With the fourth quarter of the season in the books, and the 2017 regular season officially over, take a look at what Raiders.com writers Kyle Martin and Eddie Paskal had to say regarding the final four games.
Fourth Quarter MVP:
KM: For me this is easy; I'm giving the nod to "The Beast," the one and only, Marshawn Lynch.
You don't earn the nickname "Beast Mode" without doing some pretty miraculous things, and as the 2017 season went on, Lynch seemed to get stronger. During the Raiders final four games of the year, No. 24 was averaging 5.6 yards per carry – damn – and reached a mark only 31 other NFL running backs have been able to do in the history of the league by rushing for 10,000 career rushing yards.
It wasn't until late in the season the offense started to turn to Lynch a little more frequently, feeding him more and more carries, which certainly benefitted the offense's production. In a year when the offense didn't meet expectations, Lynch was a bright spot, for not only the city of Oakland, but the offensive unit as a whole.
Also, I'd like to include center Rodney Hudson in my Most Valuable Player discussion, considering he hasn't allowed a sack since 2015, finished as the highest-rated pass blocker, and was selected to his second Pro Bowl this year. It's unfathomable to me that this man endured the pain of a kidney stone, but fought through it and played every snap this season for his teammates.
EP:Alright, just hear me out; I'm going to say Sean Smith.
Did the veteran cornerback have an up and down 2017 campaign? No doubt about it, but not No. 21 – along with the Raiders defense as a whole – seemed to have a rebirth under Assistant Head Coach – Defense John Pagano. Over the final quarter of 2017, Smith not only snagged two interceptions – which ended up leading all Raiders in 2017 – but in the team's Week 16 clash with the Philadelphia Eagles, he completely shut down Alshon Jeffery. Seriously, he shut him down, as the Pro Bowl wide receiver didn't record a catch all evening. Not only did Smith's coverage prove beneficial for the Raiders secondary, but with more time to operate, the Silver and Black's pass rush also sprung alive over the final month of 2017. Sure, Smith certainly took his knocks this season, but give credit where credit is due; he was really good over the final four games.
Turning point of the fourth quarter:
KM: Admittedly I'd have to say the turning point was after a disappointing 26-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs to start the fourth quarter of the season, but truthfully I believe the Raiders final home game against the Dallas Cowboys was the defining moment of not only the final four games, but the season as a whole.
In 2016 Derek Carr led the Oakland Raiders to seven game-winning drives, but in 2017, No. 4 had just one; however, it appeared as though he would lead the team to a second with a final push against the Cowboys, but his dive towards the end zone that resulted in a fumble for a touchback removed any hope of a comeback. That play in and of itself summarized the team's season in a nutshell, as not only Carr, but the team continually came up short.
Earlier in the primetime bout between two of the most-storied franchises in football, the infamous "index card ruling" was another moment the Silver and Black were on the receiving end of misfortune. More or less, Week 14 and Week 15 were the proverbial stakes that drove the Raiders season into the ground.
EP:I think it has to be the Week 14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Entering that December showdown at Arrowhead Stadium, the Raiders had won three of their last four games, and with a win over Alex Smith and Co., they had a chance to seize control of their own fate in the AFC West. However, as we all know, that plan just didn't come to fruition, as the Silver and Black eventually fell to the Chiefs 26-15 in a game that really wasn't as close as the final score indicates. The reason why I think this game was the turning point of the final quarter is twofold; not only did that Week 14 "L" mean the Raiders didn't control their own destiny going forward, but the way in which they lost I think also set the tone for the final month. That game against Andy Reid and the Chiefs proved to be the start of a four-game skid for the Raiders, one that ultimately defined their season in many ways.
Most surprising thing of the fourth quarter:
KM:In the last four games of the regular season, Assistant Head Coach – Defense John Pagano's group made major strides, and proved they could be a competitive defense. Led by defensive end Khalil Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin, the duo were at the forefront of the defense's improvement, as Irvin and Mack combined for five and a half sacks over the final month of the season.
Aside from the pressure applied to opposing quarterbacks, the Raiders secondary, specifically cornerback Sean Smith, stepped up to complement the pass rush. Smith picked off Cowboys Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott twice in Week 15, and held Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl wide receiver Alshon Jeffery without a catch in Week 16.
The amount of improvement the defense showed in the final stretch stood out to me the most, and served as a positive note throughout the last quarter of the season.
EP:Honestly, it has to be the fact that the Raiders offense never turned around. All season, we kept hearing that the offense was oh so close to cracking the code, and returning to the form it enjoyed in 2016, but unfortunately, that just never happened. You look at all the playmakers on the offense: Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and then you add Jared Cook and Marshawn Lynch to the mix; boy, that's a lot of dudes who can make magic happen when the ball is in their hands. But, for whatever reason, things just didn't click for Todd Downing's group in 2017. Will 2018 prove to be a return to form for Derek Carr and Co.? I sure hope so, but we'll have to wait and see.
What needs to be better:
KM:Plain and simple, everything. The offense didn't perform at the level we all know it's capable of, and the defense struggled through a majority of the first half. In 2018, I expect to see a vastly improved group.
EP:Well, if you finish a season 6-10 after having Super Bowl aspirations headed into the season, it's easy to say that everything has to be better going forward, and for the most part, that's true. That being said, I think the offense is one thing that really needs to improve in 2018. Like I said above, there are just so many playmakers on the offensive side of the football for the group to have the type of output they did in 2017. Yes, the defense certainly had its fair share of problems this year, but they did show a marked improvement as the year wore on. Derek Carr is this team's franchise quarterback – no doubt it – but going forward, No. 4 and his squad has got to put up more points.
The fourth quarter in a word:
Not tough in the sense the team played some gritty football, but in the sense that it was tough to watch. From the coaching staff to the players, and even the fans, I don't think anyone would have a hard time denying this was a disappointing season. With the final four games of the season all resulting in losses, and former Head Coach Jack Del Rio being relieved of his duties, the last four weeks of the season were hard for everyone involved, including the fans.
But I will leave you on a positive note: While the team didn't accomplish the goals it set out to achieve this season, this is still an incredibly talented team, with plenty of tough players, the future is still bright for this group.
EP:Defining; so much so, that it cost Jack Del Rio his job.