OAKLAND – Corey Graham walked slowly through the gauntlet the Raiderettes formed outside the tunnel of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
As the cheerleaders shook pom-poms and themselves to the beat of music celebrating the Raiders' 38-24 victory Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, Graham was oblivious. There was a look of shock and bewilderment on his face.
Then, the veteran safety turned to look up at one of the giant video boards showing highlights of the game, which only elevated the already deafening roar of the crowd as it rejoiced the home team improving its record to 10-2. Graham could only shake his head, then turn around and continue the slow walk to the visitor's dressing room.
The turn of events almost defied description. One minute, the Bills were leading, 24-9 ... the next, they were giving up 29 unanswered points on the way to falling to 6-6 and virtual elimination from the playoffs.
How could it happen? It made no sense, beyond the obvious rationalization that this stuff always happens to the Bills.
"It definitely did shock me," Graham said. "To have the lead like that and let those guys come back in a key situation like that, it sucks. As a defense, you've just got to get stops, and those guys made the plays and we didn't. It really, really hurt, especially to lose like that. It sucks.
"It was crazy. It was one of those situations where everything they did went right and we couldn't make a play. I've never been in a situation like that. Those guys got on a roll and it was like everything they did turned into gold. It didn't matter what they called, what they did, they found ways to make plays. That's why they're 10-2 and No. 1 in the AFC."
That explains why the Raiders are so good. And, yes, they do have the leading candidate for NFL MVP in quarterback Derek Carr, who threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
And, yes, they do have the leading candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year (if not overall MVP) in defensive end Khalil Mack, who took over the game in the fourth quarter by forcing a Tyrod Taylor interception that set up Oakland's final touchdown and by having a sack/fumble/fumble recovery play for the second week in a row to help seal an outcome.
It doesn't explain why the Bills' defense collapsed so badly.
It was an absolute disgrace, to play well enough to help the Bills open a 15-point lead with 9:01 left in the third quarter and then to be unable to put up any resistance as the Raiders came roaring back the rest of the way.
You can't put this one on the Bills' offense as a whole. The team rushed for 212 yards on 30 carries, an average of 7.1 yards per rush, and three touchdowns. It did precisely what it was expected to do against a terrible run defense. LeSean McCoy tried carrying the entire team on his shoulders with 130 rushing yards and seven receptions for 61 yards.
You could point a finger at Taylor for going from a fairly impressive first half to disappearing through most of the second. Not exactly the type of support for his efforts to convince the Bills to pick up the full, five-year option on a $90-million contract extension and commit to him as their long-term answer at the most important position on the field.
Carr looked light years ahead of Taylor.
The Raiders, for that matter, looked light years ahead of the Bills.
In the second half.
Most of this was on the Bills' defense. And no one, from coach Rex Ryan to the players on that side of the ball, had any real answers for what happened.
Did the players become complacent?
"No," Graham said. "Guys were pretty up-tempo, they felt good. Obviously, when we had the lead, we knew that we needed to finish because we knew they were a good team. That's the reason why they had all those wins. They just got on a roll on that one drive (of 75 yards to Carr's three-yard scoring throw to Michael Crabtree to make it 24-16 with 5:17 left in the third quarter) and it was a snowball effect after that, like one after another.
"Just things started to go in their direction. Once they got the confidence in that drive and scored that touchdown, that was big for them."
But one touchdown shouldn't have made that sort of a difference. Even two scores shouldn't have triggered that type of avalanche, unless, of course, you were never really good enough to maintain control of a big lead against an upper-tier opponent.
There was more to the story. And one of the biggest factors was that, on both sides of the ball, the Raiders made adjustments that the Bills couldn't handle.
They began finding some modest, but decent, rushing success of their own to help keep the Bills' defense off-balance. The Raider receivers also stopped dropping passes (Crabtree allowed a touchdown to go through his hands) and began making plays.
The Bills tried a variety of pass-rush and coverage combinations to stem the tide. Nothing worked. They also had no answers for the pressure that Mack and others brought from all directions on the way to sacking Taylor four times.
Ryan looked absolutely dumbfounded as he met with reporters. This wasn't just what arguably could be called his lowest point as the Bills' coach and as a so-called defensive mastermind.
"Well, it hasn't happened a whole lot in my career, but it has happened before," Ryan said. "Sometimes you feel that momentum shift and it just snowballed on us. Sometimes, I think we lose confidence. You can't ever have that happen to you."