Earlier in the week, the Raiders locker room was plastered with a quote from former Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer. The gist of the quote was that the Raiders don’t play 60 minutes and if any team hangs in there, the Raiders will give the game away in the end.
While that may have been true in the past, it certainly wasn’t true on Sunday when the Raiders beat the Chargers 35-27 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, in front of 48,279 in paid attendance. Even better for Oakland, they came from nine points down in the second half in order to come away with their first AFC West victory of the 2010 season.
Schottenheimer’s assessment of the Raiders nearly turned out to be true. After starting the game leading 12-0 early, the Chargers came on to score two touchdowns and take a 14-12 lead with 4:49 left in the first half. The Raiders came back and took the lead at 15-14 with a little more than a minute, but Phillip Rivers and the Chargers stormed down field before the end of the half and counter-punched the Raiders with a go-ahead field goal, leaving only one second in the half for a squib kickoff. The half would end with the Chargers up 17-14.
The Chargers began the game with possession, but after just three plays and three lost yards, they were forced to punt to the Raiders from their own 19. Mike Scifres, one of the better punters in the league, had his punt blocked by Rock Cartwright and the ball went out of the end zone for a safety — and a 2-0 lead for the Raiders.
Scifres stayed on the field for the safety kick, but he made the mistake of punting the ball out of bounds at the Raiders’ 30. That put the ball at midfield for the Raiders’ first possession. The Raiders would only move the ball 18 yards to the San Diego 32 before calling on Sebastian Janikowski for the 50-yard field goal. It was good, and the Raiders extended their lead to 5-0.
The Chargers would start their next possession at their own 20 after a touchback. After three more plays, and just one yard gained, Scifres would be called upon again — and again his punt would be blocked. This time, Brandon Myers rushing from the same position that Cartwright rushed from (between left tackle and left guard), would slap the ball away, Hiram Eugene would pick it up after a bounce at the five, and run it in for the touchdown. After the extra point, the Raiders lead 12-0.
“The plan was to pressure ‘em,” said special teams coordinator John Fassel after the game. “We didn’t know who was going to come free, but we had some ideas and we just said, ‘All eight of you guys inside, pin your ears back men and you could be the one.’ And so that was kinda’ the thought going in, and they executed it great.”
The downside for the Raiders special teams play was that the defense began spending quite a bit of time out on the field. Before long, they couldn’t get off of it. At the end of the first quarter, San Diego had held onto the ball for 11:53 of 15 minutes played. At the end of the half, the Chargers held a 20:59 to 9:01 advantage in time of possession — and it showed with 17 second quarter points for San Diego and a halftime lead.
“I told Big Rick [Richard Seymour] around in the first quarter when we came off the field, ‘I know we played at least about halftime worth of snaps in the first quarter,’” said big defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. “It was a long day, but you know what? I wouldn’t trade none of it. Everything we had to go through to beat these boys. Man, I’d do it all again.”
The Raiders’ defense forced two red zone fumbles in the first quarter, but each time the Raiders offense took the field, they were ineffective. After the Raiders went up 12-0, the Chargers stormed back with a 12 play, 78 yard drive that put them on the Raiders’ one yard line on third down. Chargers fullback/running back Mike Tolbert took the ball up the middle into Ricky Brown. The result of the play was a fumble that Raiders safety Mike Mitchell recovered at the Oakland two and returned it 12 yards to the 14 yard line. The Raiders went three and out, giving the ball back to San Diego at their own 28 after the punt.
The Chargers again drove the field, but this time it took two plays to get to the Raiders’ 14, thanks in large part to a 55-yard bomb from Rivers to Malcom Floyd with Stanford Routt covering. On second and seven from the Raiders’ 14, Rivers was sacked by Matt Shaughnessy, which forced another fumble that was recovered by Lamarr Houston at the Raiders’ 19. One play later, Raiders’ quarterback Bruce Gradkowski would get blindsided by linebacker Shaun Phillips and leave the game with a re-aggravated shoulder injury.
As the last second ticked off the clock in the first quarter, the stadium fell silent as fan-favorite Gradkowski sat on the sidelines while the formerly benched Jason Campbell took over. The Raiders would call two running plays and punt the ball back to the Chargers early in the second quarter.
That’s the same time that the Chargers stopped shooting themselves in the foot. Rivers, who finished the game with 431 yards on 27-42 passing and two touchdowns, engineered another long drive that went eight plays, 77 yards, and resulted in six points. The touchdown was a 19 yard pass to the front of the end zone, completed to Raider killer Antonio Gates in double coverage.
