ATLANTA -- First things first-- there is no such thing as a moral victory.Just wins and losses, and the Raiders to a man in their downcast locker room, uttered it over and over again in the wake of their heartbreaking last-second 23-20 defeat to Atlanta on Sunday.But also as true as that tried maxim is this -- the Raiders may have lost the game, but they also won some respect around the league with the way they played and, probably, gained some self-confidence amongst themselves.The Falcons were undefeated at 5-0 and 9 12-point favorites in the din of the Georgia Dome. The Raiders, coming in at 1-3 off their bye week, did not blink. Until there was literally no time left on the clock, or, one second after Matt Bryant drilled a 55-yard field goal for the victory."We competed against them but we don't take solace in the loss," said Raiders coach Dennis Allen. "At the end of the day our job is to go out there and win football games and that's what we intend to do. So there will be no moral victories, but I am proud of the guys for the way that they competed."And there it is.
The Raiders, by virtue of their earlier road meltdowns at Miami and Denver, had no business being in this game, let alone leading at the half, 13-7. But they were, and they were doing it with their most complete team effort of Allen's rookie tenure.Entering the game, the Raiders had yet to get an interception. They picked off Matt Ryan three times in the first half.Oakland also had only three sacks in four games with even less pressure on opposing passers. Against the Falcons, they sacked Ryan once, hit him numerous times and put him off balance for a good spell.Hustle plays? Yeah, there were a few, like quarterback Carson Palmer taking down Robert McClain as he returned Darren McFadden's first-quarter fumble, as well as McFadden chasing down Ray Edwards and saving a touchdown at the 2-yard line when Palmer was strip-sacked in the third.The defense responded and kept the Falcons out of the end zone, forcing a field goal. Even Rolando McClain got in on the action with a big run-stuffing tackle on third down."It gives you some reassurance that you can play with anybody," he said.In fact, McClain was an observer for most of the game, when the Raiders went into nickel and dime defenses and the unit responded. Oakland's defense seemed faster, quicker to the ball and offered more food for thought for the immediate future.On the other side of the ball, the Raiders run game showed signs of getting on track behind the zone-blocking scheme. Mike Goodson broke off a 43-yard run."We definitely can play with anybody," he said. "We see that."You want to see stats to back it up?Marinate in these: the Raiders had 22 first downs, to the Falcons' 16; the Raiders' limited the Falcons' third-down efficiency to a mere two of nine; the Raiders had 474 total yards to the Falcons' 286; the Raiders held the ball for 36:26 and the Falcons, 23:34. Even Palmer outperformed his younger, more-hyped counterpart with a passer rating of 102.2 to Ryan's 59.4.Alas"I'm not a stats guy," said defensive tackle Richard Seymour. "Stats are for losers."This hurts. I'd be lying if I said it didn't sting. We took one on the chin."True, but perhaps most reassuring for the Raiders was the way Palmer and the Raiders responded after his potentially crushing 79-yard pick-six by Asante Samuel late in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 20-13 lead.Palmer calmly guided the Raiders 80 yards down the field in two minutes, McFadden plunging in from two yards out and Sebastian Janikowski converting the extra point to tie the game at 20-all with 40 seconds to play.Seymour said Palmer showed "the heart of a champion" in that drive after the Samuel interception and score."At the end of the day," Seymour said, "I want to play with guys like that."Check that: Seymour wants to win games with guys like that. As do the rest of the Raiders, moral victories be damned. After all, there's no such thingright?