Ratto: Raiders invoke self-inflicted collapse


Ratto: Raiders invoke self-inflicted collapse


We know one thing for sure about the Raiders' latest disaster and their traditional descent into disinterest that such performances produce.Nobody will be blaming God.That was Stevie Johnson's reaction to the drop that cost the Buffalo Bills victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, and apparently God can only ruin one NFL team at a time.
Bills' Stevie Johnson Blames God
The Raiders did it the old-fashioned way. Self-infliction.In losing so demonstrably (33-17, though it should have been much worse) to the depleted Miami Dolphins, the Raiders collapsed. They found a new go-to guy in Jacoby Ford but lost everything else - both quarterbacks, the tight end, the functional offensive line, the running game, the defense as a whole and the secondary in particular, and quite likely Coach Tom Cable in due time as well.They allowed the Dolphins to have the ball for 41:38, the second-longest time of possession imbalance of the season. They allowed the pitiable Miami offense to gain 471 yards, by far a season high to go with their season high in points.But that's not the thing that has killed this season.There's Cable, who couldn't remember how many times he has tried to remember who his starting quarterback was supposed to be, committing publicly to Jason Campbell before the Pittsburgh game "because he's earned it," going back to Bruce Gradkowski before this game, and now has lost Gradkowski to a re-injured shoulder and has to go back to a Campbell who has lost the coach's trust and who seems hesitant to give the coach his own."I didn't understand the whole thing," Campbell said. "He explained to me that when Bruce is healthy, fully healthy, he goes back in as the starter. My thing was in the Pittsburgh game, I was like, well he was healthy.""It's not easy. It's not an easy thing to be going through, by no means. You're a competitor, you like to compete . . . but by no means are you understanding or anything. It's kind of tough because you're caught right in between something and you don't know what's going on. It's not something where I really know what's going on. I can't worry about it."You lose the quarterback, you lose, period. You lose the quarterback the owner traded for and is paying a princely sum, you lose something more.And then there were the effort issues, which typically crop up this time of year for the Raiders when they finally see the forest instead of the trees."It's a simple question," safety Mike Mitchell said. "Is everyone on our team going to decide that we're &@ around, and are we going to play? But that's what this game was. It wasn't coaching. It wasn't scheme. It wasn't anything. It was us. If you're not 100 percent committed, you can't play. You can't be with it. That's what it is. That's what I gotta say about it. We need everybody on the same page doing it. Every play. That's what it is." Or defensive tackle Tommy Kelly."I don't see what the problem is," he said. "I mean, we're going for the playoffs, the division. It's just hard to swallow. I mean, the thing is, we had a good week of practice. That's the frustrating thing. Everybody had a good week of practice. We knew what they were running. We just didn't execute worth &@."Or the injured cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who noticed the flagging attention spans as well."I didn't sense it in the beginning," he said. "We started off pretty fast with the kick return (Ford broke a 101-yard score from the opening kick to begin and end the Raider highlight package) and I thought the guys were fired up. I think that point might have come in the second half, I didn't see it in the beginning."But it came, and a number of players noticed, including defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who said, "It was horrendous. We've seen better days, but the beauty in it all is we'll make up our minds we want to go out and play. We can still control our own destiny, but playing like that, we don't control nothing."
This was, in short, one of those pearl-handled disasters the Raiders put up in November when they're not sure whether to push ahead or lay back and wait for January. This time, they were within screeching distance of the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs, playing one of the few seemingly easy games they had left, and they were comprehensively inert.And it makes you wonder if these are yet one more version of the end of days the Raiders have specialized in since 2003. The anger is still fresh, but the symptomology is clear because we've seen it so many times before. Important game, beatable opponent, no effort, no execution, no performance whatsoever.Indeed, it trumps even Cable's inability to convince Al Davis that Gradkowski is the best man for the quarterbacking job, or keeping Campbell's head in a happy space. Yes, the quarterback situation is an irredeemable mess, but it isn't the only reason the Raiders turned back into the Raiders in eight hard days.They went to Pittsburgh tied for first place, and they came out of the Miami game gasping for air and doubting their will to play hard, let alone actually win.Eight days, it took. Eight. And unless this team has a storehouse of will Raider teams don't typically possess, we can mark this as the day they surrendered their eighth consecutive season, and then waited for the NFL player lockout to end so they could start another new era with another new coach.And God won't have anything to do with it.What's on your mind? Email Ray and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.

The neck-breaking rise and fall of daily fantasy sports


The neck-breaking rise and fall of daily fantasy sports

The apparent cratering of the Draft Kings/Fan Duel phenomenon is largely a tale of greed gone wild, with coatings of arrogance and bullying through advertising, not to mention naked avarice, raw cupidity and what the Greeks used to call “pleonexia,” which is Greek for greed, avarice and cupidity.

It is a tale of what happens when you try to game a system that’s bigger than your own without cutting the people who run the bigger system in on the goods. It’s alleged wise guys finding out that it’s easier to skirt the law when you make the law. And it’s very definitely guys who got out over their skis trying to dominate a market that was doing fine on its own.

And hey, what’s better than smart guys getting theirs?

But there is actually a greater lesson in this for all of us, and it is this: Fantasy sports leagues are best left as small, interactive tribes whose competitors see each other, talk with each other, exchange money with each other and socialize (re: drink beer) with each other. The phenomenon began as an entirely holistic and communal idea in the 1960s in Oakland surrounding the still-larval American Football League, and grew on the ground level in other sports, in bars, rec rooms, bars, office break rooms, bars, vacations, bars, taverns, and ultimately, bars.

It was a way for friends to gather and ignore the bigger issues of living (like, say, families, which are far too time consuming, expensive and always end up with the parents battling desperately for a tie in a game once it becomes clear that they cannot win).

