Lightning flashes shown through the openings in the sides of the covered SoFi stadium. And that was enough to put the Raiders and Chargers Monday Night affair on ice for a while. The two teams were taken off the field and sent to the locker room until the lightning passed which was a delay of thirty minutes from the original kickoff time of 5:25pm.
The two teams had already warmed up before being sent back to the locker room, but when they eventually came back out onto the field, they went through some light warmups to try and get ready again.
Then the Raiders went about putting up one of the worst first halves of football in recent memory. They started out by extending their streak of opening drives without a score to ten, dating back to last season. It didn’t get better and by the end of the first quarter, they had a net of zero yards and didn’t have a first down. Meanwhile the Chargers scored on their opening drive. Then scored again two more times to close out the first half.
“Offensively we didn’t like how we set the defense up,” said wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. “We made it hard for them to stop them. Three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out or whatever it was is tough on a defense.”
By the half they managed to get one first down, but only one. And they headed into the locker room down 21-0 to the Chargers.
That one first down went to Darren Waller on a 21-yard pass. And he was so energized by it, he spiked the ball and was flagged for taunting, marching the Raiders back 15 yards. So, even their first first down was tainted. Three plays later, it was another punt.
Their first half possessions went like this: Punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt, punt.
It would be easy enough, in most cases, to blame the lightning delay for the Raiders stagnant first half. Especially if you consider that Derek Carr came out of the first three weeks of the season with a league-leading 1203 yards passing and the defense was playing some of their best football in years.
The problem with blaming the weather delay is starting slow is nothing new for these Raiders. They’ve started slow in every game this season. Falling behind 14-0 twice and 16-7 in the other game, having to come back late to win it — twice going to overtime. And when you play with fire like that each week, eventually you’re going to get burned.
“I think for us to keep going forward, we just need to be consistent, we need to come out…we can’t have big eyes or anything like that,” said Derek Carr. “We just need to play football.”
Carr had some issues that were significant enough that he was going to keep them in-house.
“There’s some things . . . absolutely there is. And I’ll do that privately,” Carr said. “It’s nothing I need to do at a microphone. That’s not my style.”
What may be the most frustrating thing could be that the Raiders looked like a completely different team to start the second half. As if they can just flick the switch whenever they want to. They had come back to win their first three games after slow starts, but never before had it been such a glaring disparity between how they started the game and how they started the second half.
The came out and drove for two touchdowns like it was nothing. In the process, they converted eight first downs.
Then, suddenly, they had a drive stall with a sack leading to a missed 52-yard field goal and just as the light switched on, it switched off. The Chargers drove for another touchdown and their comeback attempt was over. Unlike the first three weeks, it was too much early and too little too late.
“We cannot come out and take that many punches in the first round,” said Gruden of the Raiders rough first half. “I’m proud of our guys showing the toughness to get up and keep fighting, but that was ridiculous. They got on us and they got after us in all three phases. We found a way to make it a football game and give us a chance, but it’s just too hard in this league against good teams.”
The Chargers are a good team, so there is some solace to be taken in that. Justin Herbert just carved up the Chiefs to the tune of four touchdown passes. And the defense picked off Patrick Mahomes twice.
But just as you can’t point to the lightning bolts outside as the reasons for the Raiders early grounding, you can’t point to the bolts inside either. That’s not to say either didn’t have an affect, but the Raiders problem is with themselves. That offense that seems to be able to strike at will needs to stop experiencing a delay until the second half every week because good teams — as the Chargers clearly are — will weather their passing storms.