After seven consecutive defeats, and five straight in which they have trailed by double figures, you might be tempted to say the Raiders have hit bottom. Except that the light at the end of the tunnel looks like the headlight of the oncoming Seattle Seahawks.
Yes, next Monday night the Raiders are headed back for the Kingdome, where they have lost three straight games, including a 37-0 humiliation last season that followed a 33-3 embarrassment in 1985.
Even if the coaching staff chooses not to acknowledge it, there seems to be every indication that Raider players are intimidated by the place.
Before the 1985 wipeout, the club trucked huge loudspeakers to El Segundo to simulate the crowd's noise during practices. After the game, Lester Hayes said the Raiders couldn't win in the Kingdome if they brought an all-star team. Before the 1986 massacre, Howie Long said the problem was that there were Raiders who were psyched out.
There are more tangible problems, too. The Seahawks are pass-rushing fools in their own building, and the crowd noise helps, since the offensive linemen may not be able to hear the signals and lose the advantage of anticipating the snap of the ball. In recent seasons when the Raiders have had their Kingdome troubles, they've been struggling with their offensive line.
Last season, the Raiders were sacked 11 times--starter Jim Plunkett 6, Marc Wilson 4, Rusty Hilger 1. In the '85 loss, Wilson, the starter, went down four times, Hilger twice.
In last season's game, Plunkett suffered the rotator cuff injury that required subsequent surgery, although he didn't know it at the time and started the final two games of the season. Henry Lawrence, the long-time right tackle, was beaten several times in that game and was taken out of the lineup, never to return.
"Our experiences up there haven't been very good," Coach Tom Flores said Monday. "I think we have to be big enough and mature enough and mentally and emotionally strong enough to not let that bother us. We've just got to play and let it all hang out, and see what happens. That's the approach that we have to take.
"I don't think you can let anybody intimidate you. I don't feel we're intimidated by that place. The noise is a factor. There's no question the noise is a factor. But you still have to play."
The oddsmakers have made Seattle a 10-point favorite. The Raiders have not been bigger underdogs since moving to Los Angeles six seasons ago.
Among the questions raised by the Bo Jackson-Marcus Allen backfield is whether the lack of a true fullback has anything to do with the pass-protection problems.
The Denver Broncos, who had a total of seven sacks since the strike, got six more Sunday.
The Raiders, however, seem to think it's more a problem of their baby offensive line.
"We're struggling a little bit on the offensive line right now because it's new," Flores said.
Allen has always been recognized as a good blocker. Jackson reported at 230 pounds, which makes him at least 15 heavier than Frank Hawkins, who has been the fullback in recent seasons. And his own Heisman stature notwithstanding, Bo doesn't mind blocking, either.
"Bo is a good blocker," Flores said. "He's shown he can block. He's powerful and he's a big guy."
Raider Notes With the future of the quarterback position still unsettled, Tom Flores said he has no plans to play rookie Steve Beuerlein this season. Beuerlein has spent the season on injured reserve but has backers within the organization who think that because of his poise and experience under the gun at Notre Dame, he might be the team's best prospect. . . . Flores, asked if he has any plans to play Jim Plunkett or Vince Evans, said: "I don't foresee it. We just have to kind of re-evaluate what we want to do the rest of the season." . . . The injuries to Mike Haynes' foot and Jeff Barnes' and John Clay's ankles are all thought to be sprains, but the Raiders are waiting before listing their conditions for the Monday night game. . . . Mervyn Fernandez's injury has been found to be a bone chip in his right shoulder and he has been put on injured reserve, meaning that his first Raider season is almost certainly over. Flores said his chances of playing again in 1987 are remote, so Fernandez's season is just about an official disappointment. . . . Add disappointment: Bob Buczkowski, the team's No. 1 draft pick in 1986, is also on injured reserve, for the third time. After back surgery and hepatitis, he has a severely sprained ankle and is trying to run on it again. Unless he heals in a hurry, his next action may also be in a mini-camp.