By Thomas Finegan
Cold, Hard Football Facts Raiders beat writer

The Oakland Raiders found themselves in unfamiliar territory heading into this week's game against the Buffalo Bills: in a tie for first place with a good chance to break the tie.  Unfortunately for Raiders fans, after an outstanding first half, the Raiders defense completely fell apart in the second half, blowing a 21-3 lead for an eventual 38-35 loss.  Five things we learned from the shootout:

ONE: Darren McFadden remains the centerpiece, but the Raiders discovered offensive diversity.

For most running backs, 20 carries for 72 yards (3.6 YPC) and one touchdown is a mediocre day, the kind that you expect from time to time.  For Darren McFadden, it's a sign that Jason Campbell fed him the ball through the air: McFadden's seven catches led the Raiders, producing 71 yards and a touchdown.  27 touches for 143 yards and two touchdowns represents 31.5% of the Raiders' total yardage and 40% of the Raiders' points.

Darren McFadden's heroics aside, this was an excellent game for the Oakland offense.  Jason Campbell stepped up his game, going 23 of 33 (69.7%), 323 yards, 9.79 YPA, 2 TD, 1 INT for a 108.5 passer rating.  His line could have been even better: the interception was on a Hail Mary into the end zone on the final play of the game.  The Buffalo Bills may be weak defensively (Defensive Passer Rating of 92.58 in 2010, 28th), but that's still a quality performance.

TWO: Shane Lechler remains the Raiders best weapon for field position.

Pundits may be like Norv Turner and ignore the importance of special teams, but even crazy old Al Davis knows the value of a top punter.  Lechler punted three times for 155 yards, an awesome 51.7 net average. 

THREE: The Raiders would have beaten the Bills if they hadn't already lost to the officials.

This is an ongoing problem with the Oakland Raiders, the inability to avoid killing themselves with penalties.  Eight penalties for 85 yards, five of which gave Buffalo a free first down, is too ugly for even the thickest of beer goggles.  The Buffalo Bills only committed three penalties for 26 yards, so the officials weren't calling tacky little penalties.

Al Davis loves the tough guys and loves a rough and tumble team, but this is excessive.  Oakland either cleans up its play, or the Raiders will be watching the playoffs from bar stools.

FOUR: Even with the penalties, the Raiders need to improve their defense.

When you allow your opponent to rush for 217 yards on 25 carries (8.7 YPC), like the Raiders did tonight, there's a problem with run defense.  That the Buffalo Bills managed this while down 21-3 at halftime means this isn't a problem, it's a disaster.  The Bills had four players combine for eight rushes of ten yards or more, so the Raiders weren't simply gashed by a star running back.  They were abused in the trenches like the Trolls abuse their livers.

The Raiders performed admirably against the Denver Broncos last week, who rushed 13 times for only 38 yards, a weak 2.9 YPC.  If the real Oakland run defense played tonight, it will be a long season for Raiders fans and a death knell to Oakland's playoff hopes.

Oakland's pass defense played better, but only because the bar was set so low.  Allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick to complete 60.9% of his passes isn't bad, and his 4.74 YPA indicates a decent job at keeping the passing game in check.  The Raiders were unable to bring Fitzpatrick down, however, recording zero sacks despite the Bills attempting 46 passes, and zero interceptions is likewise pitiful.

Unless the Buffalo Bills morph into the Next Greatest Show on Turf, there is no excuse for Oakland's performance on defense.

FIVE: Despite everything, Oakland actually played decent third down defense.

For all their impressive running and solid passing, the Buffalo Bills only managed four first downs on eleven attempts.  Holding an opponent to 36.4% on third down would have ranked 10th last season, which is nothing great, but by far the best accomplishment the Raiders were able to put together.