SAN DIEGO-Raiders Nation run deep. So does the motto “Just win, baby,” spawned by the late Al Davis. That’s what the Oakland Raiders had in their hip pocket when they defeated the San Diego Chargers, 19-16, Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
By beating the Chargers for the fourth time in a row, the Raiders(11-3) needed to call on the ghosts of winning by any means necessary, while relying on a defensive roster lined up with one playmaker after another. That’s why they’re in the hunt for the AFC West title and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
“We are still growing as group, still figuring things out,” said Raiders linebacker Malcolm Smith. “We have a lot of talented players and I think we are finally gelling the right way and hopefully, we will continue to. It is one of those things where you want to get hot at the right time and hopefully we will continue to do that.”
The Chargers have not been afforded that luxury this season after being hit with key players going down to devastating injuries. The fact the Chargers have been able to stick around at the end of games and compete the way they have is a testament to the coaching staff and the type of players the Chargers (5-10) have.
But in a results-oriented sport, moral victories mean little, said Chargers defensive back Casey Hayward.
“That’s a good job by our defense,” Hayward said. “Week in and week out we talk about creating turnovers and getting the offense the ball back. But at the end of the day we didn’t win the game-no moral victories.”
There’s nothing like sticking it to your rival. While we’re at it, there’s nothing quite like rubbing salt on the wounds afterwards. The Raiders may have gotten the last dig in against the Chargers for the last two seasons.
However, won-loss records don’t amount to a hill of beans when the Chargers and Raiders get together. The Raiders came to Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday like the AFC West Division’s version of the Big, Bad Wolf. Well, let’s just make them the current rough riders of the AFC West.
The Chargers entered the second game of the season between the two teams more in the form of prideful underdogs. For the first 14 weeks of the 2016 NFL season, the Raiders have been marching along to steady narrative as the team most likely to supplant Tom Brady and the New England Patriots as the AFC’s sexy Super Bowl pick. They’re in first place in the AFC West.
They have an MVP candidate in quarterback Derek Carr. Their pass offense, fueled by Carr, is ranked fifth in the league. And they possess the No. 6 offense. Pretty hot stuff, huh? We all know about the Chargers’s story this year. Injuries. Missed opportunities.
Winnable close games flipped into last-second defeats. Yeah, you might go ahead and throw in a not-so-impressive won-loss record to boot. But at the end of the day, when the Chargers do battle with the Raiders, that don’t mean squat. Win, lose or draw, every National Football League team have something called pride.
The Chargers have a roster full of players armed with this attribute.
Yeah, so what the Raiders had done a two season sweep of the Chargers. Mathematically, the Chargers are out of this season’s playoff run. That doesn’t mean they are going to roll over and stop competing. And up until their final series of the game, the Chargers exchanged blows with the Raiders, from head to toe.
“From watching the game on the sideline there, a lot of great individual efforts by a number of players that had an opportunity out there, but we didn’t get it done,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said.
They competed. By competing, the Chargers were able to jump out in front of the Raiders in the first quarter on the game’s series when Philip Rivers connected with Travis Benjamin on a 47-yard touchdown pass. By competing, the Chargers turned two Raiders’ red zone drives into turnovers.
By competing, the Chargers found a way to stuff Oakland four times in that vaunted scoring area, forcing the Raiders to go 1-4 in red zone opportunities. That’s kind of a win in itself considering the Raiders are tied at No. 2 in scoring offense at just over 27 points per game.
By competing, the Chargers carried a 16-13 lead into the fourth quarter when Rivers went airborne again, finding Hunter Henry in the endzone for a 7-yard touchdown throw. If the Chargers had thought about quitting and giving up on their season, San Diego’s defense would not have found the will to shut down Oakland multiple times inside the 10-yard line.
That didn’t matter. The Raiders showed as much resilience, and they came away with the win.
“Anything bad happens and it doesn’t mater,” Carr said. “We move onto the next play because there’s nothing you can do about it. So why would you sit there and sulk and throw a fit? It’s okay to be mad and it’s okay to be upset, but if you let it linger, it’s going to ruin the rest of your game.”