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Close losses becoming common occurrence for Raiders

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The day-after-game news conferences are beginning to have a familiar feel around the Oakland Raiders.

Players and coaches alike lament a few plays that were the difference between winning and losing.

That was the case again Monday as the Raiders looked back at a game in which they committed 14 penalties and two turnovers, allowed five sacks and still were in position to win in the closing minutes.

Oakland (2-5) had a first down at the Tennessee 26 while trailing 13-9 with 2 minutes remaining. Instead of making the play to lead to the go-ahead score, the Raiders had a false start penalty on Barry Sims, a sack and two incompletions before Mike Williams dropped a pass right at the first-down marker on fourth-and-14 to end the game.

"We'd take that spot," coach Lane Kiffin said Monday. "If you can play the whole game, get down to 2 minutes, have the ball at the 26-yard line, first-and-10, on the road in a place like Tennessee, we'd take that. But it doesn't matter because we didn't finish in that situation. So next time we need to finish."

That's been the rallying cry all year.

While the Raiders are much improved in Kiffin's first year, they have the same record they did at this time a year ago under Art Shell. The big difference is that they feel like they should have at least a few more wins if only they could do a better job closing out games.

Oakland led 21-20 midway through the fourth quarter of the season-opener against Detroit before the defense gave up the go-ahead touchdown and then two turnovers broke the game open as the Lions won 36-21.

The following week in Denver, Oakland allowed a game-tying field goal with 2:18 remaining in regulation before losing 23-20 to the Broncos in overtime after Sebastian Janikowski missed a potential game-winning kick.

The Raiders won their next two games before dropping three in a row. They trailed San Diego by only seven points late in the fourth quarter, but were unable to come up with the defensive stop they needed to have a chance to tie that game.

Oakland led in the fourth quarter last week against Kansas City before allowing a go-ahead score to Larry Johnson and having a game-ending drive stopped by an interception.

The Raiders led 9-3 late in the third quarter against the Titans on Sunday before failing again down the stretch.

"There's not a big gap between winning and losing," quarterback Daunte Culpepper said. "When everybody realizes it's only a small gap between winning and losing, that's when you get on those win streaks. Every player has to play every play like it's the last play. It's kind of a cliche but if you play every play like it's the last play and try to go out and execute the highest percentage of plays you can, that's when you start winning."

Instead the Raiders are making little mistakes when they can least afford them. Penalties were the main culprit against the Titans.

There were six false starts, including three by Sims, three holds, and an illegal shift penalty on offense. Oakland also committed a pair of illegal blocks on special teams and one offside penalty on defense.

"It's been an issue for us all year, but not to this degree," Kiffin said. "This is about as bad as you can get."

The penalties often put the offense in a hole. Eight times, the Raiders had third downs when they needed more than 10 yards for a first down, including five plays of third-and-20 or longer.

They failed to convert all of those chances, while going 5-for-8 when needing less than 10 yards on third down. But facing long yardage so many times stalled an offense that has scored just two touchdowns the last three games.

"I just think collectively as a group we've got to be better," Culpepper said. "I think we can. I see it in spurts. If you can do it in spurts, you can be disciplined enough to be consistent with it. I have been in great offenses and on great teams that can do it. It's just a matter of everybody making their mind up to do it."

Kiffin wouldn't commit to Culpepper starting again this week against Houston, saying he wanted to see how Josh McCown looked at practice Wednesday before making up his mind.

McCown, out with a broken toe since Sept. 23, said he is close to 90 percent and hopes to be able to play this week.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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