After the week the Oakland Raiders just endured, they needed something positive in Cincinnati.
Almost. But maybe not enough to upset their draft standing.
The Raiders fell to 3-11 on the season and, with the San Francisco 49ers’ overtime upset of the Seattle Seahawks, are now in line for the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft.
That is for the future, but the recent past serves as a reminder of where this team has been and is headed.
Last Sunday, Oakland upset the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-21 for the Raiders’ biggest win of the Jon Gruden 2.0 era.
Monday, Reggie McKenzie, the 2016 NFL executive of the year, was fired as general manager, a move that was expected, but not until the end of the season.
Tuesday, the City of Oakland announced it was filing a federal lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL over the team’s move to Las Vegas in 2020.
Wednesday, the Raiders announced they were pulling their lease offer of $7.5 million to play the 2019 season in the Oakland Coliseum, effectively making the team homeless for next season.
That same day, the NFL announced it would hold the 2020 draft in Las Vegas.
Thursday, Amari Cooper told a Dallas reporter that neither Gruden nor McKenzie wanted to trade him to the Cowboys, that the move was made by Raiders owner Mark Davis.
So, yeah, the Raiders needed some good vibes in Cincinnati. And there were a few.
Tight end Lee Smith, who entered the season with four touchdown catches in his seven-year career, caught his third TD pass in as many games.
“We’ll keep featuring him in the passing game,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said of Smith. “The coaches did a great job of setting that up and making it look just like a run. … The coaches schemed it well and got Lee open. He’s a good target … Any time we can get him the ball, it’s a plus.”
Still, the Raiders defense allowed the Bengals to rush for 171 yards, with 129 and two touchdowns coming from Joe Mixon.
And Carr continued his efficient, if unspectacular, play. Carr ran his streak of games without an interception to nine and a franchise-record 301 passes, the longest active such streak in the NFL. He last was picked off on Oct. 7, in the end zone from the 1-yard line against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Raiders' quarterback passed for 263 yards in completing 21 of 38 passes with the TD to Smith. Carr was sacked five times, though, including three times by defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who was going against two new Raiders guards in Chaz Green and Denzelle Good.
Carr has been sacked a career-high 47 times this season. He was sacked a combined 36 times the previous two seasons.
“I’m not going to single them out,” Gruden said of the makeshift offensive line. “They were put in a very tough spot today — as tough a spot as I’ve ever called plays with a group of guys that are just getting to know each other.
“… Geno Atkins is a problem. (Carlos) Dunlap’s a problem. They’ve got a very good front, and they’ve had it for a very long time. We’ve got a lot of moving pieces right now, and it’s not easy at this stage of the season to get everybody coordinated for 60 minutes.”
With two games remaining, including a Monday night Christmas Eve affair against the rival Denver Broncos that could be the Raiders’ final game in Oakland, the Raiders have an 11 percent chance at getting the No. 1 draft pick, per ESPN’s Football Power Index. The Arizona Cardinals have an 82 percent chance for the pick.
Still, Gruden and Carr want to finish strong, for obvious reasons.
“He wants us to put in the effort in the way we train, practice, and play,” Carr said of Gruden. “He wants to see our effort and grittiness be there at all times. We’re going to finish the right way. We have two more, and we’re going to bring it. That’s what he expects.”