The statistics may or may not support the following statement, but I’m going to say it.
There has never been a better kicker/punter tandem in NFL history than Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski.
Raider fans have long suspected this, but last Sunday’s victory over the Bears confirmed it.
Punting against the league’s best kick returner, Lechler punished Devin Hester for sneaking up toward the 40 and smashed the ball over his head for a touchback … from his own ten yard line. From Lechler’s right foot to the opposite 10-yard-line. On the fly. Take a look…
I’ve long been a fan of the kicking game. It’s the odd duck of professional football. I was deeply fascinated with Mike Lansford’s barefoot kicking style, and I loved the heartbreaking call of “WIDE RIGHT” when Scott Norwood missed a 47 yard kick to give the tough-luck Bills a Super Bowl victory over the Giants in 1991. One of my favorite plays in NFL history is Randall Cunningham’s epic 91 yard punt against the Giants in 1989.
In fact, the period from 1987 to 1991 may very well be a golden era of the kicking game. Barefoot kickers and Super Bowl losses … until Adam Vinateri made kicking sexy again for the cursed Patriots.
The Raiders are bringing sexy back to special teams, my friends.
Now, Cunningham had the benefit of a wild bounce on his record setting punt. Lechler’s was all leg. And absolutely ridiculous.
It also happened against a guy who will probably go to Canton on the strength of his return skills. What Hester was thinking by cheating up the field, I’ll never know. But Lechler was clearly annoyed and punished him badly. The Bears would go on to score a field goal on that drive, but it didn’t matter. It was a vulgar display of power, and one that had Al Davis smiling at his own genius.
Lechler averaged almost 50 yards a punt on Sunday, and pinned the Bears deep more than once.
And we haven’t even gotten to the performance that Sebastian Janikowski threw down.
Al Davis has the distinction of drafting the two greatest punters in NFL history. Ray Guy and Shane Lechler.
There are three kickers in the Hall of Fame, and one of them is a Raider named George Blanda. Blanda played quarterback and defensive back, but he’s listed as a kicker on the Hall of Fame website. In several years, there will be two more Raiders on that list. SeaBass and Lechler. Hopefully, Ray Guy gets to join them sooner than later. He’s hit a streak of bad luck that includes having to sell his Super Bowl rings, and hopefull Marc Davis does the right thing and buys them back for him as an enshrinement gift.
But back to the game.
Raider fans have every reason to be happy right now. There isn’t a team in the league that has dealt with more adversity this season than the Oakland Raiders.
1. Al Davis died — not much more to say than that. No other owner is so enmeshed in the fabric of his team than Davis was.
2. Jason Campbell’s injury — Campbell was having a career year and looking very much like the leader the Raiders have needed at the position since Rich Gannon retired.
3. Darren McFadden’s injury — McFadden’s injury is so serious the team isn’t really talking about it. It’s being called a foot sprain, and from what I’ve read online on different medical sites, it’s a lot worse than it sounds. McFadden counts on being able to cut and juke to make big gains, and that isn’t going to happen with a sprained foot. If he’s back for the playoffs, it’ll be a blessing.
4. WR injuries — Almost every week, it’s a new name. Jacoby Ford didn’t practice at all last week, while Denarius Moore did practice but was a scratch. Darrius Heyward-Bey saw limited action in Sunday’s game, hauling down 4 passes for 42 yards after a scary knee-to-head injury last week against Minnesota that seemed to shake the team up. It’s no bueno when “he can feel his legs” is good news from the locker room.
But the good thing to come from all this is that role players have stepped up in a huge way. This team is deeper than I thought. I knew we had depth at the reciever position, and I’m not surprised by Chaz Schillens’ play, but Marcel Reece is an absolute beast. Michael Bush has filled in very well for McFadden despite turning in a grinder performance against the Bears eighth-ranked run defense.
Speaking of run defense, many naysayers predicted big games for both Devin Hester and Matt Forte. Forte had 12 carries for 59 yards against the Raiders, and if you take away his 33-yard run, that puts him at 11 carries for 26 yards, which means he was effectively neutralized. Forte is in a contract year, and he’s been running his ass off all season except for Sunday.
On the defensive side of the ball, there has been a lot of great play. Tommy Kelly is displaying a knack for putting his mitts on the ball at the line of scrimmage, and Kamerion Wembley is playing great football. He would’ve had a pick-6 Sunday if it weren’t for incredible hustle by offensive lineman Lance Louis, who never gave up on the play.
And then there was SeaBass. Janikowski has made 22-of-24 FG attempts this season, including a 63-yarder at Denver. Both misses came from beyond 40 yards, and he’s on pace for a career year at the age of 33.
