At this point, the Raiders have to be feeling like this might be their year to do something special. The Texans, well, they’re probably dealing with a different set of emotions after their 27–20 loss in Mexico City on Monday night—rage, frustration, maybe even a little bit of self-loathing.
We always must save time for officiating controversies nowadays, but let’s put a pin in that topic for a moment. First, let’s focus on the Raiders. Trailing 20–13 in the fourth quarter, they, as has been the case much of the season, asked the offense to bail them out.
Oakland knotted the game with a well-designed pass play to fullback Jamize Olawale, of all people. Olawale was open deep because several Houston defenders got caught with their eyes in the backfield, where star receiver Amari Cooper had lined up as a running back before releasing into the flat. When the entire Houston linebacking corps took a step toward Cooper, Oakland QB Derek Carr floated one downfield to Olawale, who made the catch and raced to paydirt.
Later, with the game now deadlocked at 20, the Raiders broke off a five-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a brilliant catch-and-run TD from Cooper.
Three clock-killing first downs from that Oakland offense sealed the result late, bumping the Raiders’ record to a surprising 8–2, good for sole possession of first place in the very competitive AFC West. Six of Oakland’s wins have been by seven points or fewer, including a dramatic Week 1 victory at New Orleans and a Week 8 OT triumph at Tampa Bay.
This team, and especially this offense, has responded repeatedly when backed into a corner. As such, the Raiders will head into the final week of November—and, in all likelihood, into a season-defining stretch from Weeks 14-17 that features road trips to all three AFC West rivals—in control of their divisional destiny.
So, that’s the feel-good portion of the plot: The Raiders rallying in front of 100,000-plus fans at Azteca Stadium, during the NFL’s first Monday night game played outside of U.S. soil.
The rest of the story involves another head-scratching sequence of events from the league’s officials.
The Texans’ list of complaints with the refs began right away, on their opening drive Monday night. On a 3rd-and-7 from his own 40, Houston QB Brock Osweiler found DeAndre Hopkins streaking right to left across the field. Hopkins caught Osweiler’s pass and turned up upfield toward the end zone, only to be ruled out of bounds at the 36. Replays were inconclusive, at best—Hopkins’s heel appeared to be hovering over the out-of-bounds line, but did it ever touch? The Texans wound up settling for a field goal on the drive.
The more confounding issue came deep into the fourth quarter, just before what would be the game-winning score from Cooper. Houston appeared on first glance to have picked up a first down on back-to-back snaps inside Oakland’s red zone, only to be marked short each time, resulting in a turnover on downs. Texans coach Bill O’Brien challenged the second instance, after RB Akeem Hunt seemed to clear the yardage necessary to move the sticks. (Lamar Miller’s third-down run off the left side was more of a missed spot, if there was one.)
The challenge was denied, and by the time Houston got the ball back it trailed by a TD.
“Went for it, thought we had it, looked like it was clear that we had it, so I challenged it and they said we didn’t have it,” O’Brien said. ”[The ref] said, ‘The call on the field stands,’ so I don’t know.”
Adding even further to the Texans’ angst was the constant presence of laser pointers shining down on Osweiler and others by some in the stands, a typical Estadio Azteca nuisance for visiting soccer players but outside the norms of what NFL teams usually have to deal with. O’Brien had no comment on that matter.
The Houston coach won’t go without blame himself. He could have taken three points and the lead rather than giving Hunt a fourth-down carry. And he also opted to punt late near midfield, down seven with just one timeout in his pocket.
Add it all up and it won’t be a fun week for the Texans, who still have the AFC South lead at 6–4 but lost an opportunity Monday. Most regretful for them will be that they wasted the best performance by Osweiler since he signed with them this off-season. He finished 26 of 39 for 243 yards, a TD and an interception, but found success against Oakland’s defense for much of the night.
Does any of that take away from Oakland’s victory? Certainly not in the standings. Probably not for the long-suffering Raiders, either.
Although their run game endured an unexpectedly quiet night (30 yards on 20 attempts), Carr again rode to the rescue late. He posted 295 yards passing and three TDs, saving his best throws for last. The Raiders allowed him to put the game on ice, too, which he did with a 29-yard completion to Jalen Richard on the final possession.
Oakland was not all that good on defense, nor was it particularly balanced or consistent on offense. As has become a running theme, though, it managed to come up with the plays it needed.
The Texans (or at least their fans) may tell you that the officials provided quite a bit of assistance. The Raiders won’t care. With a lot on the line for both teams, Oakland—led by Carr—snatched another dramatic victory for itself in a season full of them.