By Dave Thomas
Heading into Sunday’s meeting against the San Diego Chargers, the Oakland Raiders had much to gain and much to lose for that matter. As for the Chargers, their season was essentially over before the game began.
That said, Oakland had to fight and claw its way to a 19-16 win over their AFC West neighbors to the south. In doing so, the Silver and Black punched their first playoff ticket since the 2002 season. Even better for Oakland, the Raiders are back in front in the AFC West after Kansas City gift-wrapped a 19-17 win to the Tennessee Titans.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Oakland (11-3) only has to win at home against Indianapolis and on the road in Denver to secure the AFC West title.
It was not the prettiest win of the season by any means, but the Raiders got the win nonetheless. QB Derek Carr finished his afternoon with 213 yards passing (19-of-30), one TD, along with one interception. If the Raiders are to make some noise in the playoffs next month, Carr and second-year wide receiver Amari Cooper will need to improve upon Sunday’s numbers. Cooper caught only one ball for 28 yards, something that can’t continue in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Michael Crabtree hauled in six catches for 60 yards, including a touchdown that was reviewed to see whether or not he had both feet in bounds, which he did. Crabtree’s catch helped Oakland tie the game at 10 just before the half. Oakland’s running game had a few bright spots, but leading rusher Latavius Murray was limited to 81 yards on 13 carries. Once again, better numbers will be needed if Oakland is to present a serious threat in post-season action.
While Oakland’s offense was less than stellar, its defense gave the team the opportunity to win the game. Although San Diego has shot itself in the foot on numerous occasions this season, the Bolts were right there until the end. QB Philip Rivers saw his team’s last chances go by the wayside on a Reggie Nelson interception deep in Chargers’ territory.
For the day, Oakland’s defense did an overall good job of limiting a San Diego offense that has some weapons at the wide receiver position. Additionally, with star running back Melvin Gordon (997 yards rushing, 10 TDs on the season), out with injuries, the Chargers were only able to muster a team-high 39 yards rushing from Kenneth Farrow. Oakland’s top performers were David Amerson (six solo tackles) and Perry Riley Jr. (five solo tackles).
Special Teams: (B)
On a day when points were at a premium, kicker Sebastian Janikowski was a perfect four-of-four on field goals, adding an extra point too. Once playoff action rolls around next month, a veteran such as Janikowski could certainly prove the difference in a tight game. Meanwhile, punter Marquette King was only called on to punt three times, finishing with a 54.7 average.
As has been mentioned a number of times this season, head coach Jack Del Rio seems to push the right buttons more times than not. Whether it is challenging calls on the field or knowing when to have his team blitz on defense, things have fallen nicely into place for the Silver and Black. While beating the Chargers is not the greatest accomplishment in the world, Del Rio had his team ready to go following a disappointing setback in Kansas City in week 14.
Staying in California for another week, the Raiders go home to face Indianapolis on Christmas Eve. The Colts, fighting for their playoff lives in the AFC South, rolled to victory on the road (34-6) in Minnesota Sunday. Expect Oakland to get a tough test at home from a dangerous Indianapolis squad.