In today's NFL, it's popular to break down the 16-game regular season in four, four-game quarters.
The Oakland Raiders concluded their 2015 campaign Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, falling to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-17 in their final contest of the season.
Heading into the final quarter of the season, Head Coach Jack Del Rio's team held a record of 5-7 and faced an uphill battle to make it into the postseason, and after going 2-2 in the fourth quarter of the campaign, the team missed out on being eligible for postseason play.
Next on the agenda for the Silver and Black is attacking free agency, but first, Jerry Knaak and Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com take a look back at what transpired, and answer questions about the fourth and final quarter of the regular season.
Your Fourth Quarter MVP Is…
JK:It has to be Khalil Mack. The second-year defensive end out of Buffalo practically beat Denver single-handedly with a five-sack performance that earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. He terrorized the Broncos offensive line all afternoon, got Brock Osweiler for a strip-sack in the end zone that resulted in a safety that got the Raiders back in the game. Mack followed that up with a sack against Green Bay to give him 15 on the season, the most in a season since Derrick Burgess' 16 in 2005. Mack led the NFL in sacks heading into Week 17 before Houston's J.J. Watt surged ahead. The Chargers and Chiefs were able to keep Mack away from their quarterbacks, but he was still a thorn in their sides, made plays in the running game and in the backfield, and long the line of scrimmage.
EP:I have to agree with Jerry on this one – I don't think there was any player more dominant for the Raiders over the last four games of the season than Khalil Mack. Mack finished the season with 15 sacks, recording six of them in the final quarter of the season. Although he did not record a sack in the Raiders' final two games, he was a disruptive force along the defensive line and also routinely flashed his usual dominance against the run. The second-year man from the University of Buffalo is headed to his first Pro Bowl in a few weeks – an accolade that he more than earned by his play this season. Head Coach Jack Del Rio continually spoke of Mack's growth as a player and stressed that the sacks would come for him, and boy did they ever the last month of the season.
The Most Exciting Moment Of the Fourth Quarter Was…
JK:The overtime win against San Diego has to be the most exciting moment of the last four games. Charles Woodson's last game, National TV audience, a penalty-filled game-winning drive, Christmas Eve…so many things. I can't single out one specific moment from that night. Seth Roberts' fantastic juggling catch to keep the game-winning drive alive and get the Raiders in field goal position would rank up there. Woodson getting to play offense in the Red Zone on that final drive. From his player introduction to his emotional postgame speech, Woodson was the focal point of the night – as well he should have been.
EP: The Week 15 tilt with the Chargers was spectacular, but one moment stands above the rest for me – Charles Woodson addressing the crowd after the team's win over the Bolts. The Raiders' Christmas Eve game at O.co Coliseum served as a fitting tribute to the future Hall of Famer after 18 years in the NFL. From pregame introductions to the game itself (which actually turned into a pretty good one), the last Thursday Night Football game of the season acted as a celebration of all things Woodson, and his midfield address to Raider Nation after the game ended was the perfect way for him to conclude his final home game in Silver and Black.
One Surprising Thing About The Fourth Quarter Was…
JK: **The continued struggles for the offense surprised me. Although the offense was much improved from a year ago, the unit never displayed the rhythm and explosiveness it showed during that three-game stretch from Weeks 7-9. Quarterback Derek Carr was pressured relentlessly. Several analysts pointed out through the first half of the season how well Carr threw against the blitz, but that proficiency seemed to wane as the year went on. Running back Latavius Murray surpassed 1,000 yards rushing but a complementary back never emerged. The Raiders were held to negative 12 yards of total offense in the first half of the win over Denver, had a decent game against Green Bay after two early turnovers, but were held to 281 yards vs. San Diego and 205 yards in the season-ending loss to Kansas City. The Raiders averaged just 18.75 points per game in the last four games.
EP:The play of the Raiders defense. Through the first half of the season, questions surrounded Ken Norton, Jr.'s young defensive unit. The team was surrendering yards at a high clip, and it seemed as though the offense was having to perform at a high level to keep the team in games. The second half of the season, particularly the last four games, the opposite has been true. Norton's defense has been impressive, allowing just 21.3 points per game over the last four games of the season, and keeping games within reach for the Silver and Black's offense. The defense really took a step forward over the last month, and with a young nucleus of players, Head Coach Jack Del Rio has to be pleased when he thinks about the unit heading into the offseason and 2016.
One Player Who Impressed You In The Fourth Quarter Was…
JK:I'm going to stick with the guy I said was about to emerge and go with Ben Heeney. The rookie linebacker jumped into the lineup after fellow rookie Neiron Ball went down to injury. He was impressive blitzing and rushing the passer, but also covering running backs out of the backfield, and in backside pursuit. He impressively ran down Chargers running back Danny Woodson a couple of times in Week 16. With his long hair flowing out of the back of his helmet, Heeney was seemingly everywhere. He finished the year with 38 total tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
EP:Marquette King. The Raiders' third-year punter enjoyed a career year in 2015, and over the last quarter of the season, he was outstanding. Following his performance (eight punts for 400 yards, with six inside the 20-yard line) in the team's win over the Chargers, King was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week – the first time in his career that he earned the accolade. King has really became a weapon for the Raiders this season, and over the past four weeks, his versatility, along with his natural, booming leg have been on full display.
Was The Fourth Quarter A Success?
JK:No, because the Raiders didn't make the playoffs. The Raiders went 2-2 in the 4th quarter of the season, and although 9-7 wouldn't have gotten it done, it would have been a real confidence boost heading into the offseason to beat either Green Bay or Kansas City (or both). You want to win every game. There were some positives that came out of the last four games, some milestones were achieved, and young players gained more experience.
EP:Heading into the fourth quarter of the season a playoff berth – while still a longshot, was on the table, but unfortunately after a loss to the Green Bay Packers, the team was eliminated from postseason play. For that reason alone you can't really categorize the fourth quarter as a glowing success. Was improvement, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, showcased the last month or so of the season? Absolutely. However, the team set a goal to win the AFC West this season, and that simply didn't come to fruition. That being said, the future for the Silver and Black looks bright, and that's not something that could be said heading into offseasons past.