Big Plays and Little Things
Sometimes it’s the little things. By now, you all know the story of Sunday’s game, and all the reasons to scream and shout, so I won’t belabor the obvious. Therefore, I’d just like to focus on an unheralded moment just prior to halftime, one that got me fired up nearly as much as the big plays and final score.
With 38 seconds on the clock, and
But the strategy was clear—Kiffin intended to stop
Conversely, he wasn’t worried about giving
In other words, Kiffin was totally on the offensive, even on defense.
This little sequence had no bearing on the game and was quickly forgotten, but I am convinced that it signals a long-overdue shift in our collective coaching mindset. You would have never seen something like this under Turner and Shell, who never seemed to grasp the concept of playing to win, and who never seemed to ask the question “What do we have to lose?,” even when all they were doing was losing.
Those of you who frequent these parts know that, for two and a half straight years, I have been literally flipping out about countless time-management decisions that contradict the laws of both common sense and competitive football. Kiffin himself has been a perpetrator at times. But he seems to have turned an important corner, and not a moment too soon.
What do we have to lose? Kiffin has finally answered that question: nothing. And this moment of clarity and catharsis has netted us back-to-back wins over AFC West rivals. It’s obvious in the playcalling, and it’s obvious in the execution. But it’s also obvious in the little things, like those aforementioned timeouts.
Kiffin stopped the clock and dared Shanahan and his team to make the big play. Kiffin stopped the clock because he was convinced we could keep them from getting a first down. Kiffin stopped the clock because he thought we could respond by quickly getting into Janikowski’s generous field goal range. Kiffin stopped the clock because he was ready to kick some ass.
Much has been made about Kiffin getting animated on the sideline during the game and even talking some smack. I know that the players appreciate it, but they no doubt appreciate these quieter votes of confidence as well. They, too, must be rejoicing about our return to competitive sanity.
On a related note, Sunday’s game was more than a mere victory, it was a long-awaited return to grown-up, highly functional football. Four offensive touchdowns in one game! There was a time—say, last month—when we couldn’t score four offensive touchdowns in four games. There was time—say, last year—when four touchdowns represented 25 percent of our seasonal output. I can’t tell you how thrilled Cousin of Raider Take and I were to be watching an exciting, dynamic game of highly functional football inside the Oakland Coliseum. It seems like it’s been ages. In fact, it has.
The frosting on the cake was the debut of JaMarcus Russell, and the deafening roar that accompanied him. The zip on his ball was remarkable. Compared to McCown, it was like seeing Nolan Ryan after watching Phil Niekro, if you get my drift.
Still, McCown proved that you don’t need a cannon to make the big plays. I recall him performing well enough during his days in
In the span of eight days, we’ve seen a revitalized Culpepper and a born-again McCown. Coincidence? Maybe. But it surely has something to do with the supporting cast, too, including the coaches. But whatever the reason, we’re suddenly seeing some serious playmaking. We’ve gone from tricycle to motorcycle in a span of two weeks. I need not tell you that this bodes very well for the immediate future of Lane Kiffin and the Oakland Raiders.
When things really get going at the Coliseum, the crowd becomes a sort of collective animal, a loud, throbbing explosion of humanity. On Sunday, the animal was unleashed, and it was quite a magnificent sight to see.
Yet amid all the big plays and riotous revelry, we can’t forget the significance of those two little timeouts, for they, too, reveal the return of a winning attitude to