By Dave Thomas
The Oakland Raiders took care of business Sunday against the visiting Buffalo Bills. This was their last challenge before the team attempts to run table against the AFC West over three of their final four regular season games.
Trailing 10-9 at intermission, Oakland erupted for 29 second half points en route to a 38-24 victory over Buffalo. With the win, Oakland sits atop the AFC West at 10-2, one game ahead of Kansas City (9-3) and two in front of Denver (8-4).
Oakland, who has not made the AFC playoffs since the 2002 season when they went to the Super Bowl and lost to Tampa Bay, visits Kansas City Thursday night. So, getting past Buffalo with a win was a necessity.
Offense: B+ – It would be hard to score 38 points and not win an NFL game, though it has certainly been done. That said, Oakland had to bounce back from a sluggish first half of offense, which resulted in three Sebastian Janikowski field goals, but they rebounded nicely.
Coming into the game with an ankle injury, running back Latavius Murray once again showed why he is one of the key cogs in the Raiders’ offensive machine. Murray scored a pair of second half rushing touchdowns to help the Raiders regain control of the game. For the day, Murray rushed for 82 yards, adding 23 yards via the air. Quarterback Derek Carr rebounded from his pinky injury a week ago to throw for 260 yards and a pair of scores. Wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper each had touchdown receptions, with the former leading the way with 74 yards receiving on seven catches.
Defense: B – After falling behind 24-9, Oakland’s defense tightened the screws over the final 15-plus minutes of play and kept Buffalo from scoring in the final quarter. If Oakland is to win the AFC West, it will have to tighten its defensive play given its final three divisional games are all on the road in tough environments.
Khalil Mack was his usual beastly self and helped force a Tyrod Taylor interception late in the game. The Raiders also got help from Perry Riley Jr., who was questionable coming into the game with an injury but tallied nine total tackles. Additionally, Malcolm Smith, David Amerson and Sean Smith all added five total stops. The Raiders also had four sacks on the day.
Special Teams: B – As noted earlier, Janikowski accounted for all of Oakland’s first half points (three field goals). He would finish the day with three extra points too, contributing 12 points in all. Punter Marquette King had five punts (44.2 average), including a long of 60 yards.
Coaching: B+ – For Oakland Head Coach Jack Del Rio, the dream season continues after 12 games. Whatever Del Rio said to his troops at halftime seemed to work. Oakland erupted for 29 points over the final 30 minutes of play, allowing the team to go into Kansas City Thursday as the division leader.
Outlook: Now the question remains, can the Raiders sustain their winning ways and leave a tough Arrowhead Stadium Thursday night with a win? Oakland can’t afford to drop this divisional game, especially since it fell to Kansas City 26-10 at home earlier this season. The Chiefs are 3-0 in division games this season, with a home date remaining against Denver and road game on New Year’s Day at San Diego.