Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano didn't sugarcoat things when talking about the importance of Sunday's game against the Raiders. The winner would stay in playoff contention, the loser would move closer to the precipice.
Given that, the Dolphins are very much alive in the playoff race on the strength of a 33-17 shellacking of the Raiders, who incurred a severe blow to their once-promising playoff aspirations.
Eight days ago, the Raiders began the day tied for the AFC West lead with the Kansas City Chiefs at 5-4. Today, they are at 5-6 and two games behind the Chiefs with five to play.
"Here we are, we're right in the middle of our division, we're playing for something, and every game is like gold now," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "We've put ourselves in a negative situation now, back with a losing record. So, we've got to find a way next week in San Diego to get back to .500 and go from there. Fortunately we're in the division we're in."
Things don't get any easier for the Raiders. They play the Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars on the road the next two weeks and close the season with games against the Indianapolis Colts and the Chiefs.
Then again, every game will pose a problem for the Raiders if they play the way they did against the Dolphins, who gained 471 yards and scored on seven possessions -- they also had a pass intercepted at the Raiders 1-yard line and missed two field goal attempts.
The Dolphins were fresh from a home game against the Chicago Bears in which they lost 16-0 and managed only 187 yards offense. They also played without wide receiver Brandon Marshall and endured a last-minute quarterback switch to Chad Henne.
"You get mad because this is a golden opportunity," Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said. "The quarterback (Henne) is hurt, he's shaky, and the big-time wideout isn't there. You expect to go in there, the way we've been practicing and the way we've been playing, and execute our game plan and make the game real simple for them. We didn't."
The Raiders felt even more confident 13 seconds into the game, when Jacoby Ford returned the opening kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown.
Despite a 7-0 lead, a half-filled Oakland Coliseum oozing positive vibes and the Dolphins playing two days after a cross-country flight, the Raiders failed to capitalize on the early momentum.
Ford did his best, delivering a 44-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown that enabled the Raiders to enter the locker room leading 14-13 at halftime. The Dolphins overwhelmed the Raiders from the outset of the second half.
"It was like we were just out there playing," Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. "Not much emotion, just kind of going through the motions. And that's kind of how the game went along."
Cable benched quarterback Jason Campbell after a subpar performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 21 and opted to go back to Bruce Gradkowski.
Gradkowski never quite settled into a rhythm after completing his first three passes. Twice he was intercepted on first-down passes that the Dolphins defenders had played well.
"I can't play like that," Gradkowski said. "I can't turn the ball over. That's on me. That doesn't give our defense a break. We have to stay on the field."
Gradkowski's interceptions played into the hands of a Dolphins offense hellbent upon grinding out sustained drives.
The Dolphins ran 82 offensive plays to the Raiders' 45 and controlled the ball for 41 minutes, 38 seconds.
Offensive tackle Khalif Barnes said the story of the game came down to the running games of both teams.
"If you can't run the ball, nothing else matters," Barnes said. "If you can't stop the run, nothing else matters."
The Dolphins rushed for 186 yards on 49 carries. The Raiders managed only 16 yards on 12 carries.
Safety Mike Mitchell had quite a different take, calling into question the Raiders' effort.
"It's a simple question," he said. "Is everyone on our team going to decide that we're (messing) around and are we going to play? 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."
Gradkowski might not be able to play, but for a different reason. He reinjured his right shoulder on the Raiders' final offensive play.
Cable said he's planning on being without Gradkowski for the Chargers game "based on what I was just told (after the game)."
It's almost a foregone conclusion that the two wild-card playoff berths are coming from divisions outside the AFC West. Therefore, the Raiders need to find a way to hold off the Chargers and pick up two games on the Chiefs in the next five weeks.
"If we come out and play well, we still can control where we're trying to go," Seymour said. "But if we play like that, we don't control anything. "... If we go out there and continue to play like we played (Sunday), we'll be packing up early for the season, and that isn't what we're trying to do. We still have a lot to play for, and laying it out there like that isn't going to get it done."
Raiders (5-6) at San Diego (6-5), 1:05 p.m., CBS
Nnamdi Asomugha struggles in his return to the lineup. Page 8