The first positive we saw in this game was the formal arrival of Andre Carter. He had been ineffective in his first two games in Silver and Black. The worry was that at his age (33) and after his season ending quad injury, he was no longer the player he once was. That worry was snuffed out on his first play.
He came in on third down to do what he does best-rush the passer. He got under his man to take the left edge and get the sack.
Raiders defensive coordinator helped ensure his success by sending Miles Burris up the middle on a blitz. With Burris bearing down on him, he not only couldn't step up in the pocket to avoid the outside rush but he didn't even see it coming as his focus was on the blitz. It was a well designed play that had the exact outcome the Raiders had hoped.
Despite the sack, the Raiders seemed to be playing uninspired football through the first part of the first quarter. But the energy they needed came from Lamarr Houston who has been this team's sparkplug for several weeks now.
After the Raiders had given up a long drive, the Bucs were lined up to get on the board first with a 35-yard field goal. But Houston was not ready to concede any points.
He blocked that field goal attempt and had the presence of mind to scoop up the ball and give the Raiders offense good field position following a 34-yard return. He said after the game that he played running back in high school and his instincts kicked in as he set up and followed his blockers. His having lost 15 pounds this offseason also helped him rumble down the field.
That blocked field goal and return energized the Raiders' team. Suddenly they came alive on offense and defense and moved the ball down the field to put the first points on the board with a field goal of their own.
The offense was moving the ball pretty well after that although they were not finishing drives. Darrius Heyward-Bey was making catches but lately those catches have been the old belly button jammers he was so infamous for early in his career. Both the long drive and the gut puncher catches by DHB were solved on one play.
Palmer had a matchup he liked on the right and it was clear his intention was to go to DHB before the ball was even snapped. He was hoping for either a catch or a pass interference and he got one of those things. (he should have gotten both).
The catch went for 46 yards which is great. The better part was the manner in which he caught it. After so many non-hands catches, he makes a catch in which he doesn't even use both hands. He hauls it in with one hand almost literally tied behind his back. As my Company Commander in bootcamp used to say to us "Now you're in trouble! Now I KNOW you can do it. Now I will be expecting that from you all the time."
That catch set up the Raiders first touchdown of the day on a perfect 25-yard pass from Carson Palmer to Rod Streater. Those two plays were a precursor for the comeback performance we would see from Palmer in the second half.
Quite possibly the most crucial moment of that comeback by Palmer was the two point conversion. The Raiders had pulled to within five points on their final touchdown. They needed to go for two so they could have a chance to tie with a field goal.
What we got was a gritty, clutch play from Palmer that has come to signify the pocket presence he has had in recent weeks as pressure continues to come on him from all sides. In the process we got our first look at rookie Juron Criner do what he showed us in training camp. He showed a special ability to make tough catches in the endzone and most notably win jump balls.
Fans heard about Criner's abilities from the first day he showed up to mini camps all through training camp and yet he has been invisible thus far. The Raiders had to have this catch and they trusted Criner to be the guy who could get it for them. Palmer put it up and Criner came down with it.
This isn't the first time the play called for Palmer to hit Criner in the endzone. It's just the first time it actually worked. Hopefully it's the start of something. I refer back to what my Company Commander said about such things.
This post is sponsored by Jack in the Box.