New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady leaves the field after their win against the Denver Broncos during an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
Joe Mahoney
December 19, 2016

Jerry Rice was on the roster the last time the Oakland Raiders made the playoffs.

That's how long it's been - way back in the 2002 season.

The Silver and Black matter again, thanks in large part to up-and-coming QB Derek Carr, pass-rusher extraordinaire Khalil Mack and kicker Sebastian Janikowski. The Raiders clinched a postseason berth Sunday by beating the San Diego Chargers 19-16 on Janikowski's fourth field goal of the game, a 44-yarder with a little more than 2+ minutes remaining.

''One thing we know for sure: We are on our way,'' coach Jack Del Rio told his players in the locker room after they improved to 11-3, alone in first place in the AFC West. ''We just punched our ticket to the playoffs!''

A backdrop to this season's success has been all the talk about how much longer the team will stay in Oakland. Owner Mark Davis - whose father, Al, was famous for proclaiming, ''Just win, baby'' - says he plans to move the Raiders to Las Vegas, where a nearly $2 billion stadium project has been approved.

There is a Feb. 15 deadline for Davis to apply for the right to uproot his club. The window to petition for that begins whenever the Raiders' season ends - and for the first time in a while, no one knows exactly when that will be.

Janikowski is the only player from the team's previous playoff run who is still on the roster. Since reaching the Super Bowl 14 years ago, the Raiders have gone through some dark times.

As Carr noted on Twitter: ''We have come a long way from an 0-10 start a couple years ago!''

Sure have.

The frequent failures of teams like the Raiders really make what Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have done all that more remarkable: They set an NFL record with an eighth consecutive division title after a 16-3 victory over the reigning Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. New England also is the only team to win 13 division championships in a 14-year span.

''You see guys that have played in this league a while, been really good players, and just haven't won division championships and things like that,'' Patriots safety Devin McCourty said, ''and to see their excitement, to see how excited they are. ... It's a great feeling.''

In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL season's 15th Sunday:

GIVE WHAT YOU CAN

The Salvation Army got millions of dollars' worth of free publicity thanks to Dallas Cowboys rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott, who hopped inside an oversized red collection kettle behind the end zone after a 2-yard TD run during a 26-20 win against Tampa Bay on national TV at night.

''Had to show them a little bit of love,'' the running back said.

Alas, the Cowboys were penalized for his display, angering coach Jason Garrett, and Elliott could get fined by the league. That prompted NBC announcer Cris Collinsworth to joke: ''There should be a charitable exemption in the rulebook.''

BRADLEY FIRED

Not much of a surprise here: Gus Bradley was fired as coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars after their 21-20 loss at the Houston Texas, their ninth consecutive loss. They've been bad much longer than that, though: The Jags' 2-12 record this season brings Bradley's tally to 14-48, a .225 winning percentage that's the worst of anyone who has coached at least 60 NFL games. So with Bradley joining former Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher on the unemployment line, the question becomes: Who else will be out of a job by season's end?

NONSENSICAL 2-POINT TRIES

Coaches just can't seem to figure out when it makes sense to try a 2-point conversion and when it doesn't. Mike Mularkey of the Titans and Doug Pederson of the Eagles both made highly debatable choices to eschew a PAT after a late TD - and both of their teams blew it. For Mularkey, though, it miraculously didn't cost the Titans a vital win in their playoff bid, because they still edged the Chiefs 19-17 thanks to Kansas City coach Andy Reid's own gaffes. For Pederson, it didn't really matter, because the Eagles were going nowhere even before their 27-26 loss to the Ravens was sealed when Carson Wentz's pass fell incomplete on a 2-point try.

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