Kurtenbach: The Raiders have wilted under the weight of expectations — and we should have seen it coming

(Click here, if you are unable to view this photo gallery on your mobile device)

The Raiders had a chance to prove they were something more than a disappointment Sunday.

They could have buried their uninspiring and downright average opening 12 games of the season.

They could have made everyone forget about the fact that luck, more than skill, was responsible for the team’s tie for first place in the AFC West at 6-6.


They could have gone to the Show-Me State, beaten the Chiefs for the second time this season, and proven that they were a real playoff contender, like so many expected them to be at the beginning of the 2017 season.

"Everything we wanted to accomplish in our season was in front of us," coach Jack Del Rio said. "It was a big day and a big moment."


"We didn’t play well."

Or, as quarterback Derek Carr bluntly (and accurately) put it: "We sucked."

They did. But I’d say that’s more of the same for this Raiders team.

Don’t let anyone try to spin it: Sunday’s 26-15 loss to the Chiefs wasn’t nearly as close as the final scoreline indicated.

It was an embarrassing display — a limp performance in a game that was as close to a must-win as any Week 14 contest could be — and another clear-cut case of why serious changes need to be made at all levels of the Raiders’ organization.

No, the Raiders haven’t technically been eliminated from playoff contention, but what reason does anyone have to believe that this team will rise to the occasion and win their final three games of the season to give themselves even the remote shot of making the postseason?

The Raiders have now played three critical road games as underdogs — at Buffalo, vs. New England (in Mexico City), and at Kansas City — and have been blown out three times.

The Raiders can beat bad teams — they can stay with mediocre teams, too — but when this team needs to win and they have to play a good team outside of the Coliseum, they’ve been utterly overmatched.

They were again in Missouri:

Kansas City effectively won Sunday’s game with 3:22 left in the third quarter, after taking a 26-0 lead. At that juncture, the Raiders had 77 yards of total offense and fewer first downs than the Chiefs had scoring plays (six to four).

Forget the 191 yards and two touchdowns in garbage time — the Raiders real performance came in the first 42 minutes of Sunday’s game. That’s the one that should be remembered.

For a normal organization, a performance like that, parlayed with the disappointment of the team’s 6-6 start leading up to it, would prove to be the impetus for major changes — clearly, there are rings broken on the Raiders’ chain — but there’s no guarantee that will be the case with this franchise.

Expectations have exposed this Raiders organization’s flaws. For the first time in a long time, Oakland was expected to be a playoff team. Few paid any mind to the fact that the Raiders were effectively an 8-8 team last year that had an incredible (and unsustainable) run of late-game success — this team’s arrow was viewed as pointing straight up and nothing was off the table for it.

Fans are always optimistic, so you can’t fault Raiders fans one bit for expecting big things from this team.

But this Raiders coaching staff and, subsequently, the Raiders’ roster clearly bought into their own preseason hype and it’s proven to be anchor this season.

When this team wins — no matter the opponent they beat — it’s a validation of that preseason hype and an opportunity to let anyone who questioned that hype know that they were wrong to doubt.

When this team loses — as they did Sunday — it creates a crisis of confidence. Fingers are pointed, people are thrown under the bus, and people lash out.

All that shouldn’t be surprising. When you expect big things (a Super Bowl) but have never proven that you can actually do the things necessary to achieve such successes (beat a good team on the road), your emotions are beholden to the moment.

As such, this Raiders team has been an emotional roller coaster all season, and thirteen games into this disappointing campaign, they’re still yet to prove that they’re anything more than an average team.

Had the expectations going into the season not been so high — had the Raiders not bought into the outside hype instead of stoking the fire — the Raiders’ 2017 season wouldn’t be viewed in such a negative light.

After all, in order to be disappointed, you must first fail to meet expectations.

But it’s too late for the Raiders to fix that now.

So what happens next?

There’s plenty of blame to go around, for sure, but the two most important people on an NFL team — the head coach and starting quarterback — are well-insulated from repercussions.

Jack Del Rio, who took over a laughingstock outfit and turned it into a respectable unit, cashed in after last year’s flukey 12-win campaign, signing a four-year contract extension earlier this year.

It doesn’t matter that Del Rio has never proven that he can take a good team and make it great as a head coach, as was his task this season. Nor does it matter that he’s a defensive-minded (and hands-on) head coach and former linebackers coach who can’t put a good defense on the field or develop a good linebacker.

To fire Del Rio, Mark Davis, who handpicked Del Rio and rewarded him with a lucrative new deal in February, would have to first admit that he was wrong about the Raiders’ head coach and then eat a big chunk of cash that frankly, he might not have lying around.

Davis might be peeved about the Raiders’ lack of competitiveness, but can he swallow both a ton of pride and cash? I doubt it.

And Carr? We’re in the first year of a five-year, $125 million contract that was, for a while, the most lucrative in NFL history.

But behind one of the best-paid offensive lines and going up against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, Carr didn’t look worth $25,000 a year when the game was actually in the balance on Sunday.

He was skittish, unaware, and inaccurate — but that’s nothing new for him.

And when the outcome of the contest was no longer in doubt and Kansas City was laying off, he was able to find success, but even then, he was a dink-and-dunk quarterback who wasn’t all that great at either dinking or dunking.

But remember: he looked good against the Dolphins…

Still, the Raiders aren’t going to cut him or trade him — don’t be ridiculous. He’s the first worthwhile quarterback this team’s had since Carson Palmer, so he’s getting a free pass. WIth that huge contract, the Raiders have tied the franchise to Carr, for better or for worse.

So who is going to be held accountable for this perceived debacle of a season?

Underlings. Subordinates. Lackeys.

The kind of people you change out when you need to make a show but who can’t truly change the course of a franchise.

Offensive coordinator Todd Downing? He’s as good as gone. He was hired because he was Carr’s confidant, but that relationship hasn’t resulted in the quarterback’s evolution.

And while interim defensive coordinator John Pagano will probably stick around for next season, he’ll be on the hot seat all next season — the first guy to go if things don’t change with the NFL’s worst defense.

Perhaps there will be a shakeup of the team’s power structure, but that doesn’t truly matter. Del Rio and Reggie McKenzie might not work in concert after this season, but since McKenzie isn’t without blame in the Raiders’ predicament either, what’s it matter who has the upper hand in that relationship?

The blunt truth is that without a great head coach and a great quarterback, you don’t stand much of a chance of being great in the NFL (unless you have a great head coach and a great defense — so that excludes the Raiders). We’re now in year three of this Del Rio-Carr partnership and these two men are still yet to prove they’re anything more than average at their jobs but have been rewarded as if they’re amongst the elite in the NFL.

Maybe the duo of Del Rio and Carr can get this Raiders team over the hump in the years to come. Perhaps with expectations off their shoulders next season, they can show what they’re worthy of the Raiders’ faith and compensation.

But when the expectations were raised this season, both men have wilted.

Isn’t it more likely that this brand of eventful mediocrity is all this duo can provide?