It was not meant to be mass-produced, let alone dominated by the guy with the best algorithms. That’s not sports, that’s math, and when was the last time you said, “Honey, I’m going out. Some math teachers are getting together to raise a little hell, and I don’t want to miss it”?

So never mind the “The DraftDuelers and FanKings tried to pull a fast one” angle, even though they did. Ignore the “They got too big and too grabby too fast” narrative, even though they did that, too.

What happened here was a perverse monetization of something that didn’t actually need improving or enlarging, because it was perfectly good the way it was. And perverse monetization is the path to perdition, I think we can all agree.

The fantasy industry also made a fatal error by trying to say for legal reasons that it wasn’t gambling, which it clearly was – except in one very granular way that nobody ever addresses.

Gambling, as in finding a bookie who will let you bet on games in any manner of exotic fashions, is meant to be a solitary pursuit left best for quiet brooders. If you have Seattle plus the 1½ when everyone else is bitching about the evils of a 6-6 overtime tie, you quietly accept your incredible good fortune and start to handicap Broncos-Texans, which you probably lost.

Fantasy sports, on the other hand, are meant to be shared, but only with those in your particular fantasy league as opposed to all other people, who do not give a steaming chalky damn about your made-up aggregation of athletes and actively hate you for breaching their worlds with your relentless yammering about your alternate-universe imaginings.

Put another way, people who tell you about their fantasy teams are people who need to be taken into the desert and abandoned. And people who commit these crimes should be allowed to avoid hypothermia, dehydration and coyote dinner only by making regular offerings of alcohol and foodstuffs to those whose peace and quiet they have thoughtlessly breached.

And the industrialization of fantasy sports was the last frontier of that obnoxio-hateful social development. It used commercial television to beat us all to death with something only a few of us cared about, and it reminded us that our culture loathes two things above all others – people trying to pull a fast one, and people telling us repeatedly about things we’re not remotely interested in hearing.

In other words, even if you were planning to be saddened by the collapse of the first wave of industrialized fantasy sports, don’t. They were people trying to cut themselves in on action that wasn’t theirs, and make a national phenomenon out of a social development best confined to a single room with six-to-20 people, all of whom had the good sense to bring wine and snacks.

I mean, seriously. Why would you want to screw with that setup?

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

You can almost hear the sound whistling between the 49ers’ teeth at this point, beneath the droned platitudes and vague responses to what is a fully lost season:

“Look, what do you want from us? This is who we are.”

You can almost hear it, that is. They wouldn’t dare express such rampant defeatism – I mean, if they didn’t after Sunday’s 34-17 muzzling at the hands, arms, torsos and feet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s unlikely you would hear it at any point.

But they must surely know by now that this is a season already in the rear-view mirror. There are no secret plans, or stashed players, or untried ideas left to unearth, sign or try. The coming bye week will not clear their heads and give them new inspiration, save that of having a week off from the steady beatings. They are 1-6 on merit, and proved it again yesterday before another dispirited two-thirds-of-a-sellout crowd which is coming to realize that their hope is a mile wide and an inch deep.

[MAIOCCO: Kelly: No changes to 49ers defensive staff after loss]

Sunday, for example, Colin Kaepernick was their best running back, Shaun Draughn was their best receiver, the downed kickoff was their best special teams play, and their best strategic decision – well, they lost the coin flip so they didn’t even get a chance to defer the opening kickoff.

And their defense? It only allowed whatever Tampa Bay wanted, and only on demand. Jacquizz Rodgers became the sixth running back to gain 100 yards against them (and the first to do it in one half), which is noteworthy only because they allowed five all last year in a bad season, and nine in the four seasons before that, four of those by Marshawn Lynch.

And quarterback Jameis Winston threw the ball to wide-open receivers and into coverage with the same sense of well-placed bravado. Though his numbers didn’t exactly aurora the borealis (21-of-30, 269, 3/1, 117.2), he never emitted a sense that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted – save get the officials to give him a better spot when he snapped and cost his team a potential touchdown with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for headless-chickening.

In other words, this was not materially different than the Buffalo game, or the Seattle game, or the Carolina game. The only game that has been different is the opener against Los Angeles, when everything worked and made sense and life was happy and Jed York hummed “I Am 16 Going On 17” all through the suite all night long.

That game was 50,000 years ago. These are who the 49ers are now, and who they are going to be for awhile to come.

They speak of consistency, and yet they are the very model of it – leading the league in punts, and ranking second in three-and-outs, 27th in first downs and 31st in plays per drive. They don’t stay on the field, in other words, and when on defense, they allow 118 more yards per game than their offense gets them.

And they swear with unanimity that they are together as a team, and work hard each week to achieve the acme of their talents and learning. So this, if that is so, must be at or near the top of their game – which, as head coach for now and the future Chip Kelly (stop thinking this is just a coaching problem, please) put it, “We’re not doing what it takes to be successful right now.”

That was in response to a question about whether the 49ers were going backwards. He ducked the issue by saying, “I don’t think forwards or backwards,” which is probably a lie, but we can help anyway.

They have gone dramatically backwards since Game 1, and essentially stagnated since Game 2. It’s how they have gotten to where they are right now, and how they have become who they are right now.

It may be that stranger things have happened in the NFL than a team starting 1-6 and rallying to win eight, nine or 10 in a row, but on this team, based all the available evidence, this team won’t be that strange. They have revealed themselves for what they actually are, which is not good enough to change what they actually are.

And if that is too tough a sentence for you to swallow, well, go out and write some of your own. You can tell any tale you want, but this is the tale of the 2016 San Francisco 49ers, a team awash in unpleasant self-realization and the knowledge that there is nothing to be done but to go out each week and do it again.

Except next week, of course. Bye may be a favorite, but Bye must be played, just like all the others.