Raiders snatch ax from jaws of victory?

Doomed coach Lane Kiffin couldn't have committed self-sabotage, but if he had, it wouldn't have looked that different.

Published September 22, 2008 8:50PM (EDT)

Lane Kiffin's tenure as head coach of the Oakland Raiders could well be over by the time you read this sentence, and in fact there's a good chance it'll be over before I finish writing it. Multiple news outlets are citing multiple sources saying the ax could fall on Kiffin as early as Monday.

Kiffin, the youngest head coach in NFL history, has been feuding with Raiders owner Al Davis since January, when Davis refused to give Kiffin a day off to go to the prom.

Just kidding. The trouble started when Davis wouldn't let Kiffin use his I.D. to buy beer.

No, seriously. The trouble started when Davis overruled Kiffin about firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, but the underlying issue is that Davis these days is bat-guano crazy, even by the standards of his own remarkable career.

Kiffin reportedly had one foot in the employment grave and the other on a greased banana peel before last week, when the Raiders screwed up Davis' supposed plans by beating the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have that 1-15 look about them -- even the worst teams win a game by accident -- but a win is a win. Tough to fire your coach after a victory that brings the team's record to 1-1.

The Raiders looked for most of Sunday's game in Buffalo like they were really going to get in the way of Davis' plans by winning again, this time against a good team.

If you can't fire your coach after a win, you certainly can't fire him after two in a row. Can you fire him after a loss the third week, or do you have to wait for two losses after two wins? That's the kind of question that would keep me up at night if I were Al Davis. That and who stole the strawberries.

Fortunately for Davis, the Raiders managed to turn a 23-14 lead with 6:23 to go into a 24-23 loss, thanks at least a little bit to Kiffin mismanaging the clock at the end.

I'm not going to say that Kiffin threw the game to keep the Raiders from winning two straight and prolonging his employment in Oakland. That would be ridiculous. What I'm going to say is that if Kiffin had wanted to throw the game to keep the Raiders from winning two straight and prolonging his employment in Oakland, it wouldn't have looked any different.

The Bills had closed to 23-21 and were driving in the two-minute drill. Marshawn Lynch ran for a first down at the Oakland 24, going out of bounds to stop the clock with 1:11 to go. The Bills were clearly within range for Rian Lindell to kick the game-winning field goal. The Raiders had two timeouts left. The clear strategy: Get stops on first and second down and call timeout after both. That would have left Buffalo with a third down with about a minute to go.

If the Raiders had gotten a stop there, and here we're going to assume the Bills wouldn't have done something dumb like throwing an incomplete pass or running out of bounds, the Bills would have been able to run the clock down to about 15 seconds before kicking their field goal. The Raiders would have received the kickoff with something like 10 seconds left.

More if the Bills had done something dumb like run out of bounds, as Lynch had done at the 24, or thrown an incomplete pass. But 10 seconds is enough for a runback -- would the Bills have helped the Raiders with a squib kick? -- and a Hail Mary. That's not a great chance, but it's a chance.

Instead, Kiffin held on to his timeouts and let the Bills run the clock down to three seconds before Lindell tried a 38-yard field goal. The plan was to hope Lindell missed the chip shot. Almost no chance at all.

Kiffin lamely tried to call timeout to freeze Lindell just before the kick, a weenie coaching move that was popular last season. That's what he was saving his timeouts for? But he waited too long. The officials didn't see him in time.

It was almost as if Kiffin figured he'd take a win, but as long as the game was close, let's not do anything rash that would discourage Davis from doing what he wants to do and getting me the hell out of here.

But that would be crazy, wouldn't it? Bat-guano crazy.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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