ALAMEDA, Calif. — For most of the past decade, December has meant only one thing to Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler — searching for motivation as he plays out the string of another lost season.
Heading into 2012, Lechler never thought his 13th season in Oakland would end up so similar to the previous nine. All of those saw the Raiders miss the playoffs, and often had them out of contention in the final month.
Yet here Oakland (3-10) is again heading into today’s home finale against the Kansas City Chiefs (2-11) having long been eliminated from playoff contention. And it comes just one year after taking the division race down to the final day.
“It’s sad to say, we’ve been through 10 years of it,” Lechler said. “This time of the year you’ve got to find the positives and go with it because it’s easy to go down that other road. I’m guilty of it in the past. I’ve done it. I think everybody in here that’s been through it as long as we have is guilty of that.”
It’s been a similar type year for the Chiefs, who hoped the return of injured stars Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry and a full season under coach Romeo Crennel could get them back atop the AFC West after a last-place finish a year ago.
Instead, they have taken a huge step backward, losing eight straight games at one point to put the status of Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli in question. The situation got worse earlier this month with off-field tragedy when linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend before committing suicide at the team’s practice facility.
“We’ve just been trying to stay focused on what we’ve got to do, but I’m not going to lie, it’s been tough,” Berry said. “Everybody’s trying to stay focused on what we’ve got to take care of, but at the end of the day we are human, and we’ve got emotions and feelings and stuff like that.”
It has been tough on the field in Oakland. The Raiders have lost six straight games, are on pace to allow the most points in franchise history. They have regressed in all areas under first-year coach Dennis Allen.
All that’s left for these once fierce AFC West rivals to play for is pride and draft positioning, with the loser having a shot at the top pick in a class that lacks a franchise player quarterback.
“You know, when you’re on the playground, when you’re a kid, and you have a rivalry, or you’re in high school and you have a rivalry,” Crennel said. “It doesn’t matter what the records are — they’re your rival. You’re going to go and you want to win that game, and I think both sides feel the same way about it. Both sides want to win that game.”
The end of this season could have a different type of finality for Lechler, who might need to look for a new home when his contract is up.
Oakland already has Lechler’s potential replacement lined up if he leaves, having kept rookie Marquette King on injured reserve all year in a move that clearly caught Lechler’s attention. With the Raiders having many needs and little salary cap room, retaining the highest-paid punter in NFL history (four years, $16 million) may not be a priority for general manager Reggie McKenzie.
Lechler had hoped his career in Oakland would come full circle, ending with the type of team success it started with after being drafted in the fifth round in 2000. Lechler went to the AFC title game as a rookie, lost the infamous “Tuck Rule” game in his second year and the Super Bowl in Year 3.
Since then, the Raiders haven’t even posted a winning record. Their 109 losses over the past 10 years are tied with Detroit for the most in the NFL in that span.
“I wish that would have happened a little bit later in my career so I wouldn’t have taken it so much for granted,” he said. “We walk right into this thing and go to the AFC championship game. I thought that was how it was going to be. Didn’t quite turn out that way.
“Though it may not look like it in our record and what’s happened on Sundays, I think this place is headed in the right direction.”
Lechler isn’t the only prominent player in Oakland who may not stay long enough to see the turnaround. The new regime has shown no hesitancy to cut ties with players, the latest being starting cornerback Ron Bartell, released on Monday.
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who missed the past five games with a hamstring injury, is hoping to be back this week in what could be the start of a three-game audition for a new job.
Acquired by Al Davis before the 2009 season to anchor the defense, Seymour has been unable to replicate the success in Oakland that he enjoyed for many years in New England, where he won three Super Bowl titles. Seymour said he will explore free agency, and with the Raiders looking to get younger and shed high salaries, he seems a likely candidate to end up somewhere else.
“I would love to retire a Raider, but I have earned the right to be a free agent,” he said. “I really love wearing this uniform. We’ll see what happens.”
KANSAS CITY (2-11)
At OAKLAND (3-10)
Today, 3:25 p.m., CBS
OPENING LINE — Raiders by 2½
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Kansas City 5-8; Oakland 3-10
SERIES RECORD — Chiefs lead 55-50-2
AP PRO32 RANKING — Chiefs No. 30 (tie); Raiders No. 30 (tie)
LAST MEETING — Raiders beat Chiefs 26-16, Oct. 28
LAST WEEK — Chiefs lost to Browns 30-7; Raiders lost to Broncos 26-13
CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (22), RUSH (5), PASS (31)
CHIEFS DEFENSE — OVERALL (16), RUSH (27), PASS (9)
RAIDERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (13), RUSH (30), PASS (7)
RAIDERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (30), RUSH (26), PASS (28)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Chiefs won eight of last nine in Oakland, including 28-0 victory last season. ... Kansas City CB Brandon Flowers had two INTs, one for TD, last year in Oakland. ... Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles held to 4 yards on five carries in first meeting. Charles topped 100 yards in four of past five games. ... Kansas City’s minus-22 turnover margin worst in NFL. Chiefs just minus-2 over last 5 games. ... Kansas City QB Brady Quinn 4-13 as starter in NFL. ... With loss Sunday, Chiefs would tie for second most in franchise history, behind only 2-14 team in 2008. ... Oakland lost last six since winning in Kansas City on Oct. 28. Franchise hasn’t had longer losing streak since 11-game skid from 2006-07. ... Carson Palmer needs 195 yards passing to join Rich Gannon as only Raiders QBs to reach 4,000 in single season. ... Oakland’s Marcel Reece leads all RBs with 472 yards receiving this season. ... Raiders rookie WR Rod Streater has seven catches for 196 yards, one TD last two games. ... Oakland’s Brandon Myers leads AFC TEs with 70 receptions. ... Raiders CB Phillip Adams expected to get first career start after recording INTs past two weeks.