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A season that started with promise continues to go off the rails for the Las Vegas Raiders.
They looked listless on Sunday in a 32-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, marking their third straight defeat since a 5-2 start. In a game that was competitive as late as the fourth quarter, the Raiders collapsed down the stretch, allowing the Bengals to reel off 16 unanswered points after Las Vegas cut the deficit to 16-13 with 11:42 remaining.
The Bengals responded to Derek Carr's fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Foster Moreau with a 12-play touchdown march that ended with a Joe Burrow pass to Ja'Marr Chase to extend their lead to 22-13. Carr thew an interception to Eli Apple two plays into the next Raiders possession. Two plays later, and the Bengals were back in the end zone on a 20-yard run by Joe Mixon to take a 29-13 lead with 3:51 remaining.
The game was ostensibly over at that point. But the Raiders tacked on a strip-sack turnover by Carr with 1:36 left to punctuate the collapse and allow Cincinnati to put three more points on the board. It was an ugly end to a frustrating day for the Raiders, who tallied just 278 yards off offense. The Bengals managed just 288 yards of their own, but converted their tally into 19 more points.
Raiders in a bad way on, off the field
Sunday's loss follows up a 41-14 drubbing to the Kansas City Chiefs last week and a 23-16 loss to the NFC East bottom-dwelling New York Giants the week before. This all arrives after a 3-0 start highlighted by a Monday night win over the Baltimore Ravens inspired hope that this was the year the Raiders would finally break through.
But we all know what's happened off the field since that start. Head coach Jon Gruden resigned in shame after email leaks showed his reported use of racist, sexist and anti-gay language behind closed doors. Three weeks later, budding star receiver Henry Ruggs III was arrested in a tragic alleged DUI crash that left a woman and her dog dead on a Las Vegas street.
That crash occurred days before the Raiders embarked on their current three-game losing streak. And while it's a fallacy to conclude that their off-field woes have directly led to their on-field struggles, human nature dictates that the mentality of Las Vegas players and coaches has likely suffered. And that can't help on game day.
Carr, who's been the stoic public face of the Raiders response to both the Gruden and Ruggs sagas, has struggled during the losing streak, tallying six turnovers and four touchdowns during the 0-3 stretch. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 215 yards with a touchdown, an interception and his late lost fumble in Sunday's loss.
During the Raiders' 5-2 start, Carr tallied 12 touchdowns, five interceptions and no lost fumbles. His struggles are undeniably hurting the Raiders' chances on the field.
A 5-5 record doesn't knock the Raiders out of playoff contention. But now they're just another team on the outside looking in at a crowded AFC wild-card race with the playoff hopeful Dallas Cowboys, Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers remaining on their schedule.
The promise of a 3-0 start is long gone in a season mired in issues much more significant than football.