OAKLAND — The Oakland Raiders win their first home game of the season and move into a first-place tie in the AFC West after beating the beleaguered San Diego Chargers 34-31 on Oct. 9 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Oakland quarterback Derek Carr completed 25 of 40 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns while receiver Amari Cooper caught six passes for 138 yards and at TD for the Raiders (4-1), who are on a three-game winning streak.
It was another close game for the Raiders, who were down 24-16 before staging an 18-7 comeback that started in the third quarter. Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio is not concerned about the close games, only winning them, he said.
“I’m okay with 3 to 2 or 50 to 49,” Del Rio said following the game. “Winning at the end of the day is what we’re about. We’ll keep correcting things that we know have to to be better and we’ll continue to enjoy the victories.”
San Diego (1-4) quarterback Philip Rivers completed 21 of 30 passes for 359 yards and four touchdowns. Rivers threw TD strikes to four different players. Tyrell Williams caught five passes for 117 yards and a score and Travis Benjamin caught seven receptions for 117 yards for the Chargers.
Once again, the Chargers were winning a game that they ended up losing in the end. Rivers said he couldn’t put a finger on why San Diego is prone to giving up leads that lead to a loss.
“I don’t know what helps at this point. We’re 1-4 and we got to go find a way to win a game,” Rivers said. “We haven’t won a division game now in 10 tries? Everything is still out there. We just have to carry on. That’s the only way I know.”
The Raiders intercepted Rivers once and recovered a fumble by tight end Antonio Gates in the first quarter of play. The defense did its job, but Oakland could only muster up a 20-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski.
The squandered, offensive opportunities allowed Rivers to come back with a 29-yard TD strike to receiver Tyrell Williams early in the second quarter for a 7-3 margin.
Oakland moved the football sporadically on its next offensive possession only to settle for another Janikowski field goal for 26 yards. The Raiders failed to score on a 67-yard drive and could not capitalize in the red zone against the Chargers. Del Rio said the Raiders were 1-for-3 in the red zone, “but did get the one we needed,” he stated.
San Diego moved up to a 10-6 lead with 26-yard field goal by Josh Lambo with 7:13 left in the first half. At the 1:39 mark of the second quarter, Rivers chunked the ball down the field only to get intercepted again, this time by safety Karl Joseph.
The Raiders still failed to get any traction on offense, which led to Janikowski ending the first half with a 56-yard field.
The Chargers wasted no time getting in the end zone by using four plays and 75 yards to complete an 18-yard TD pass by Rivers to Melvin Gordon in two minutes and 29 seconds. San Diego lifted its lead 17-9, despite Rivers’ fumble on the first play of the second half, which the Chargers recovered.
At the 11:25 mark, Amari Cooper, who already had 74 yards on five catches, broke away for a 64-yard touchdown catch from Carr on the Raiders next possession. Janikowski’s extra point made the score 17-16.
The Chargers continued to make plays. Big plays. River threw a 50 yard pass to Tyrell Williams to the Raiders’ 25 while Gordon ran the ball to the 1-yard line on the next play. The drive resulted in an 1-yard touchdown pass by Rivers to tight end Hunter Henry.
With 4:41 left in the third quarter, Janikowski kicked a 48-yard field for his fourth of the game that put the Raiders within five points of the Chargers.
Recovered by Joseph, Gordon fumbled the football at the Chargers’ 38-yard line. The Raiders made good on the possession when Carr found Michael Crabtree for a 20-yard score and Cooper for the two-point conversion. Raiders led 27-24 with 1:09 left in the third.
Crabtree’s TD catch was his fourth in the last two games. He had three TD catches against Baltimore, which was a career high for the 8th-year player. Crabtree now has a total of five touchdowns for the season.
“He’s a great football player and really having a heck of a year for us,” Del Rio said Crabtree. “But bottom line is the guys are working hard. Crab and Coop and all the guys with Derek has been a good thing. A strength for us.”
The Raiders’ defense stopped the Chargers and got a little help from San Diego kicker Drew Kaser, who kicked a paltry 17-yard punt to the Chargers’ 32-yard line. Fullback Jamize Olawale ran the football in from 1-yard out to put the Raiders up 34-24 early in the fourth.
With a lot of time on the clock, Antonio Gates scored on a 4-yard pass from Rivers with 6:21 left to play. San Diego’s defense went ahead to keep the Raiders from getting a first down following Gates’ score.
The Raiders secondary started to give up big plays again to the Chargers. San Diego moved down the field through the air, however, was prevented from converting a first down two yards out on third down. Lambo attempted to kick a 36-yard field goal, which Kaser fumbled the snap.
“I didn’t see the kick,” Rivers said. “I just looked away. But obvious, it would have won the game for us.”
The Raiders’ defensive back Keith McGill II recovered the fumble that turned out to be the game-winning play for Oakland. Raiders’ punter Marquette King kicked the ball 51 yards for only a three-yard return to San Diego’s 21-yard line helped erase any chance of comeback.
“This is what the NFL is all about,” said Raiders defensive tackle Stacy McGee. “The last drive. It always comes down to the two minutes. We just kept going and wanted it more.”
DeAndre Washington started at running back in place of Latavius Murray, who was sidelined with a toe injury.
The Raiders moved into a first-place tie with the Denver Broncos in the AFC Wests with the San Diego victory. The Broncos (4-1) lost to Atlanta 23-16 on Oct. 9.
Before the game, Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie had a feeling the Raiders would win their first game of the season. “I expect them to play like champions. I expect them to play like Raiders,” McKenzie said.
By Antonio R. Harvey and Simeon Gant
OBSERVER Staff Writers