Thanks to an unusual (and borderline unprecedent) quirk in their schedule, with their visit to Tampa Bay in the rear-view mirror the Raiders will not have another true road game until Dec. 8.
Is that good news or bad news?
Most teams would sell their starting running back for a four-game, nearly five-week break from road trips at this point in the year. True, one of the Raiders' upcoming "home" games in Mexico City, but they still have a bye plus three other contests in Oakland during the upcoming stretch. The benefits of such a travel break at this time of the year could be astronomical. That is, if heading back home does not cost the first-place Raiders their mojo.
The Raiders have been indestructible away from home so far this season, with their dramatic 30–24 overtime win over the Buccaneers moving them to a 5–0 road start for the first time since 1977.
They tried like hell to lose Sunday, too, committing an NFL-record 23 penalties for 200 yards. Two-hundred yards.
For all of those mistakes, they still had the game in their hands at the two-minute warning of overtime. A few seconds later, facing a fourth-and-4 from the Tampa Bay 41, Oakland coach Jack Del Rio opted to keep his offense on the field. His kicker, Sebastian Janikowski already had missed two field goals—a potential game-winner in regulation and an attempt on the first possession of overtime; punting could have left the Raiders looking at a tie, at best.
So as he did way back in Week 1, when he called for a two-point conversion to beat New Orleans late, Del Rio rolled the dice. Derek Carr rewarded him, drilling a shot to Seth Roberts, who spun out of a tackle and raced in for a 41-yard touchdown.
Skeptics of the Raiders might point to their schedule, which thus far has included games against against two teams currently above .500 (Atlanta and Kansas City), and Oakland lost both of those games. The five straight road wins have come over New Orleans, Tennessee, Baltimore, Jacksonville and now Tampa Bay, the best team in that bunch record-wise being a 4–4 Titans club.
Still, don’t let any of that take away from what Oakland has accomplished here.
For starters, let’s remember what franchise we are talking about. The Raiders have not made the playoffs since 2002, and in the awful stretch that has followed have won five games or fewer in 10 different seasons. That’s five total games. For them to be 6–2 and in first place in the AFC West at the halfway mark constitutes a significant accomplishment, no matter which teams they played to get there.
There also is the little matter of just how difficult it is to win road games, period. Last season, just 10 NFL teams finished 5–3 or better away from home. This year, the Patriots (4–0) and Cowboys (3–0) are the only teams outside of Oakland with an unblemished road mark.
“Any time you win on the road, it’s tough,” Del Rio said last week, after his team dispatched of the Jaguars, his former team.
Oakland would not have been able to overcome all of its self-inflicted wounds on Sunday without yet another brilliant outing from third-year quarterback Derek Carr. He threw for 513 yards and four touchdowns in Tampa Bay, becoming just the third quarterback in NFL history (Ben Roethlisberger and Y.A. Tittle being the others) with a 500-yard, four-TD, zero-interception game. Rather quietly, Carr has moved to the outskirts of the MVP race—he’s now up to 2,300 yards passing on the season, with 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Roberts ended the game, but it again was Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree who drove the Oakland offense. Cooper posted 12 grabs for 173 yards and a touchdown, numbers that could have been higher had he not let a fourth-quarter deep ball slip through his fingers; Crabtree had eight grabs of his own, for 108 yards.
Just to get to overtime, Carr had to orchestrate a game-tying drive in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, which he capped by finding Mychal Rivera for a TD. He later moved Oakland within range for those two field goals that Janikowski proceeded to miss, and and he might have given Janikowski a third chance had it not been for the deluge of penalties.
That Carr and the Raiders kept bouncing back from all of those flags is just the latest proof that this team is in the race to stay this season. They won’t get away with tripping over themselves as they did Sunday on a regular basis, but they also won’t feel guilty about winning a little ugly.
Now, it’s time for the Raiders to head home. Can they bring any of their road magic back to Oakland with them?