After taking a huge lead by half time, I have to admit I had a feeling of trepitdation, and rightfully so, after barely getting by the Carolina Panthers in Oakland in a 35-32 victory. It was a victory, none the less, and that is what counts, though I think I am going to need to start carrying around nitroglycerin tablets and an automated external defibrillator to keep alive this season. I don’t think I am alone with this thought, either.
First of all, I want to say after one game where I complained it appeared that Derek Carr was playing scared to start off with, and went for short passes thereafter, Carr showed some real testicular fortitude this game.
How so? Easy. In the first drive coming back from half, he seemingly dislocated the pinkie finger on his throwing hand. That was the early word, at least. The entire team seemed to fall apart after that injury for the remainder of the 3rd quarter, allowing the Panthers back in the game. Early in the 4th quarter, they took the lead. It was their first of the game. Carr led the offense to a touchdown. Knowing a tie was crucial, I don’t think Carr had to petition Jack Del Rio too hard to go for the 2 point conversion, which ended up being successful. Bolstered and pumped up by the offense, the defense of the Raiders shut the Cam Newton offense down, and forced them to punt. The Raiders offense then took their time to march downfield and get the game winning points courtesy of a Sebastian Janikowski field goal.
The defense held tough again with the Raiders taking possession after Khalil Mack pulled us out of the fire for good with a strip/sack/fumble recovery. This gave the Raiders the equivalent of a walk off home run, and the Raiders ended the game taking a knee in a victory formation.
What frustrates me about this team, makes other teams think they can beat us, and the talking heads doubt us, is that 3rd quarter meltdown.
Let’s re-cap the first half, quickly. After exchanging punts, Carolina had the ball, punted a 2nd time and we got it. Then we scored. Then they scored. Both scores were touchdowns. After a 5:22 drive, we scored another touchdown. Things were looking good. Our defense forced a 3 and out, so we ended up with possession on our 33 yard line. Unfortunately, this drive stalled in the red zone, so we settled for field goal. That put us up by 10. There were two short possessions by each team, when Marquette King was able to get the ball inside the Carolina 10 yard line. On the Panthers 2nd play from scrimmage, Mack intercepted the ball and ran it in for another touchdown. After the successful point after attempt proved good, the Raiders had a 17 point lead going into half.
As one of my biggest complaints has been that we have not put that pedal to the metal, haven’t been nailing that coffin shut, I was cautiously optimistic.
Then the 3rd quarter happened.
On what I had hoped to be a drive that left the Panthers completely deflated, Carr had his hands in the wrong position and ended up not only dislocating the pinkie finger on his throwing hand, he turned over the ball to the Panthers.
They only had 30 yards to go on the shortened field, and it took them 3:39 to get there. Touchdown. Our lead dwindled to 11 points. It was 11 points because Denico Autry blocked their PAT attempt.
Matt McGloin came into the game. The timing was off with him and the offensive line. They weren’t used to providing protection for him. They obviously did not know his tendencies. After an illegal shift gave us a 3rd and 7 play, instead of 3rd and 2, McGloin went back to pass and took a hard blindside hit and the ball fell incomplete.
Marquette King had a good punt, 56 yards, inside the 20. Carolina helped our cause by holding on the return. They started off on their 8 yard line. However, other than that, momentum was all on Carolina’s side, and this possession proved no different.
Cam Newton threw a ball to Ted Ginn Jr. and that ended up being the longest play of the game, an 88 yard touchdown. Carolina was feeling pressured though, as this gave them 19 points, and we still had a 5 point lead. They were 3 for 3 on 2 point conversions for the year so far, so they went for a 2 point conversion. They didn’t quite make it, but it didn’t stop their momentum either.
Derek Carr, fitted with a glove for this next series, took the field again to lead the offense. We were moving the ball. Then Carr made a mistake. He tried to force the ball to Amari Cooper, who had a rather unremarkable day, 33 year old outside linebacker, Thomas Davis, intercepted the ball. Not only did he intercept it, he had a 31 yard return. We have much younger guys on our offense. We have much faster guys on our offense. I don’t understand how a 33 year old could get a 31 yard return on an interception, but he did. Seth Roberts ended up making him go out of bounds. Amari Cooper was blocked out pursuit. Clive Walford seemed to, half-heartedly at best, try to chase Davis down. Clive wasn’t in the best position, but I expect a full effort.
So now Carolina had great field position on our 28 yard line. It took them 5 plays to score another touchdown and take the lead. Again they tried to \make this a 3 point game going for a 2 point conversion and again they failed. But it was 25-24, and our meltdown was not yet complete.
By now it was clear to the Panthers defensive coordinator that Carr was not going to play under center, and all his plays would be from the shot gun formation. They adjusted their defense accordingly, and forced a 3 and out on 3 incomplete passes.
This next possession for Carolina ended the same way their previous 3 possessions did, with a touchdown. That was 4 touchdowns in just over 15 minutes from the start of the possession on the fumble to the score in the 4th quarter,
Under pressure, behind in the 4th, these moments seem to be when Carr plays his best. His drive, his competitive edge kick into over drive. Maybe he just got used to the pain in his hand. I don’t know. Carr did what we needed him to do. He drove the offense 75 yards to get in for the touchdown. He then picked the right target and connected with Seth Roberts on our own two point conversion attempt.
The game was now tied, and momentum had shifted to the Raiders courtesy of Car , the offensive line, and the entire damned offense not wanting to lose.
The defense provided their own boost, even though they allowed some yards on the Panthers next possession because by the time they punted, and with Jalen Richard’s short return, Carr and the rest of the offense took the field at our 13 yard line.
Carr engineered another drive, but this one stalled at the Carolina 5 yard line. We settled for another Sebastian Janikowski field goal. However, there was still 1:45 left on the clock.
Cam tried to make the most of it. There were a couple of completed passes that got the Panthers to our 44 yard line. Another 10 yards and they’d have a chance to tie the game. It was 4 down territory, 4th and 10 and Cam dropped back to deliver the ball. He didn’t get a chance to throw it. Khalil Mack strip-sacked Newton AND recovered the fumble.
It was Raiders ball, and as I said at the beginning of this, our offense ended the game in a victory formation.
Khalil Mack became the first player since Charles Woodson in 2009, (as a Green Bay Packer), to intercept a ball, score a touchdown, sack a qb, force a fumble, and recover a fumble.
Mack was definitely a driving force for the defense. He was 2nd on the team with 6 tackles, and the strip-sack, the fumble recovery, the interception and the 6 points on the touchdown. Malcolm Smith had 4 solo tackles with 3 assists, so led in tackles. Bruce Irvin made his presence known. The first half the defense played well. The 3rd quarter it seemed they were disheartened, but they came back alive in the 4th quarter.
The offense did the same thing. Carr had over 300 yards in the air. Crabtree, who had not had the best of games in the past couple, had over 100 yards reciving. Even with that, Carr was able to connect with 8 other receivers.
Special teams did their job, though King had one 39 yard punt that could have been a bit better.
The thing is, we still are having trouble putting together a full game. We still struggle with our own errors. We hamstring ourselves with questionable decisions.
What this team doesn’t do is fold. They don’t quit. They may get disheartened for a little bit of time, but they snap out of it. Sometimes, like this game, it’s in time to recover and take back control of the game.
We can’t keep relying on that. We need to get it right from the beginning, and handle business without that drop off during the game. I will say again we need to keep that pedal to the metal. We need to try to nail that coffin shut. .
But whatever the talking heads say about us, no matter what players from other teams say about us, I know we earned these 9 wins.
No let up. Let’s keep driving this train.
Win, lose, or tie, RAIDERS til I DIE!