The Oakland Raiders moved to 4-1 today with a wild, throwback 34-31 AFC West win over the San Diego Chargers, who came within an owners’ vote of sharing a stadium in Los Angeles with the Raiders. Instead, San Diego will vote on a stadium referendum while the team finds new ways to lose in heartbreaking fashion on a weekly basis. With a little luck the Chargers could be 3-2, 4-1 or even 5-0, but luck is on Oakland’s side so far this season.
The Raiders have a knack for winning these close games, even when they commit tons of penalties, their best defensive player doesn’t make any sort of mark, they don’t know which running back they can trust yet (although I would imagine they’re leaning toward Jalen Richard after today), and they give up too many chunk plays in the passing game.
It helps that the Raiders have moved into the current era of NFL football in a huge way. Their passing game, as long as Derek Carr avoids silly errors (like his interception to Brandon Mebane and some of those extra-long sacks he couldn’t avoid for whatever reason), is close to unstoppable. Oakland knew this could be a big day for Amari Cooper after Jason Verrett was lost for the year due to a torn ACL, and it was (6 catches, 138 yards and a touchdown … along with a would-be touchdown where he was pushed out of bounds and only got one foot back into the end zone before making the catch). Despite two weird drops by Michael Crabtree (one off his facemask at the goal-line and another that bounced off his hands in the open field), Carr knows Crabtree is in his element in silver and black, able to come up at a moment’s notice with the type of catch that made him a legend in Lubbock, Texas.
But yeah, the Raiders were lucky today. Philip Rivers threw two interceptions, including a nice pass/punt to Karl Joseph. It’s not often that Antonio Gates gets the ball ripped out of his hands, and that was one of two lost fumbles the Chargers lost. And Drew Kaser, a 2016 sixth round pick, had a nightmarish game. The 16-yard punt that went to San Diego’s 32-yard line was bad enough, but then he effectively lost the game by himself when he somehow fumbled a perfect snap as the holder on a 35-yard field goal attempt to tie the game with two minutes left.
But even if Kaser handled the snap cleanly and the Chargers knotted the game up at 34-34, it feels like all they would’ve done was delay the inevitable. The Raiders don’t have the defense they envisioned, but they can score whenever they need to and it seems unlikely that the Chargers would’ve been able to contain a Carr two-minute drill.
The season seems long in a pleasant way when you win four of your first five, full of opportunity and hope. And the Raiders, with a solid young core, keep gaining confidence. Would it be nice if the Raiders finally won a game 42-14? Sure, but these close wins will be looked upon with fondness if they’re followed with improved play as the season progresses. The belief, which in a league marked by parity is impossible to quantify but paramount to success, is a sign that the Raiders will compete for the AFC West title.
— After enough wins, especially close ones, a team starts to morph from lucky to good. They’ll need to play better to beat the Chiefs next week, however.
— Joey Bosa looks like a monster.
— Cory James got run over by Melvin Gordon and was completely out to lunch during Hunter Henry’s 59-yard catch-and-run.
— One of the differences in this game: Sebastian Janikowski made a 56-yard field goal, extending his all-time lead in 50-yard makes.
— Khalil Mack is on pace for three or four sacks. He’s getting double-teamed like crazy, but that still seems really weird.
— So was Carr not targeting a tight end once … in a game where he attempted 40 passes.
— It’s not often that a team wins when they allow 8.3 yards per offensive play and only gain 5.7 per play themselves. That’s the fun of winning the turnover battle by a +3 margin, as the Raiders are leading charmed lives for the first time in a while.
— Hey, Tony Corrente … enough with the conferences with your fellow officials that last FOREVER. There’s no reason why a play that wasn’t reviewed should take over five minutes to unravel and adjudicate.
— Halloween is coming, and if you don’t feel like wearing a costume (or want something to wear earlier in the day before it’s costume time), we’ve got a new line of Oakland-themed Sugar Skull shirts. To get 10% off, enter the promo code “SUGAR” when you check out.