On the Raiders’ next possession, Jason Campbell was called upon to pass on second and eight. The pass fell incomplete to Louis Murphy and the home crowd began to show their discontent with scattered boo’s. Campbell questioned the fan love after the game. “First pass I throw, it gets broken up, throwing it to Louis Murphy, it was incomplete, I hear, `boo,’ I was like, are they mistaking me for somebody else?”
On the next play, Campbell took a one-yard sack and the Raiders would be forced to put their defense back on the field after another three and out. The result would be another eight play drive for the Chargers, 66 yards and a new leader in the ball game. The Chargers attempted to punt the ball back to Oakland after three plays, but Sam Williams was called for roughing the punter on fourth and two from the San Diego 27. The drive would finally end when Tolbert blasted through the line for a four-yard touchdown run.
Down 14-12, Campbell and the Raiders drove from their own 33 down to the Chargers’ 12 before calling on Janikowski for a 30-yard field goal kick. Clock management wasn’t at its best on the drive. Time out was called after the Raiders got to the Chargers 18 yard line, then before Campbell could get the next snap, he attempted to call another timeout. Fortunately for the Raiders, instead of being called for delay of game, the officials ruled that the play clock had not been set properly. Campbell would scramble out of the pocket on second and nine from the 18, but he would end up running out of bounds, short of a first down.
The poor clock management left 57 seconds on the clock for Rivers to lead his team for the halftime ending field goal.
The second half started much like the first half ended — two short possessions for the Raiders and a touchdown for the Chargers. San Diego extended their lead to 24-15 when Rivers hit a wide open Floyd down the center of the field for the 41-yard touchdown score.
Suddenly, the Raiders offense got on track. Campbell led the Silver and Black on a 12 play, 97 yard drive that ended with a pivotal touchdown toss to Zach Miller in the back of the end zone. The drive, which took 6:26 off the clock, began from the Raider three due to a Jacoby Ford fumble on the kickoff return. It was the rookie receiver’s second fumble on the day, but each time the Raiders recovered.
Aided by penalties on Raiders star defenders, Nnamdi Asomugha and Richard Seymour, the Chargers were able to move the ball down to the Oakland 17 — but the drive would stall, and Nate Kaeding would come on to make a 34-yard field goal.
The field goal gave the Chargers a 27-22 lead with just 12 minutes left in the contest. Unlike past Raiders games, this one wasn’t over yet. The Raiders marched down the field from their own 27. The drive lasted 14 plays, 8:21, and went 73 yards when Michael Bush plowed into the end zone. Now, with the Raiders up 28-27, Tom Cable called on his team to go for two, but the result was an incomplete pass.
The Chargers would get the ball back with plenty of time left on the clock. With 3:39 left in the game and Rivers nearing 400 yards passing, it was a foregone conclusion that the Chargers would get a field goal. By the two-minute warning, Rivers had already moved the Chargers 32 yards to the Raiders’ 40.
San Diego would reach the Raiders’ 23 after Chris Johnson was called for a mysterious pass interference. The call was mysterious because Johnson wasn’t seen close enough to Floyd when the flag was thrown. After Gates was called for holding, Rivers received the snap from the Raiders’ 33 with 1:15 to play.
As Rivers was in the process of throwing a pass, Raiders safety Michael Huff knocked the ball out of the quarterback’s hand. The fumbled ball went forward, Chargers receiver Randy McMichael nearly picked up the ball, but cornerback Chris Johnson hammered him. Tyvon picked up the ball and streaked down the sideline for the game-clinching touchdown.
After the game, Branch was humbled by the attention. “It’s crazy that I’m getting glory for the play,” said the third-year safety in the locker room after the game. “I had nothing to do with it. I just ran to the ball. Huff made a nice play, CJ knocked the ball out again, I just picked it up and scored.”
With the win, the Raiders (2-3, 1-0 AFC West) are tied with Denver and San Diego 1.5 games behind the Kansas City Chiefs (3-1, 1-0 AFC West). “So all that means is a great, great team effort,” said Cable in his postgame press conference. “A tremendous win for us. It’s good to stop the streak. But as I said to them, let’s not make this a 24-hour feel-good party. Let’s make this who we are becoming. And that’s where we need to go.”
Where the Raiders go next is across the Bay to San Francisco. The Niners are 0-5 after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles 27-24.