saw the ball, so he stopped. ... I can't get mad at him for that. It's not like he just ran the wrong route or something or blatantly did it. I promise you, he wishes he had that one back. We had the look, we had a good look for the play, so I wish we would have hit that one. That would have been fun.”
Winning, of course, would have been more fun.
And they appeared to be on the way with a first-and-10 at the Dolphins’ 13-yard line, trailing by four points, with less than three minutes to play.
But rather than run Lynch, who averaged 3.4 yards per carry, or Doug Martin, who averaged 4.8 yards, Carr dropped back. He was hit hard by Cameron Wake as he lofted a pass to the left corner of the end zone for Martavis Bryant, the result an underthrown pass that was picked off by Carr nemesis Howard.
It was a far cry from 2016, when the Raiders under Carr and, yes, the since-traded Khalil Mack rolled out to a 12-3 start with opportunistic takeaways and late-game comebacks.
Under Gruden, the Raiders are rebuilding, even if the message when they got the vote to move to Las Vegas in 2020 was they were trying their best to win a Super Bowl before leaving the Bay Area.
Then leave it to Marshawn Lynch, of all people, to put the locker room of an 0-3 team in perspective.
“To be honest with you, it’s like we’re just a play away, a check away from being, probably, the most explosive offense in the league,” Lynch said. “It comes with time, and it comes with preparation, and I don’t think we’re going to stop doing that, so any given moment it could click.
“I think what’s most important is that we rally behind each other more than anything. If you are on the outside looking in, it looks terrible. But we know what we have in this locker room. So if we get behind each other, I think we’ll be able to turn this s--- around.”