By Sam McPherson

The Oakland Raiders led for a good portion of the game on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at the Coliseum, but in the end, the Bolts were too much for the Silver & Black.

Under new leader Tony Sparano, the Raiders played much better football, but the Chargers were too talented on offense for the weak Oakland defense to contain for 60 minutes. The Raiders took a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter, but San Diego scored twice in the latter part of the quarter to escape with a 31-28 win.

It’s another moral victory for Oakland—their third one of those this year, if you’re counting at home. The team was close to an unlikely win after playing their best all-around game of the season, but it’s going to be back to the drawing board now for the Raiders—still winless after five games in 2014.

Quarterback

Derek Carr had his best game as a professional quarterback on Sunday, throwing four touchdown passes. He got his team out to an early lead with a 77-yard strike to wide receivers Andre Holmes, and he gave the Raiders the fourth-quarter lead with another TD toss to Holmes.

In between, he threw touchdowns to wideouts James Jones and Brice Butler. The rookie QB also threw one interception.

Carr only completed 18 of his 34 attempts, but his 282 yards represented a career-high mark. He came into the game with a 5.5 yards-per-attempt average, so this effort (8.3 ypa) was easily his best as well. 

The Raiders have themselves a quarterback of the future—finally. And it was good to see Sparano letting him throw the ball downfield, too. GRADE: A-

Offense

The Oakland offense racked up 396 yards overall, including 114 on the ground—another reason why Carr finally had some space to throw the ball around.  Running back Darren McFadden ran for 80 yards on just 14 carries, and fellow back Maurice Jones-Drew added 30 yards on just four carries. MJD had 26 total yards coming into this game, so that was a welcomed improvement.

Carr spread the ball around to eight receivers on the day: Jones had five catches for 56 yards to lead the team in receptions. Holmes added four catches for 121 yards. 

The team was 8-for-13 on third downs, and they had four scoring drives—and a potential fifth that ended with a missed field goal (see below).

The one negative? They scored too quickly! Literally, the Raiders held the ball for less than 23 minutes in this game, which meant the defense was very tired at the end of the game. But that’s hardly the offense’s “fault”. GRADE: A-

Defense

Considering the Oakland defense gave up 423 yards and didn’t force a turnover, it’s to the offense’s credit the Raiders even had a chance to win this game. The Chargers averaged 6.1 yards per play, held the ball for more 37 minutes, and went 8-for-14 on third downs.

Oakland sacked San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers just once, and the Silver & Black let him complete 22 of 34 passes for 313 yards. 

Meanwhile, scatback Branden Oliver ran for 101 yards—the last yard being the game-winning touchdown. Overall, the Chargers rushed for 116 yards on 33 attempts.

The Chargers did fail on one fourth-down conversion, but otherwise, the San Diego offense methodically controlled the ball and weakened the Raiders defense as the game went on—resulting in the fourth quarter struggle for Oakland in trying to hold on to the lead.

The Raiders did hold the Chargers to a field goal at one point late in the game, but they couldn’t stop San Diego on the final fateful drive. GRADE: D

Special Teams

Sebastian Janikowski picked a bad time to miss his first field-goal attempt of the year, and it may have cost the Raiders a chance to win the game. Admittedly, it was from 53 yards right before halftime, but a lot of kickers in this league today make that kick. Janikowski’s age (36) may finally be catching up to him. 

Marquette King dropped three punts inside the 20-yard line and also had a 54-yard punt on the day. T.J. Carrie had a great day returning kicks, averaging 28 yards per kickoff returns and 10 yards per punt return. GRADE: B

Much Better Effort, For Sure

The Oakland Raiders are 0-5, and they have a pattern: one week, they’re competitive, and the next week, they’re not. This has held true now for five games: good game, bad game, good game, bad game, good game.

The Silver & Black now get a visit from the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals (4-1) next week, and Sparano will have his hands full trying to keep his team up for a second straight week.

That will be a true litmus test for Sparano as an interim head coach: Can the Raiders play two straight decent games against the better teams in the league?

For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.

Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.

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