MINNEAPOLIS -- There the Raiders go again, to and fro again, first they're good, then they're not so good, and they usually end up somewhere in between.

All in the span of one game. Or one half. Or one series. Sometimes, one play.

Have they figured it out? Not yet.

Will it make a difference if they can't? Yes, almost certainly once the bigger teams and biggest moments arrive.

"We made the game a lot harder than it had to be," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said with a shrug after the Raiders' hold-your-breath 27-21 victory over Minnesota here Sunday.

The bottom line: The Raiders raced to a 20-point lead, but faded hard in the fourth quarter and only barely held on to win.

That raised the Raiders' record to 6-4 and kept them in sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

Which is very good for this franchise.

But the near-collapse at the end, against a rookie quarterback (and with star Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson out injured) continued to raise questions about the Raiders' focus and ability to sustain a high level of success.

Which is exasperating for a team that has bet everything on a deep playoff run ASAP.

"We have a second-half issue that I need to address," Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. "I'm going to continue to address it. That's my job. We'll get it done."

The Raiders, with Carson Palmer playing efficiently and with a powerful defensive front, can look so very good, as they did Sunday, gathering up a 27-7 lead.


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That version of the Raiders can play with anybody -- Pittsburgh, New England, maybe even Green Bay or the 49ers.

And then, when they're trying to protect leads, they can look tentative and fragile -- as they did Sunday, and in losses to Denver and Buffalo in previous weeks.

"We had some opportunities to kind of put the game away and didn't finish it," Palmer said. "Thankfully, our defense played the way they did."

Once again, the Raiders failed to score in the fourth quarter -- their fifth consecutive game without final-period points.

And once again, the offensive struggles put the Raiders back in jeopardy, with Vikings QB Christian Ponder whirling around the field, giving Minnesota a chance to go ahead in the final minutes.

The Raiders defense stopped the Vikings that last time, but everything that led up to it was all jangles and nerves.

The Raiders committed crucial penalties -- 12 in all, for 117 yards, enough to get Jackson to complain that he didn't think the Raiders were getting a fair shake.

They gave up a few big plays. Running back Michael Bush fumbled. Sebastian Janikowski had a field goal blocked.

They kept the Vikings alive, when the Vikings (now 2-8) should've been cooked.

"I think we played well in the first half, but we've got to learn to finish teams," said defensive lineman Richard Seymour.

"As the season moves along and you start to play different teams down the road, when you have teams down, you have to finish them. We haven't done this year, so we have to develop that."

Of course, the Raiders had the luxury of saying and thinking these things while sitting atop the AFC West.

They know they're talented enough to survive some bad mistakes, and that is not a small thing, though they don't want it to be a habit.

High points: They've won these last two games without Darren McFadden; and they're now a tremendous 4-1 on the road.

"We wanted to finish -- especially on defense, after we blew the game in Buffalo, and then blew the game against Denver," Kelly said.

"We wanted to finish. The game was on us, we had to get the stop."

But the Raiders also know these kinds of mistakes would be lethal down the stretch, while they're playing for a playoff berth or actually in the playoffs.

They have Palmer now, playing at a very solid level. They are the most talented team in the AFC West, for sure.

This should be getting ironed out.

"Like coach Jackson said, we haven't played a complete football game yet," Palmer said, "and it's scary to think when we do what it's going to look like."

He's right -- if the Raiders ever get in gear in the fourth quarter, they will be a deadly team, especially in the playoffs.

But if they can't get going in late-game situations, they might not actually get to the postseason. They survived Minneapolis. The next few tests will be a lot tougher. And more important.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5442.