Raiders unable to unlock offense in 3-0 loss to Vikings

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
A late field goal by Minnesota provided all the offense as Las Vegas dropped its third straight game to fall to 5-8.

LAS VEGAS — The NFL has had its share of stinkers this year. Low-scoring games that lull fans to sleep and have bettors questioning their strategy, not to mention their sanity.

The Chargers’ 6-0 win over the Patriots a couple weeks ago comes to mind. But with the bar set pretty low, one game managed to find its way underneath it Sunday afternoon. 

I give you the Vikings and the Raiders.

It was a game that featured two quarterbacks who frankly have no business starting in the NFL. It was a day for punters to show off their legs and the officials to show off their flag-throwing arms. And it turned out to be miserable after starting out brutal from an offensive standpoint.

Minnesota managed a 36-yard field goal with 1:57 to play and it stood up in an unpredictable 3-0 win over the struggling Raiders, who have dropped three straight under interim head coach Antonio Pierce and are 5-8 with four games remaining, beginning Thursday at home against the equally-struggling Chargers.

“It was poor coaching, poor execution,” Pierce said. “It was a poor performance, starting with myself. No excuse. We had plenty of time to prepare.”

The Raiders were coming off their bye week and they should have been ready to go. Instead, they struggled to get out of first gear offensively. 

The Vikings welcomed back star receiver Justin Jefferson after he missed seven games with a hamstring injury, only to lose him to a chest injury in the second quarter after Marcus Epps lowered the boom on him. So that certainly didn’t help QB Josh Dobbs, who was unable to find a rhythm, got sacked five times and couldn’t move Minnesota’s offense on a consistent basis.

Aidan O’Connell didn’t fare much better. He once again started well, hitting his first four pass attempts. But he also failed to sustain his early success. He was sacked three times in the first half, four overall.

“I blame myself,” O’Connell said after a 21-of-32 passing performance for 171 yards and an interception. “They do a lot of different things. They make life difficult. But I have to do better every week.”

It didn’t help matters when Josh Jacobs left the game early in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and did not return. Pierce didn’t say what Jacobs’ status will be for Thursday. 

Options? Not really. Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota’s coach, wasn’t ready to go to Nick Mullens. And Pierce might’ve been tempted to give Jimmy Garoppolo the keys to the car. Instead, both coaches decided this game didn’t need to be a showdown of ex-49ers quarterbacks.

Well, O’Connell blinked first as he put Mullens in for Dobbs with 9:10 left and the game still scoreless. He must’ve figured, “It can’t be any worse.”

Pierce said he did not consider benching O’Connell. 

“I told the team we win together and we lose together,” he said. “It’s easy to point the finger at the quarterback. We were moving the ball. But we had penalties and turnovers. It’s the entire offense.”

Perhaps just as well, My condolences to all of you fantasy football owners who played any Vikings or Raiders in your lineup this week.

You could’ve excused it had these teams been playing outdoors in Minnesota at the old Met Stadium with the snow coming down and the temperatures well below zero. But they played this one inside climate-controlled Allegiant Stadium on a fast track. So no need to blame Mother Nature.

I’m not sure who to assign blame for this debacle. Ultimately, it’s the players who decide things so you can take your pick.

Minnesota fans will bemoan Greg Joseph missing a first-half 49-yard field goal attempt that would have broke the ice though he redeemed himself late. Raider fans are probably cursing Hunter Renfrow for fumbling at the Vikings’ 16 in the third quarter after moments before making a nice catch and run for 38 yards to the Minnesota 11.

And the QB’s obviously can give their mea culpas for their dismal displays at the position. 

But in the end, all the good the Raiders may have done defensively wasn’t enough. And with the team’s postseason chances hanging by the barest of threads, all they can do is try to move forward against the Chargers Thursday night. Los Angeles is also 5-8 and has dropped four of its last five.

“You have to have a short-term memory and move on,” Pierce said. “Playing well ain’t good enough. You gotta win.”