He broke the Raiders’ team record with 6 field goals Sunday, and his importance to the team cannot be overstated. He shortens the field in the same way a deep-threat wide receiver does. Once the Raiders get to their opponent’s 40, there’s a pretty damn good chance they’ll score. Janikowski has made 91% of his field goals this season, and he’s not even at full strength right now. He’s been nursing a hamstring injury that the rumor mill says he got by booting 80-yarders in practice. His follow-through looks a little chippy, and hopefully he doesn’t have to kick too many long balls this weekend against the Dolphins.
Carson Palmer continues to pee on the doubters who said the Raiders got fleeced in the trade with the Bengals. There’s a chance Cincy hits paydirt with the picks they got for Palmer, but there’s a much better chance the Raiders ride Palmer into the playoffs, and possibly deep.
Thankful for the Silver and Black
I put together a list of things I’m thankful for on Thanskgiving, and as corny as it may sound, I’m very thankful that Hue Jackson and the Davis family have done the best they can to keep a contending team on the field this season.
The Raiders of old may have given up over the bad hands they’ve been dealt with respect to injuries, but this team seems to believe. It doesn’t matter that the division is “weak” by some accounts. It’s also plucky in a strange way … guys like Matt Giordano have come through when we need them too. I’ve seen Giordano get burned a few times, but I’ve also seen him make some incredibly gutsy plays against more talented players. He put his life on the line to help control the Bears’ last ditch onside kick on Sunday and took a crushing blow before the ball was recovered by the Men in Black. Aaron Curry is making the best of his second chance, and has been showing up around the ball a lot.
And Tommy Kelly … Kelly is aging like a fine wine. He’s racked up 5.5 sacks in 11 games, putting him on pace to beat his career high of 7 sacks that he rung up last season. And as I mentioned before, he’s been disruptive as hell at the line of scrimmage, with 4 passes defensed and an interception this season. Fear the beard, indeed.
The Dolphins are the next team on the schedule, and there’s no reason the Raiders won’t come out of that contest 8-4 and full of vinegar for their December 11th matchup against the currently undefeated Packers.
After that, they face Detroit (who are hopefully inheriting the “flag magnet” titled owned by the Raiders for years thanks to the thoughtless and borderline psychopathic Ndamukong Suh) at home, Kansas City at Arrowhead (and we owe them one in a big way), before finishing the regular season at home against the Norval Turner-“led” San Diego Chargers. It’s very realistic to imagine the Raiders heading into the playoffs 11-5. Hell, I think the Raiders are the kind of team that Green Bay might be worried about. We’ve become THAT team. They very well could be 12-4 going into the playoffs. It’ll take a lot of things to break the Raiders’ way for that to happen, but I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted the team would be at the top of the division despite losing their starting quarterback and potential All-Pro running back before the halfway point in the season. They could have a healthy receiving corps, and gulp, a healthy and rested Darren McFadden to give the Raiders a true thunder and lightning backfield with Reece to spell the two when necessary.
Pinch yourselves, Raider Nation. Because it’s happening.
ANOTHER DEATH IN THE RAIDER FAMILY: The Raiders family lost another member today. Chester McGlockton, most recently the defensive line coach at Stanford, died from undisclosed causes. McGlockton had lap-band surgery to lose weight a few years ago, but rumors say he died of a massive heart attack. Unfortunately, life after football is very tough on the game’s big men. While McGlockton left the team under a bad moon and hard feelings, he was a Raider at heart. He stayed in touch with many of his old teammates, and many of them are taking his death very hard.
I remember McGlockton was a member of a Raiders squad that toured the state playing charity basketball games and he visited my hometown of Eureka, Ca to play one those games in our high school gym. If you’ve never been to Eureka, it’s very out of the way. You don’t end up there by accident. If memory serves correctly, he and Terry McDaniel stuck around after the gym closed and played a pickup game against one of our basketball players and another guy in front of the gym on the blacktop courts. They stuck around and signed autographs very graciously and made some fans in a town that was pretty well slanted to the 49ers — the only guys sporting Raiders gear were wannabe gangsters. McGlockton was only 42 and he leaves behind a wife and two daughters. He’ll be missed.
The Raiders Sports Guy, Francis Mayer, has extensive experience in radio as a producer in Bakersfield, as a former morning show host at 106.1 KRAB and now producing a local morning news show. He and BASG played on the same Babe Ruth baseball team as 13-year-olds, and Francis still talks about that time he struck out the side in his only pitching appearance of the season. He’s also a fan of the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Twins, a strange pairing of teams that’s never been fully explained.