DENVER -- Who are the Oakland Raiders?
Are they the popular pick to make a Super Bowl run that they were in the preseason? A fun-loving, hard-hitting outfit that started 2-0 and had all the momentum in the world after Marshawn Lynch got “hyphy” and danced on the sideline during a blowout of the New York Jets at home?
Or are they the harried and harassed group that was beat up and embarrassed the past two weeks? First in prime time in Washington last Sunday night and again in Sunday’s 16-10 loss at the Denver Broncos, a disheartening defeat that saw Derek Carr leave with a back injury.
"We've got to start faster earlier," said Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack, who had two sacks, "especially on the road. You can't give that team any more momentum than they already have in that loud environment."
What has happened to the Raiders, who are now 2-2, the past two weeks has been nothing short of stunning, and it prompted owner Mark Davis to pay coach Jack Del Rio a visit in the locker room after the game.
Carr, who left the game after getting twisted down awkwardly during a sack late in the third quarter, has looked like a rookie who has never seen an NFL defense before. (He suffered back spasms, Del Rio said, and the injury is not expected to be a long-term issue.)
The powerful offensive line, the most expensive O-line in league history, has been getting pummeled.
Amari Cooper, who had one catch for 1 yard through three quarters and finished with two receptions for 9 yards, has been missing in action.
Sure, the Raiders were without receiver Michael Crabtree, who was inactive with a chest injury suffered at Washington, and first-round pick Gareon Conley, the cornerback out with a shin injury. Plus, the Raiders lost cornerback David Amerson to a concussion in Denver.
But this stat is especially ugly when it comes to the purported high-powered offense: The Raiders have converted just two of their last 24 third downs.
The defense did what it could in limiting Denver to 16 points.
"We're 2-2," Del Rio said. "That's what we've earned at this point. I'm not happy about that but that's what it is."
So, which team are the Raiders? They are both, and they are neither. They are a team that was 36 yards and a PAT away from an improbable victory after an impressive rally by backup quarterback EJ Manuel. They are a team that watched Broncos defensive back Justin Simmons take a 50-50 jump ball away from Cooper inside the 10-yard line to end the game.
This much is true, though: Oakland is a team that opened the season by playing three of its first four games on the road -- and played them all in four different time zones.
Three straight home games -- against the Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs -- could serve as an elixir. Then again, it depends on which Raiders team shows up.
"I can't wait to get on this plane and look at this film because I want some answers, too," said left tackle Donald Penn. "I'm ready to get on my iPad so I can ... figure out what, exactly, went wrong in the game. We've got to figure it out."