Raiders Ride Resolute Defense to Late Win Over Chargers

With the Oakland Coliseum hosting its final primetime NFL game, the Raiders’ defense picked off Philip Rivers three times as Derek Carr and Oakland move to 5-4 with a game-winning, fourth quarter drive.
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The Oakland Coliseum stands alone as the final paragon of a bygone era in American sports, a time when one stadium was better than two. Why does a football team need its own space when it can run around on the dirt infield and grass outfield utilized by the city’s professional baseball club? Oakland never found a satisfactory retort (or proper funding) to answer that question, and thus the Raiders toiled on, sharing the Coliseum with the A’s long after every other NFL franchise realized bare earth was not a surface conducive to player safety. With the Raiders packing up for Las Vegas following this season, the November 7 edition of Thursday Night Football marked the final primetime game played in the lone dual-purpose stadium still in use in American professional sports.

Luckily, the Oakland faithful were treated to the first competitive TNF matchup in over a month, one punctuated in fitting fashion with a late drive that propelled the Raiders to a 26-24 victory over their in-state divisional rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers. In true TNF fashion, it was a sloppy, penalty-filled, flag-happy affair that saw two mediocre teams battling for the honor and privilege of finishing second in the AFC West behind the Chiefs.

Before we dive into the football, a quick complaint. Walt Coleman and his crew have thrown more flags than any other officiating group this season, and yet they were tapped for what is always the messiest game of the week. They responded by throwing 20 flags. Assigning Coleman and co. to a Thursday night game knowing that they would call it tighter than any other crew AND knowing that the two teams playing would be the least prepared and most penalty-prone is asinine. It’s been a bad season for NFL refs, and they continue to do themselves no favors.

Anyway, rant over. The Raiders owe this one to their defense, a unit that came into tonight the 24th best in the league with just seven takeaways and four interceptions to their name. But on this night, Erik Harris picked off Philip Rivers twice in the first quarter, zipping down the sideline with the second for a touchdown. The first 10 Raiders points came off turnovers, and that turned out to be the difference.

Jon Gruden, much maligned for stockpiling draft picks and trading away talent last year, watched his young defense swarm Rivers all night, racking up five sacks, six tackles for loss, three picks and a fumble recovery. The class of 2019 showed out; first-rounder Clellin Ferrell had five tackles (two for loss) and 2.5 sacks; fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby had three tackles (one for loss), 0.5 sacks and multiple quarterback pressures on Rivers; and second-rounder Trayvon Mullen had five combined tackles. Oakland’s defense never let the wily Rivers get comfortable in the pocket and the secondary kept the clamps on Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry and Mike Williams, forcing the Chargers to rely almost exclusively on their spotty run game.

On the other side of the ball, Derek Carr and the offense put together two well-timed drives to supplant the efforts of their defense. The first, a 10-play, 76-yard campaign, came on the heels of Los Angeles’ second touchdown drive in a row, with Oakland trailing for the first time all game, 14-10, with three minutes until halftime. Carr, a tidy 21-of-31 on the night for 218 yards and a touchdown, found Alec Ingold from nine yards out with 21 seconds remaining. That gave the defense a breather it desperately needed while establishing a 17-14 lead the Raiders would extend with a field goal on the first drive coming out of the intermission.

The game-winner took place under nearly identical conditions. Oakland went 75 yards in 10 plays, clocking in at a crisp three minutes, with the game on the line. Josh Jacobs, who continued his breakout season with 18 carries for 71 yards, ripped an 18-yard run through a gaping hole in the center of the Chargers line for the game-winning score and his lone touchdown of the evening. Though it was a quiet offensive night for both sides, both Hunter Renfrow (four catches, 43 yards) and Jalen Richard (four catches, 42 yards) came up clutch for Oakland on the winning drive.

As for the Chargers, a brutal season takes another cruel turn. Rivers was a sloppy 17-of-31 for 207 yards with two touchdowns to go with his three interceptions, his most in a game this season. His first pick was a bad overthrow of an open Allen, but the second can be chalked up to the horrid turf at the Coliseum getting the last laugh at one of its most familiar recent opponents. Rivers would have delivered the ball in a perfect window to a streaking Henry, but the tight end slipped and fell on the patchwork sod covering the A’s infield with Harris lurking in perfect position to complete the aforementioned pick-six.

Rivers’ offensive line offered him little in the way of pass protection despite a solid night running the football, an odd sentence to type about one of the most anemic rushing attacks in the league to this point. Melvin Gordon does appear to be rounding into form, as his 108 yards on 22 carries (along with a 25-yard reception) were a season-high. Allen and Williams chipped in 68 and 55 receiving yards, respectively, but the Chargers slipped to a distant third in the AFC West as a lost season that continues amid expletive-laced rants from owner Dean Spanos decrying a potential move to London. We knew Rivers’ window was closing with Gordon likely gone after the season, but it appears to be slamming shut even quicker than anticipated.

But for the Raiders faithful in the Black Hole and beyond, this was a fitting swan song for their charmingly terrible stadium under the bright lights and pageantry of primetime NFL football. Though there will be no playoff epilogue at the Coliseum, the Raiders moved to 5-4 and are in the pole position for AFC teams outside the postseason picture. The Chiefs are the lone team above .500 left on their schedule, and the Bills and Colts are far from locks to hold down the Wild Card.

Maybe, just maybe, Oakland can keep the lights on a little bit longer.

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