Gruden: Raiders’ Loss to Falcons ‘Inexcusable’

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Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the New England Patriotsduring Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Las Vegas’s AFC playoff hopes took a major hit with an ugly 43-6 road loss to the struggling Falcons.

After moving forward for several weeks, the Las Vegas Raiders have taken two steps back, and this was a big one.

Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes and Younghoe Koo kicked five field goals as the Atlanta Falcons rolled to a 43-6 victory over the lackluster Raiders on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

This looked nothing like the Silver and Black team that almost beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs for the second time this season last week at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas before losing in the final minute.

“When we get hit in the mouth and get stopped on fourth down, and then fumble on the next play, we’ve got to get off the mat and fight back better,” Raiders Coach Jon Gruden told reporters after the game. “As a coaching staff and a football team, that’s something we have to look at. It’s a reflection on me and I apologize to Raider fans.

“Compliment the Atlanta Falcons. They played a hell of a football game, and we did not. … It’s inexcusable.”

The specter of last season suddenly looms for the Raiders (6-5), who also were 6-4 before losing five of their last six games and missing the 2019 playoffs.

Turnovers were the story of this one, in addition to the Raiders being unable to exploit the supposedly leaky Falcons secondary, as Derek Carr lost three fumbles in the pocket and threw a 67-yard pick-six to linebacker Deion Jones while running back Josh Jacobs lost another fumble.

“We had a great rush which made him throw a bad ball,” Jones said. “It was behind the running back. I secured it. Once I got in the clear and put the ball up, I knew it was going home.

“As a defense, as a team, we put it all together. We played well together. We finally put one on film. We’ve got one to look at to grow from.

“(The five turnovers) was just us hunting the ball. We hadn’t had a ball in a couple of weeks. Guys were hungry for it this week. We talked about it and it came to life.”

The Falcons (4-7) scored 20 points off the turnovers, including an eight-yard scoring run by Ito Smith for the last touchdown with 10:48 left in the game after Carr’s final fumble.

Coach Dan Quinn was fired by the Falcons after a 0-5 start, but Atlanta has won four of its last six games under interim head coach Raheem Morris, who was an assistant under Gruden several years ago with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ryan, who seems destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, completed 22-of-39 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, throwing four-yard scoring passes to wide receivers Calvin Ridley and Brandon Powell.

That puts Ryan at 174 touchdown passes in his 13-year career.

“(Defense) was the story of the day,” Ryan said. “I thought our defense played extremely well. Gave us a lot of short field opportunities. All in all, it was a great team effort.”

Smith had 65 yards rushing on 12 carries and Brian Hill added 55 on 13 rushes as the Falcons controlled the ball for 34 minutes, 27 seconds.

Ridley had six catches for 50 yards and the touchdown on fourth down, while Hayden Hurst caught four balls for 48 yards as the Falcons dominated the Raiders without two of their best players—wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Todd Gurley.

“I thought it was huge and a great call by Raheem (on fourth down), an aggressive call to go for it in that situation,” Ryan said. “You’re going to leave them backed up if you don’t get it. We felt like we had a good play called there.

“It took a little time to develop. Great body control by Calvin in the back of the end zone to kind of stop before he was going to get hit. It was an awesome play by him.”

Although the raw numbers don’t necessarily show it, Carr had probably his worst game of the season while completing 22-of-34 passes for 215 yards without a touchdown and throwing his third interception of the season. His three lost fumbles gave him six this season.

Carr was replaced by Nathan Peterman with 10:48 left in the game.

“Very frustrating,” said Carr, who said he saw some bad signs during the week. “Our week of practice was not up to the standard that we have set.”

Jacobs led the Raiders with 27 yards on seven carries, but 17 came on the play on which he fumbled late in the third quarter and he left the game because of a right leg injury he sustained on the play.

Hunter Renfrow led the Raiders with seven receptions for 73 yards, while Nelson Agholor had five for 54 and Henry Ruggs caught five for 54. The Falcons limited tight end Darren Waller, Carr’s favorite receiver, to four receptions for 23 yards.

“We have a chance to go out there and fight and really have that opportunity to go get better next week,” Renfrow said. “And I think it’s a good opportunity to go into (New York), they kind of derailed our season last year, and so what an opportunity for us to be able to go there and go get some redemption, per se.”

Linebacker Nicholas Morrow and safety Jeff Heath both had 10 total tackles for the Raiders, while linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski had six tackles, two for losses, and the Raiders’ only sack in addition to having an interception nullified by a penalty.

The Raiders also were penalized 11 times for 141 yards.

“We’ve had a couple of games where we have been penalized,” Gruden said. “Roughing the passer, roughing the kicker, we had some holding calls, illegal hands to the face. You fall behind in the down of distance, you give teams free shots, it’s a recipe for disaster and that’s what you saw today.”

The Raiders twice had first-and-goal inside the Atlanta 5-yard-line but had to settle for their only points on field goals of 24 and 29 yards by Daniel Carlson.

Koo’s field goals came from 38, 39, 40, 29, and 54 yards, and he has made his last 21 without a miss. Koo actually did miss wide left from 40 yards with 4:30 left in the first half, but Dallin Levitt of the Raiders was penalized for roughing the kicker.

The Falcons, who never trailed, turned that break into Ryan’s four-yard scoring pass to Ridley for a 13-3 lead with 2:17 left in the half.

However, the crusher came when Carr threw a short pass over the middle intended for running back Devonte Booker, only to have Jones cut in front for the interception he took all the way to the house for a 23-3 lead with 11:36 left in the third quarter.

The Raiders tried to rally but could manage only three more points, and things only got worse.

The Raiders will try to bounce back and break their two-game losing streak next Sunday against the hapless New York Jets (0-11) at MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J

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