Getting through three weeks without a single win is frustrating. Losing all three games when you’re leading for the first three quarters of all three isn’t a picnic either. But do you know what’s worse than that? Watching a game where you know the team lost because the offense took a nap in the fourth quarter and turned the ball over, being frustrated by that loss, and changing the channel just in time to see talking heads talk about how they lost because Khalil Mack wasn’t there.
So shine up your tin hats, lower the blinds, and dim the lights, because we’re gonna talk about how the media doesn’t like us, man.
The NFL Media vs. the Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden still hasn’t won an NFL game since November 30, 2008 😬 pic.twitter.com/3XLNR1Wc35
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) September 23, 2018
What’s with that emoji?
First of all, and given the fact that as a sportswriter, this is a bit ironic, the Raiders are a massive media target. Without diving too deep into the rabbit hole that is the history between the NFL and the Raiders, they’ve been a hot topic for a couple of years now. Forgetting for a second that the Raiders were the darling underdogs in 2016, this is a team getting a ton of attention for off the field stuff.
On The Move
Firstly, the team is moving. They’re leaving Oakland and going to Las Vegas. Even though the Coliseum is a dump and there have been complications with getting a new stadium in the city, moving is always controversial, and few cities are a controversial as Las Vegas. It’s hard to imagine anything being more controversial than moving to Las Vegas, but the Raiders not only do it once, they do it twice.
Return of Chucky
Jon Gruden leaving the booth to coach the Raiders was the biggest story of the off-season. He was “the white whale” and it seemed like he would never, ever return to coaching, but as Ted DiBiase said, everybody’s got a price, and Gruden’s price was one hundred million dollars.
It didn’t sit well with a lot of people how Mark Davis fired Jack Del Rio. A year earlier, Del Rio had coached the Raiders to their first winning season since 2002, and while he definitely lost his locker room and made some questionable personnel decisions during his tenure with the team, people didn’t like how Davis fired him immediately following a 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in week 17 of last season.
This was a guy who hadn’t coached a game since he was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008. This was a guy who had embarrassed the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl back in 2002, but was fairly mediocre after that, only making the playoff two more times and losing in the first round on both occasions. Jon Gruden, the man they call Chucky, had become a fun, if annoying, television personality, and the Raiders had given up a king’s ransom for him. Surely, it couldn’t get more controversial than that, could it?
Stop Talking About Him
Fans of the Oakland Raiders would rather cut off their ears than hear one more person talk about the Khalil Mack trade, but it’s relevant. A couple of years before leaving Oakland for Las Vegas, Mark Davis emptied the bank to bring back a coach from 20 years ago, and then, right before the season starts, he trades away his best player.
Then, the team starts 0-3. The defense is very underwhelming. Bruce Irvin can’t even fill the hole left by Mack’s shoes, and meanwhile? Number fifty-two is doing his best Godzilla in Tokyo. As of this writing, the Raiders as a team have three sacks, one forced fumble, and an interception. Khalil Mack? Four sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception, and one touchdown.
Oakland Raiders in first 3 games:
1 forced fumble
0 fumbles recovered
Khalil Mack in first 3 games:
3 forced fumbles
1 fumble recovered
1 touchdown pic.twitter.com/AURcMXkoUW
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 23, 2018
Now, as a Raiders fan, you know that while Mack could’ve made a huge difference for the team, his absence isn’t necessarily the reason they’ve blown these leads. Sure, an elite pass rusher could’ve made a massive difference, but he isn’t the reason the Raiders have only scored three points in the fourth quarter this year. Khalil Mack’s absence isn’t the reason Derek Carr threw two interceptions to Xavien Howard. I’d love to see how Khalil Mack being on the team could’ve prevented Donald Penn from giving up a blocked extra point.
I feel terrible for the Raiders fans. This is what happens when you trade Khalil Mack. It’s an all time horrendous trade. It will be a topic for years. And it gets worse for Raider Nation every single time the Raiders and Bears play.
— Adam Schein (@AdamSchein) September 23, 2018
But think about it from the media’s perspective. Imagine that you’re a reporter, or that you benefit from having breaking news stories or providing some kind of perspective or analysis on football. Now imagine that all of this happened to a team with one of the largest, most passionate fanbases in all of sports. Can you say jackpot?
So are the Raiders bad? Yes. Are these second half collapses awful? Absolutely. Are you justified in being upset about your team being 0-3? 100%. But as frustrating as the Raiders are, let it be known that the NFL media has been relentless with punishing the team for moving, hiring Gruden, and trading Mack. And I can prove it.
The Steel Hypocrisy
The Oakland Raiders have been receiving a ton of flack for trading away Khalil Mack instead of trading him. Several “experts” have pondered why anyone would go to Oakland if they know the team won’t pay them. These are reasonable points that make sense in context.
But let me ask you this. How is what Oakland did with Mack worse than what the Pittsburgh Steelers are still doing with Le’Veon Bell? Mack was under contract with the Raiders for at least one more season, and then the Raiders could’ve either re-signed him, given him the franchise tag, or moved on. Mack was under contract, and instead of holding him hostage, they maximized their return on investment and got Mack paid as soon as possible.
Le’Veon Bell’s rookie contract was from 2013-2016. Every off-season since, they have slapped the franchsie tag on him instead of paying him. The Steelers know that as talented as Bell is, tailbacks have short shelf lives, and they don’t want to be on the hook for someone who isn’t producing at an elite level. With the franchise tag, if Bell starts to decline or gets injured, the Steelers can drop him and not worry about paying him a cent.
Earlier this season, Antonio Brown, arguably the best wide receiver in all of football, was so frustrated after a 42-37 loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, he skipped practice and tweeted about being traded. The Steelers had to struggle to get their first win this season, and aside from holding one of their best players hostage, and potentially alienating another one, they’ve had just as tumultuous a season as Oakland has.
Where’s The Outrage?
And where’s the outrage? Where’s the bounty for Mike Tomlin’s head? Why aren’t the media constantly asking whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers would be undefeated if they had Le’Veon Bell instead of James Conner?
Now, it’s not exactly the same story, obviously. Conner’s success fills a hole for the Steelers that Arden Key doesn’t for the Raiders. But the Steelers are holding a young running back hostage, exhausting his money years, and there’s not a peep from the media, but the Raiders are being vilified for trading away a great player in his prime when they felt like they couldn’t afford to give him what he wanted instead of repeatedly slapping the franchise tag on him like many others would.
Now, maybe it’s because they understand why the Steelers won’t want to pay Bell. Maybe it’s because they really believe the Mack trade was a bad deal, an opinion that many Raiders fans would agree with. But it happened four weeks ago. Mack will likely be a Chicago Bear for the rest of his career. The continued punishment of the Raider Nation because it’s a shortcut to sensationalist clicks is cruel and unusual.