Sunday’s early games should have provided a clue. Very little about Week 3 would follow the script of expected outcomes.
New England needed a touchdown with 25 seconds remaining to get past Houston at Gillette Stadium. Jacksonville routed Baltimore. League darlings Denver and Tampa Bay were upset by Buffalo and Minnesota, respectively. Dismal Chicago beat Pittsburgh and even the moribund New York Jets tasted victory, against Miami.
That was the backdrop as Oakland and Washington prepared for kickoff at FedEx Field. The only sure bet? Players on each team would take a knee or protest in some other fashion during the national anthem.
Most of the Raiders sat or kneeled.
Then Washington kneed them in the groin and sat on their chests in a 27-10 dismantling.
Oakland entered the game as a three-point favorite and trendy Super Bowl-pick. Franchise quarterback Derek Carr helmed an explosive offense that ranked among the league’s top 10. The defense featured pass rusher Khalil Mack, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.
Washington was supposed to be a road bump enroute to Oakland’s AFC West showdown next week at Denver.
But as several teams discovered earlier in the day, nothing can be taken for granted in the NFL. Washington pitched a virtual shutout except for Oakland’s condensed, second-half scoring drives – one 18 yards and the other 8 yards – following takeaways.
“You never know in this game,” tight end Vernon Davis said after contributing five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. “You can’t take anyone lightly because this is the NFL and guys make a lot of money. It’s all about the preparation you put in and I felt like we were really prepared.”
Well, we weren’t.
We didn’t foresee Washington holding Oakland to 128 yards of total offense and 0-for-11 on third-down conversions. We didn’t anticipate two interceptions and four sacks against Carr. We didn’t predict Chris Thompson accounting for 150 receiving yards, nearly half on a 74-yard screen on third-and-19. The burst set up a field goal to give Washington a 24-7 lead as the fourth quarter began.
Who were those guys in the home colors? They looked nothing like the squad from the season opener and even better than the version that won in Los Angeles.
“It’s so week to week that it’s hard to say what we are and what we aren’t,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said after passing for 365 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. “It’s going to change every week based on how we match up on their team, who’s healthy for us, and play calls.”
That’s not super helpful. Playing down to the opponent’s level happens as often as not. Rarer are the occasions when Washington manages to exceed expectations against quality opponents. Another opportunity exists next Monday in Kansas City, a second consecutive week of primetime exposure
The Chiefs likely will take Washington more seriously than Oakland did. They saw coach Jay Gruden’s newfound love affair with running plays, which resulted in 34 rushes for 116 yards. Wideout Josh Doctson finally made his presence felt with a beautiful 52-yard grab for his first NFL touchdown. Safeties D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson delivered big hits in the secondary while the pass rush made life miserable for Carr.
It was nearly a perfect game except for Jamison Crowder’s muffed punt and Samaje Perine’s fumble. The stout defense was a nice surprise but the offense produced like folks imagined it could, even as halfback Robert Kelly and tight end Jordan Reed missed the game due to injuries.
“There’s still a lot to correct,” said Gruden, who seemed to find his rhythm as a play caller. “We’re still going to have to get some work done. We had a couple of drives in the first quarter that weren’t very good but for the most part I was happy with the way they competed.”
They competed but Oakland didn’t offer much competition.
The Raiders appeared to be the team with a bunch of question marks on defense, not Washington. Cousins seemed to be the quarterback worthy of the long-term contract, not Carr. Washington’s fourth-string halfback (Mack Brown) looked like the runner in beast mode, not Marshawn Lynch.
“In a league you think you know, and then you don’t know anything,” NBC’s Al Michaels said during the broadcast. “What do we know?
After the early games were topped with Washington’s manhandling of Oakland, the answer was clear:
We don’t know squat.
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.