The real season returned but not the Raiders, who are as a memory. What remains is a bunch of also-rans: Colorless, rudderless, emotionless, and, of course, quarterback-less. But not odorless.
Was it real or was it the Masqueraiders?
Lower your black-and-silver pennants, Raider fans, that was the Real Team that fell behind the Seattle Seahawks, 28-0, in just the first half Sunday and lost, 35-13, on its own grass field before 52,735 of its faithful.
Be thankful for small favors. If they'd played like this in the Kingdome, they'd never have gotten out alive.
Preliminary sifting of the wreckage suggests two possibilities:
1) The Raiders are no good.
2) They're demoralized and playing that way.
Since they were pretty good recently, except for their One Famous Problem Area, you Raider fans could take the hopeful choice, No. 2, making the next question:
1. Rusty Hilger.
2. Strike hangover.
3. Both of the above.
Hilger returned to his exhibition season form and by the second quarter, was BOA--Booed On Arrival--by Raider fans. Tom Flores hooked him at halftime and didn't even bother to think up some face-saving injury for him.
Hilger's passing numbers weren't so bad, but look at it this way. In the first six times he went back to pass, he was sacked three times, scrambled once, threw one incompletion and threw one completion--for one yard.
By then, the Seahawks led, 21-0.
Hilger then completed three passes against a prevent defense, missed on two, and then, with Seattle's Jeff Bryant picking him up and about to make a wish, tried to get rid of the ball. Rotten luck for him, he did. It quacked five yards to Seattle linebacker Fredd Young who caught it in the Raider backfield and returned it 50 yards to the Raider end zone. You fast adders will have already figured out this made it 28-0.
"Our whole offense had trouble," said Flores, asked about Hilger. "We didn't give him a chance. I'm not going to point fingers."
Will Hilger start next week?,
"We're gonna--yeah," Flores said. "As far as right now, yeah."
Right then was late Sunday afternoon, and they weren't playing anyone, so stay tuned.
Hilger, whose poise is supposed to be one of his attributes, said nothing. He dressed in the training room and left the dressing room, refusing to stop for questions.
Before laying this all on Hilger, however, there is one other thing to consider. The Raiders were not one of the teams that stuck together during the strike--something Al Davis insisted on before, but abandoned this time, saying camaraderie is overrated. Raider captains Rod Martin, Don Mosebar and Jeff Barnes tried to heal the lingering bad feelings in a team meeting but there are indications it might not have happened. Some players are said to have been refusing to speak to others late last week, and some players were concerned about the team's mood.
Whatever, when Sunday's game started, the Raiders were just awful.
"We were incredibly flat," Marcus Allen said. "There was nothing at all that first half."
On the last Raider possession, in the dying seconds of the half, it was Allen who took over. He could be seen asking the sideline if it wanted time out, and waving Hilger over to talk to the coaches after time was taken.
The Raiders couldn't move the ball and couldn't stop Seattle. Aside from that, they didn't have too much trouble. The Seahawks converted an astonishing 8-of-9 third-down situations, including a third-and-17 on their first touchdown drive and third-and-18 on their second.
How bad were the Raiders?
How often do you hear the arch-charitable Flores saying anything bad?
Sunday he called the first half "a lousy performance . . . terrible . . . totally uncharacteristic," and said it was "embarrassing to play like that."
It's-the-quarterback theorists got a boost when Marc Wilson entered the game, played well and saw the team rally behind him, if briefly.
Of course, Wilson came in on a little high, after Sean Jones sacked Dave Krieg and forced the fumble that Howie Long recovered at the Seattle 32. But from there, Wilson took the Raiders in in a hurry, finishing the drive with a seven-yard scoring pass to Todd Christensen, getting rid of the ball just as a blitzing Seattle cornerback began to twirl him around.
Early in the fourth quarter, Wilson was the quarterback on a 62-yard scoring drive. That cut it to 28-13, which was as close as the Raiders would get.
How did Wilson account for the turnaround?
"I think the big thing is we played terrible in the first half and we couldn't play much worse in the second half," he said.
There were some other things that you used to see that were nowhere in sight Sunday. Raider players used to get angry after losses, and blast off, at opponents coming up the tunnel, at the officials, and more than once they directed some anger at teammates. Appropriate or not, they cared. They hadn't accepted it.
Sunday, they were quiet as church mice.
The Bo Jackson debut will have to wait for happier times, or at least next week. Tom Flores held him out. . . . Add Raider problems: Lionel Washington, who succeeded Lester Hayes on the left corner, is struggling. The Seahawks picked up their third-and-18 on their first drive when Dave Krieg hit Steve Largent crossing the field against Washington for 21 yards. In the fourth quarter, Raymond Butler beat Washington for a 31-yard touchdown pass. . . . The Raiders are in fourth place in the AFC West with their next three games on the road--at New England, at Minnesota and at San Diego. After that, they play Denver at the Coliseum and Seattle in the Kingdome.