This is why you take a chance. It’s why you look for that opportunity and go all-in at the first hint of it.
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It’s why the Oakland Raiders were smart to give up so much for a possibly washed-up Carson Palmer. It’s why some players were so quick to attack Jay Cutler on Twitter last season when he left the NFC Championship Game.
In the NFL, chances come and chances go. You only get so many of them.
Dynasties are too rare to play for.
The Raiders beat the Bears 25-20 Sunday, and it was such a great example. The Raiders are being rewarded for taking a chance. The Bears? They had their chance last year, and let it go, no matter what you thought of Cutler’s injury. This year, they were in position to get another chance, but a fluke injury, Cutler’s broken thumb, might have taken it all away.
You can’t count on chances in the NFL. Ever. Last year’s conference championship game seems so much bigger now for the Bears. Eight days ago, they were the second best team in the NFC, with a real shot at the Super Bowl.
Now, they’re not.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are in first place with a three-game winning streak. They are likely to win the AFC West, too, depending on how many miracles Tim Tebow might have in him in Denver.
“(Palmer) is definitely what I had in mind,’’ Oakland coach Hue Jackson said. “He’s the reason why we’re 7-4. I don’t run from that. Everyone looks for big stats. I look for a guy who wins.’’
Palmer is not a superstar. His passes are a little soft. But he threw for 301 yards, and didn’t do anything stupid. He and his receivers aren’t fully together yet. Besides that, the Raiders aren’t strong enough or fast enough at linebacker.
But they are tough again, and are starting to believe. And they have a chance.
There is a certain nobility to rolling the dice, to swinging for fences at the risk of criticism or, in this case, even ridicule.
“We’re going to be hitting our stride at the right time,’’ Oakland receiver Louis Murphy said. “With all the receivers we have, our corps is stacked. I don’t think teams know how to guard us.’’
The truth is, it’s hard to say if Jackson was actually following a belief system about chance-taking when he traded for Palmer, or if he was just trying to save his own butt. When Al Davis died, Jackson, the first-year coach, suddenly found himself with power.
By next year, the Raiders will have hired a general manager, and Jackson’s own job would have been in question if he didn’t produce a winner this year. So when quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone, it wasn’t just going to be the end of the Raiders’ season; it might have been the end for Jackson, too.
Jackson had nothing to lose by giving Cincinnati a first-round pick, and possibly a second one depending on how far Palmer takes the Raiders, for an aging quarterback who had walked out on his former team after three iffy years.
But who cares what Jackson’s motivation was? The Raiders were 4-2, and hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2002. And they took a big-time chance. Some people were calling it the worst trade of all time.
This isn’t to say the Raiders are going to the Super Bowl. Maybe they win the division, and then Palmer beats Cincinnati in the first round of the playoffs. That’s probably as far as they’ll go. So what?
It was still the worth the chance just to play some of those big games.
The Bears didn’t do anything wrong this year. Cutler was finally developing into a top quarterback when he broke his thumb making a tackle last week. Backup Caleb Hanie isn’t ready to lead a team to big places. He threw three interceptions, and they killed the Bears.
“We’d like to have a couple of those plays back . . .’’ Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s tough coming in your first game. Just think about starting the season — you have some mistakes that you won’t have later in the year. But we have a small curve. We’ve got to get it down as soon as we can.’’
No, what the Bears have to do is pray Cutler’s thumb recovers from surgery before this chance goes away.
Last season, he left the NFC Championship Game with a strained knee ligament, similar to the injury running back Matt Forte played on for most of the 2009 season. So there has been debate about whether Cutler should have kept playing in such a big moment. But there is no reason to make that argument again here.
At the time, players around the league were on Twitter calling Cutler a quitter. They knew that Cutler and the Bears, one win from the Super Bowl, were getting a chance they dream of. You only get so many of these chances, and this year’s Bears are showing how fragile these chances can be.
You can’t waste them. That why Jackson got Palmer.
“It’s not easy doing what he is doing . . .’’ Jackson said. “We haven’t still played as a bona fide offensive unit yet, where everybody is out there and practicing and working. We get this piece out, we get this piece in.
“The thing I love about this team . . . we haven’t blinked when it comes to anything. You never heard us complain.’’
Their belief and patience came from Jackson’s bold move.
The truth is, maybe the Bears weren’t going to win that NFC Championship Game against the Packers last year anyway. And maybe the Raiders won’t go far this year at all.
That’s OK. Jackson took his chance. No matter how it comes out, he’ll know he did what he could. Chances can be one-time things. The Bears might be finding out.