(CBS Sports) – When the season began, no one saw this coming. The Raiders and Chiefs playing a big game in November?
Maybe in some NFL version of Hot Tub Time Machine, with the Chiefs and Raiders returning to their glory years in the 1960s and ’70s, when they had one of football’s fiercest rivalries.
Yet there they were Sunday on a rainy day at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in a battle between the top two teams in the AFC West, the Chiefs at 5-2 and the Raiders at 4-4.
The game was ugly, with a combined 27 penalties for 240 yards. It was sloppy, with five combined turnovers. But in the end, it was great theater, and it just might have marked the official return of this rivalry to NFL relevancy.
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The Raiders have no doubt turned the corner and are headed full speed in the right direction. They have won three straight games for the first time since 2002, which was the last time they were above .500 after nine games, and pulled to within a half-game of the Chiefs.
It was the way the Raiders won Sunday — in front of their first sellout crowd since the 2009 season opener — that has them believing this is a bright new day for a franchise that has gone through some dark times. The Raiders trailed 20-17 with 2:06 left in regulation with the ball at their own 25. No problem. Rookie wide receiver Jacoby Ford morphed into a 5-feet-9 version of Jerry Rice, making huge play after huge play.
Sebastian Janikowski drilled a game-tying 41-yard field goal with three seconds left to force overtime. Then he drilled a 33-yard game winner in overtime, sealing a 23-20 victory.
“I don’t know what it was like a few years ago, but I can tell you last year we don’t win this game,” Raiders safety Mike Mitchell said. “I can say that with 100 percent assurance. You can see the change. Guys, when we got down [last year] it was almost like, ‘Here we go. It’s over.’ But this year, we don’t care. We’re going to play you until there’s no time on the clock. We’re going to play you and we’re going to fight you as hard as we can, and that’s what coach [Tom] Cable has us believing. That’s what we’re doing, and that’s the team we are.”
The Raiders hadn’t been on a stage this big with lights this bright since 2002 when they went to the Super Bowl.
The Raiders and Chiefs hadn’t played a truly meaningful game against each other since the regular-season finale that season, where on another rainy day at Oakland, the Raiders blanked the Chiefs 24-0, improved to 11-5 and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In the process, they dropped the Chiefs to 8-8 and knocked them out of postseason contention.
From 1966-76, the Raiders and Chiefs owned the division — no other team finished first. Let’s just say it hasn’t been like that since forever.
The Raiders have lost at least 11 games for an NFL-record seven straight seasons. The Chiefs and Raiders haven’t both finished above .500 since 1994. In the past three seasons, the Chiefs went 10-38, the Raiders 14-34.
This year, though, the Raiders and Chiefs are two of the NFL’s biggest surprises. For the Raiders, beating the Chiefs at home and coming from behind to do it qualify as shocks No. 1 and 1-A. Kansas City had won seven straight games in Oakland — no team has won eight straight.
“I think the difference is in the past a lot of Raider teams would have folded the tent and people would have been walking up the stands, they would have said, ‘This is the same old thing over and over again,'” said Raiders offensive lineman Khalif Barnes, who caught a 2-yard TD pass when he lined up as a tight end.
“The thing I’m most proud about is the team didn’t blink. The defense went out there and did what they had to do. The offense went out there and did what they had to do when it mattered.”
The Raiders’ defense stuffed the Chiefs’ top-ranked running game for most of the day. After rushing for over 200 yards for three straight games, Kansas City ran for just 104.
The Chiefs left Oakland knowing they were in a battle but also that they blew a great chance to put some distance between them and the Raiders. Kansas City led 10-0 at halftime and had a chance to go up 17-0 late in the half, but quarterback Matt Cassel was picked off by rookie corner Jeremy Ware in the end zone.
“Any time you are on the road and you have a chance to push a dagger in and get up enough scores to give you some breathing room, you need to do it because generally when you don’t it comes back to haunt you,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley said.
“We put ourselves in a position to win, and we had multiple opportunities there, before overtime and even in overtime to make a play that would have sealed the game for us and we didn’t do it.”
It was Ford who seemingly made all the big, game-changing plays. He returned the opening kickoff in the second half 94 yards for a touchdown, giving the entire team a boost of adrenaline and confidence. Early in the fourth quarter he caught a 37-yard pass from Jason Campbell on his knees, setting up a field goal.
On Oakland’s game-tying drive, Ford caught a 29-yard pass at the Chiefs’ 22. Then in overtime, he caught a 47-yard pass, setting up Janikowski’s game-winning kick. For the game he caught six passes for 148 yards.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I was little,” Ford said, “and I went out there, and it was a dream come true to be out there having fun making plays with those guys.”
Ford wasn’t even alive when Raiders-Chiefs was one of football’s must-see rivalries. But he’s seen enough in his brief time in Oakland to know these Raiders are a team that must be taken seriously.
“I definitely think we are,” Ford said. “We knew it ever since we’ve been in camp what type of team we can be. I think we’re going out there now and just starting to prove to everybody now. Make them believe that the Raiders are for real. I think that’s what we’re doing.”
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