By Dave Thomas
It was not pretty at times, but the Oakland Raiders got what was most important: A victory south of the border.
On a night where the Raiders’ ground game looked worse than many college teams that played across America this past Saturday, Oakland (8-2) managed to put enough offense together to score a 27-20 win over the Houston Texans in Mexico City. With the win, Oakland stands a full game in front of both Kansas City (7-3) and Denver (7-3) in the AFC West.
So, on an evening where the Raiders managed to run the ball with results that could be described as lackluster at best, they still found a way to win.
Quarterback Derek Carr (an MVP candidate at this point in the season) finished with three touchdowns and 295 yard passing, with those three TDs spread out among three players.
Oakland’s defense held Houston (6-4) to three points over the final 15 minutes of play, along with a key fourth down stop deep in Raiders territory.
This wasn’t a pretty offensive show at times by any means, but still one that was enough to put the Raiders over the top.
Rushing for a sparse 30 yards as a team would usually result in a lopsided loss. Oakland, however, did enough elsewhere (notably the passing game) to get the job done.
Carr, who now has 20 TD passes on the season, is clearly emerging as one of the better quarterbacks around the league. Although far from being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of players such as Brady, Brees, Rodgers or Roethlisberger, he is finding ways for his team to win the majority of its games played to date. Yes, it doesn’t hurt having wide receivers such as Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree in your arsenal, but others have to emerge on nights where the stars are not necessarily lighting it up.
On this night, running back Jamize Olawale had 90 receiving yards and a score (75-yard TD reception), while fellow running back Jalen Richard had three catches and a touchdown of his own.
That said, Oakland will need to polish up its running game between now and a tough four-game stretch in the middle of December into New Year’s Day. That stretch has the Raiders playing three-of-four on the road, all against division foes.
While Houston QB Brock Osweiler is not exactly setting the NFL on fire this season, he has proven capable of leading his team to first place in the mediocre AFC South after 10 games.
With the score knotted at 20-20 in the fourth quarter, Houston was driving for what would likely have been, at worst, a field goal lead. Opting to go for it on fourth-and-one, the Texans were stopped deep in Raiders territory (though replay showed the call on where the runner went down and where the ball was officially marked was questionable). That stop allowed Oakland to get the ball back, ultimately marching on its game-winning drive.
For the Raiders to continue to lead the AFC West and stay in the hunt for AFC home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the ‘D’ will have to come up big just like that over the final six weeks of regular season play.
On this particular night, Karl Joseph, Malcolm Smith, and Bruce Irvin all came up huge with 10 total tackles (nine of which were solo tackles), respectively. Meanwhile, Khalil Mack, and Irvin each tallied a sack.
Special teams: B
Punter Marquette King had a solid night, punting three times for a 53-yard average. Those punts included a long of 59 yards. Veteran kicker Sebastian Janikowski hit on a pair of short field goals to contribute six points to the win.
Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio continues to pull all the right strings in most instances, getting quality efforts from his team. Del Rio played riverboat gambler and went for it late in the game, a fourth-and-one inside Houston territory, turning down what would have been a very long field goal attempt for Janikowski. Oakland, which is now 6-0 away from home this season (Raiders were the “home team” on this evening), will need to be even more effective when they travel to Kansas City (Dec. 8), San Diego (Dec. 18) and Denver (Jan. 1), respectively.
After a pair of home games against Carolina (Nov. 27) and Buffalo (Dec. 4), the Raiders will then have to essentially run the gauntlet against three division foes, with a game at home against Indianapolis on Christmas Eve. Although Carolina (defending NFC champion) comes to Oakland a mere shell of itself a season ago, the Raiders know that taking the Panthers lightly would be a bad call.