It’s unforgivable that Josh McDaniels lost to Jeff Saturday’s Colts
We arrived at Sunday’s Raiders-Colts game looking for some comedy. Indianapolis hired Jeff Saturday on TV on Tuesday. At a time during the week when most teams were putting the finishing touches on their game plans, the Colts were denied the calling role by their first inside candidate because they wouldn’t pay him for the privilege. They decided at the last minute to switch quarterbacks and still managed to show up in Las Vegas on Sunday prepared enough to claim their fourth win of the season.
We didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out all the laughs were about to come at Josh McDaniels’ expense.
First, a few disclaimers, a sort of legal attempt at fairness: The Raiders are dealing with injury issues. Hunter Renfrow is now done for the season. Darren Waller too. The linebacker corps and defensive line have seen better days.
Then, a sort of confession: I have absolutely no idea how I feel about Jeff Saturday’s victory in his first game as head coach. The range of possibilities in my head right now is too wide: Maybe Colts owner Jim Irsay is a genius and Saturday is a really good football coach? Maybe Saturday’s helmet was actually just a fake. Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone connected to nothing, and John Fox ran the whole business? Maybe it’s not Great difficult to coach an NFL football game and we should all try one day? We need a larger sample.
Now on to the part where we say what everyone must think: McDaniels lost a game to someone who has never coached at any level in the NFL before and, optically speaking, that’s to about as bad as it gets. Unless Saturday secretly mustered the support of the coaching staff behind the scenes like a Senate Whip, he had to win a whole building, earn the trust of the players, don live headphones for the first time in his life (high school doesn’t count) and find out how to handle a performance on the field that moves faster than an illegally weighted Formula 1 vehicle. McDaniels has built its reputation on the strength of a Patriots organization that wins games by compiling a small advantage over another. If Sunday had been a game of Monopoly, it was as if the Raiders had started with hotels across the board. The Colts won it with Baltic Avenue.
It was downright inexcusable. The Raiders are better in almost every way than they were a year ago, when a combination of Jon Gruden and Rich Bisaccia took the team to the playoffs and within a few games of beating the eventual AFC champion Bengals (this, while dealing with the fallout of Gruden’s racist and anti-LGBTQ emails are published and Gruden being fired; in addition to the fallout from a horrific car accident, in which catcher Henry Ruggs III was speeding and drunk, which caused the death of a 23-year-old woman; and the daily life of seemingly toxic work environment). They spent money this offseason, acquired the best receiver in football (Davante Adams) and somehow made themselves completely unable to win games in a division where having a strapless Russell Wilson qualifies you always competitive.
Although it would seem that the current situation of the Raiders makes them almost unable to change coaches (how many ex-employees Mark Davis can afford to pay at the same time?), one has to wonder how McDaniels can cope to this team and inspire a minimum of confidence. . As difficult as we imagined it would be for Saturday to come in and convince a guy to walk through the proverbial brick wall for him, it will be even harder for McDaniels to maintain an aura of preparedness or mental superiority. Now we’ll see how long Davis can tolerate the idea of his franchise swallowing itself up.
This aura was why McDaniels was widely considered one of the best candidates for so many jobs over the years. The Patriots simply knew more about football than the rest of the world. McDaniels and Tom Brady were deeper into the machinations of football than we could ever comprehend. I’ve spoken to coaches who planned everything they could have imagined when it came to facing the Patriots, and yet on game day I got chills knowing that the staff at coaches was going to prepare something new.
Any remnants of that reputation, at least as far as McDaniels are concerned, are gone. His Raiders came into this game as an average offense and bottom-barrel defense that had some time to turn the corner. They were 0-5 in one-scored games this season and we could all see a world where luck and chance ball rebounds started working in their favor, helping them back up towards .500. Instead, McDaniels went 0–6 in games decided by a touchdown or less and something of a reduced Viktor Tikhonov figure in NFL history; a person who will forever carry the distinction of losing a game he absolutely had no reason to lose. (You can read more about Tikhonov’s very famous hockey game in SI’s trunk.) During the game, the network’s sideline reporter noted frustrated shouting and talking followed by complete silence between offensive rounds. After the match, Derek Carr almost cried in front of the podium.
McDaniels’ staunchest defenders can point out that it’s still a purse against interim coaches. In many situations, however, temps replace someone who was looked down on, or at least simply tolerated by the organization. Saturday replaced Frank Reich, one of football’s most beloved figures. To say the Colts entered this week emotionally shattered would be an understatement of the year.
We don’t know what’s next for McDaniels, but it’s far from funny now. Before this weekend, the Raiders could at least point to the Midwest and tell themselves that at the very least, it wasn’t the Colts. From now on, everyone will say the same about Las Vegas. Everyone will tune in next week just to watch the mayhem.
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