INDIANAPOLIS -- They had the ball rammed down their throats for an 89-yard scoring drive the first time they took the field.
Then the Raiders' defensive players surrendered a 69-yard TD drive the second time Indianapolis had the ball.
It was 14-0 Colts and the rout was surely on, right? This rebuilt Raiders defense, with nine new starters, was being picked apart by Andrew Luck. And there was nothing Oakland could do about it. Except ...
“We just started playing football,” insisted veteran defensive back Charles Woodson.
“We put it together. We feel like we can go out there and stay with anybody.”
It could not have been that simple, right? A mere change of demeanor or attitude and, dare I suggest, desire?
Then there’s the Jason Tarver theory. The Raiders' second-year defensive coordinator, you’ll recall, was a DC at Stanford who used to practice against Luck on The Farm a few years back so he would know the QB’s tendencies. Maybe that started to take effect?
Whatever the case, the Raiders clamped down on defense, until Luck’s scramble up the gut in the fourth quarter proved to be the deciding points in the Colts’ 21-17 victory.
Oakland forced two straight three-and-outs, did not allow the Colts to cross midfield on their first series of the second half and stuffed a fourth-and-1 in the third quarter.
The Raiders, who averaged fewer than 1.6 sacks per game last season, ended up sacking Luck four times, one each by strong safety Tyvon Branch, right defensive end Lamarr Houston, cornerback Tracy Porter and left defensive end Jason Hunter.
“Eventually, we got him in a little bit of third-and-longer situations and we were able to get a little bit of pressure on him and I think that’s the key,” said Raiders coach Dennis Allen. “But with all good quarterbacks, you’ve got to be on your game on every single play and we’ve got to do a better job.
“We had a couple of times where we had him dead to rights and couldn’t get him on the ground. He’s a big, strong quarterback and then, one time, we let him scramble out down there in the red zone.”
The two plays in question -- Luck was half-a-second away from being called in the grasp for a sack by Houston but escaped his grasp, then bounded off Kevin Burnett to take off for a 10-yard gain on third-and-9 early in the third quarter; and the defense parting like the Red Sea for Luck’s game-winning 19-yard scamper with 5:20 to play. It finished an 80-yard scoring drive for the Colts.
“We didn’t start fast but we FINISHED strong,” Porter tweeted on his way to the airport. “Now we just have to put a whole game together.”
They have 15 more chances.