Sunday seemed like it might be a good day for the Oakland Raiders.
In the beginning, it was all but that. A touchdown from the Arizona Cardinals kickoff returner really played a role in sealing the victory right from the beginning. The Raiders would take control of the game on both sides in the ball, but they did have some costly setbacks in the beginning of the game.
Oakland was able to show that they have a strong defensive attack and can come up with some big offensive plays. However, the Raiders still need to learn how to finish a game, as evidenced not only by kicker Sebastian Janikowski's miss, but by the coach's play calling, which let three red zone trips end unsuccessfully.
On the positive side, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was Larry Fitzgerald's shadow all game. Fitzgerald was held to two receptions for 26 yards and a TD. Additionally, on the offensive side, the young receivers continue to improve as quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is now given targets that he can rely on to catch the ball.
Raiders wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey did struggle early Sunday. He was covered well, but was able to rebound with two catches for 37 yards in the first half and three for 49 overall, including a 12-yarder on a 4th-and-10 play on Oakland's final drive.
Darren McFadden was also a positive sign for the Raiders. He added 105 yards on Sunday and cemented his hold on the starting job with his second 100-yard effort in three games.
Gradkowski impressed, as well, when he went for the big play towards the end of the game. Gradkowski had a 12-yard fourth-down pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey on the last drive, and the Raiders got 39 more yards on a pass-interference call against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie covering Heyward-Bey.
While these are all promising signs, there seemed to be more negatives than positives this game.
Costly penalties hurt the Raiders early and often in the game. The Raiders had 11 penalties for 123 yards. The defensive backs set the tone for a torrent of Raiders penalties, getting flagged for 74 yards on pass interference penalties in the first quarter.
And yes, Janikowski seemed to blow the game, but many things should have worked for the Raiders prior to that even becoming an issue.
Back on the positive side, not since the Raiders beat the Pittsburgh Steelers last season were they able to score this many points. By the same token, though, this inconsistency, this inability to score—whether it’s a missed field goal or not going for a touchdown on 4th-and-goal on the one—is part of the problem.
Taking risks is about taking a win, and playing conservative is about taking a lead. And the Raiders need wins. Luckily, it’s still early enough to make the right improvements and move on from the upsetting disaster that occurred Sunday.
The Raiders need to think about the positives and turn the mistakes they made against the Cardinals into a learning experience. Remember: The season is new, and the Raiders can become a stronger team. If they play without costly mental errors and with good overall balance of play, the Raiders have the ability to become a top team in the NFL with the talent they have now.