In today's NFL, it's popular to break down the 16-game regular season in four, four-game quarters.
After falling at home to 34-20 to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, the Oakland Raiders are now officially three - quarters of the way through their 2015 campaign and currently own an overall record of 5-7.
After going 2-2 through the first two - quarters of the season, the Silver and Black stumbled a bit in the third, going 1-3 over the past four games, so as the team prepares for their Week 14 battle with the Denver Broncos, Jerry Knaak and Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com take a look back at what's transpired and answer questions about the third quarter of the season.
Your Third Quarter MVP Is…
JK:I have to go with Khalil Mack here. He has recorded 4 sacks in the last two weeks and now has 9 for the season. His first sack against the Chiefs came on a bull rush on third down where he simply overpowered Kansas City's left tackle. The second-year man out of the University of Buffalo has been lining up all over the formation, dropping into coverage, drawing double-teams and holding calls, and terrorizing quarterbacks. Mack sacked elusive Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota twice, got Chiefs mobile quarterback Alex Smith twice and has lived in the opposing backfield.* *
EP:I'm going to go to the offensive side of the ball and go with Michael Crabtree – again. Crabtree was my second quarter MVP and has kept up his high level of play as the team has progressed throughout November and December. In the third quarter, his numbers may not have been as impressive, but he's been as good, if not better than advertised and has provided a quality veteran presence out wide for quarterback Derek Carr. Not only has he consistently produced for the Silver and Black, but he's been applauded from players on both sides of the football for acting as an exemplary teammate and mentor. After 12 games, Crabtree has 7 touchdowns and 760 receiving yards, and if he keeps it up, he could find himself with the second 1,000 yard-season of his career.
The Most Surprising Thing About The Third Quarter Was…
JK:One victory. Going 1-3 during this stretch is definitely a surprise. I really thought the Raiders would be able to go 3-1 or 2-2 during this quarter. The loss to the Detroit Lions was unexpected and the defeat at the hands of the Chiefs was gut-wrenching.* *Going 1-3 after starting the season 4-4 really hurts the Raiders playoff chances.
EP:I don't know if it should be a surprise, but just the reinforcement of how small the margin is between winning and losing in the NFL. In all four games of the third quarter, the Raiders held a lead at one poin tbut were able to tally just one win in those four contests. It's no secret that most games in the NFL come down to the fourth quarter, but the line between coming home with a win and a loss is incredibly fine.
The Play Of The Third Quarter Was…
JK:It has to be wide receiver Seth Roberts' game-winning touchdown catch against the Tennessee Titans. There have been some great plays in the last month – wide receiver Michael Crabtree's 25-yard touchdown catch in double-coverage against the Chiefs, wide receiver Amari Cooper's catch in double-coverage against the Titans, safety Charles Woodson's strip of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, kicker Sebastian Janikowski's 56-yard field goal at Detroit, tight end Clive Walford's touchdown against Minnesota, wide receiver Andre Holmes' 34-yard TD catch against the Vikings. But Roberts' 12-yard grab after a double-move gave the Raiders a lead they would not relinquish.
EP:Although it came in a losing effort, I'm going to go with Charles Woodson's strip of Travis Kelce and the subsequent fumble return against the Chiefs Sunday. In the final minute of the first half, Kelce hauled in a pass from Alex Smith and was rumbling deep into Raiders territory before Woodson got a hold of him and stripped the football from his grasp. Woodson then proceeded to return the ball into Chiefs territory, and the Silver and Black were able to secure seven points off the turnover. As impressive as the play was, it's even more impressive when you remember that this man is 39-years old, playing against men half his age.
That's why in a few years he'll be wearing a gold jacket in Canton.
The Thing You're Looking Forward To Most In The Fourth Quarter Is…
JK:How will the Raiders finish the season? Four games left. A 9-7 record is a possibility. I am curious to see how the Raiders fare in Denver this week after losing a tight one to the Broncos back in Week 5 in Oakland. How do the Raiders match up against Green Bay, a perennial playoff contender that has had issues this season? Can the Raiders sweep the Chargers, a team that had high expectations this season but has only managed three wins?* *What about the season finale in Kansas City? Will the Raiders be able to exact revenge for this past week's loss? How the Raiders play the next four weeks could very well vault them into a successful 2016.
EP:Seeing how the Raiders stack up against the upper echelon of the league. Jack Del Rio's team has four games left on the schedule, and three of those teams seem poised to make a deep postseason run. The Silver and Black have already shown they're an improved squad from last season, there's no denying that, but now they'll get a chance to square off with some teams that will be in the thick of postseason posturing when the Raiders come to town. While the playoffs may seem like a longshot at this point, the Raiders still have plenty to play for, and securing a few wins against quality opponents would be huge for this young team on the rise.
Success In The Fourth Quarter Will Be Defined By…
JK:Playing well no matter the circumstances. If the Raiders don't have anything to play for, will they still play for each other? Or, if the playoffs are right there for the taking, will the Raiders seize the moment? Success in the NFL is always defined by winning games.
EP:Finishing. For the most part, the Raiders have played teams close all season, but in their seven losses they just haven't been able to finish the job in the fourth quarter and secure a win. In the final four games of the regular season, I'd like to see the young nucleus of this Raiders team step up and finish a few games, putting together a quality 60 minutes of football.
Under-The-Rader Player To Keep An Eye On The Rest Of The Year…
JK:I have my eye on linebacker Ben Heeney. The rookie out of Kansas has gotten an opportunity to play the past few weeks with fellow rookie linebacker Neiron Ball's knee injury and the release of linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong. He has responded with 1.5 sacks the past two weeks and seems to play better with the more snaps he gets. Heeney plays with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and is always around the ball.
EP:He might not be flying under the radar anymore, but I'll be watching Clive Walford closely throughout the last quarter of the season. The big rookie from the University of Miami definitely looks the part of an NFL tight end, but over the past month or so he's been playing like it as well. Sunday against the Chiefs Walford hauled in all 5 passes that he was targeted on and has emerged as another legitimate threat for the versatile Raiders offense.