For the first time this season, the Ballers & Busters can be written based around those who made the biggest contributions to a WIN. Just to mix it up a little. Make things a bit more interesting.
There were a lot of players who made major contributions to this win. All season the problem with this team was their inability to put together a complete game. And to get a win, they very much needed that kind of game. That's what they got Thursday night with a national television audience in a game where they were a considerable underdog to the visiting Chiefs.
Let's get it started...
On a team with the worst run offense in the league, no one expected a game like this from Murray. He had shown last week that he was worth getting an extended look, and in this one he lived up to any faith placed in him and more.
He didn't get the start in this game. He got his first carry on the Raiders' second drive of the game. He was put in the game and given the ball for a 5-yard gain. Two plays later, in first and goal from the Kansas City 11-yard line, he took the ball, made a quick decision when his gap closed, bounced it outside and took it to the house. It was the first rushing touchdown the Chiefs had given up all season.
Even with his duties as a runner, he was still a presence on special teams. Later in the first quarter, he had the tackle on the punt return.
The next time the Raiders saw the ball on offense came at the beginning of the second quarter. They got the ball at their own 10-yard line and on first down went back to Murray. He went up the middle through his initial gap, then made a move that froze the middle linebacker and it was off to the races. The 6-3, 225-pound back flew 90 yards with the closest Chief a good five yards in tow for the touchdown. It was the fourth longest run from scrimmage in Raiders history. It also gave the Raiders a 14-0 lead.
Murray would get a carry on the third play of the next offensive possession and after picking up the first down on third and 3, he was hit in the head and knocked out of the game with a concussion. He finished with 4 carries for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also had a 24-yard kick return and a coverage tackle. Statement. Made.
His numbers weren't fantastic. But this game isn't won on paper. He came up big when the Raiders needed it most. On the Raiders first touchdown drive, he had three big completions, including two on third down. The drive started with a 19-yard connection with Vincent Brown. Then on third and 7, he completed a pass to James Jones, who broke a tackle and went for 11 yards. On the next third down, he stepped up in the pocket and put one on Brice Butler for 10 yards to the 11-yard line. Murray scored on the next play.
On the Raiders second possession of the third quarter, he lined up in third and one and noticed James Jones' defender was giving up a big cushion, so he audibled for Jones to go on a quick slant and completed it to him for a 2-yard first down. That allowed the Raiders to move into field goal range and put three more points on the board.
The Raiders would need that three points as the Chiefs would score 17 unanswered points to take the 20-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Raiders would get the ball back with just over nine minutes on the clock. Their objective was to put together a long drive and score to either tie or take the lead. They would get exactly what they wanted.
The Raiders would convert four third downs and one fourth down on the drive. Every one of those first downs would be picked up through Carr - an 11-yard completion to Butler on 3rd and one, a QB sneak on 4th and one, an 8-yard completion to Rivera on 3rd and 6, a Carr pass to Holmes that resulted in a KC pass interference on 3rd and 9, and another QB sneak on 3rd and one to put them in first and goal at the 9-yard line. On the next play, Carr would pump fake left and throw a perfect pass to James Jones for the game-winning touchdown. Clutch.
The help Carr needed from the run game on that final drive came from Marcel Reece. He had 34 yards on the final drive on 7 carries (9, 7, 4, 4, 1, 5, 4). He added an 8-yard catch for 42 yards on the drive. His runs either picked up the first down, or set the Raiders up with short yardage on third down. It was just what the Raiders needed to win this game.
Less than a week ago, the Raiders played a tough game against the San Diego Chargers. After the game, Antonio Smith said the team stepped up the way they did because of something Sparano said to them. The defense especially was smothering and played from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. I asked him about that, and he said they still play to the "standard" set by Sparano's words. That goes mainly for the defense.
As for the offense, Sparano gets a great deal of credit for the way he handled the final drive of this game. Greg Olson deserves some credit as well, but this was a Sparano signature type of final drive. He knew the Chiefs defense was tired and worn down. And without Murray at his disposal, he turned to the other big ball carrier, Marcel Reece, and pounded it right down the Chiefs' throats. They had played a long game after a short week coming off a tough game against the Seahawks. The Chiefs were powerless to stop Reece who routinely pushed the pile for extra yards. They also couldn't keep the Raiders' line from giving Carr the space he needed to pick up two first downs on sneaks.
I have criticized the way the Raiders have gone about trying to run the ball through the first ten games of this season. Therefore I must give praise when they get it right. Having a healthy Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew watching the final drive was getting it right.
Stefen Wisniewski, Austin Howard
Most of the season Wisniewski has been subpar as a blocker. Last week he seemed to hit bottom. Austin Howard has been the worst run blocker on this team all season long. So, it makes it all the more surprising to have seen their performance in this game. Both were outstanding.
The first run by Latavius Murray went for five yards and the hole was opened by Wiz and Howard. On the big 90-yard run by Murray, the hole was created by Howard who then continued to drive his man down the line and onto his back.
In the second quarter, when Murray was hit in the head and fumbled, it was Wisniewski who recovered the ball. Wiz also laid some key blocks on several more run plays in the game including the first two Marcel Reece runs on the long final drive. Howard also paved the way for a couple of those runs on that drive. It was the best rushing output the Raiders have had since midway through last season, thanks in large part to the work Wiz and Howard were doing.
Larry Asante, Charles Woodson, Brandian Ross
Yes, three safeties made the Ballers. And I couldn't decide which of them deserved it most. Woodson was making the big plays, but he also had a few big mistakes. In this case, his big plays were bigger than his mistakes. He made a great play on the first third down of the game to stop Jamaal Charles for a nine-yard loss on a lateral. He had another tackle for loss on the first drive of the second quarter. On the Chiefs' final drive of the first half, Woodson and Asante teamed up for a run stuff for two yards on 3rd and 5. Then he ended the first series of the third quarter with a sack on 3rd down. That play made him the first player in NFL history to record at least 50 interceptions and 20 sacks in his career.
Woodson's rough patch started at the end of the quarter. He was late to get over to cover Anthony Fasano who was wide open for the Chiefs' first touchdown. Then on the next drive Woodson laid a pick on D.J. Hayden to give up a 24-yard catch and then fell down on the 30-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 17-17. Those plays made this a bit of a tough call, but his pros outweighed his cons enough in this game.
Asante made several huge tackles, two of which very likely saved touchdowns as the last line of defense. At the end of the first quarter, with the Raiders up 7-0, Jamaal Charles broke through the line and Asante was the last chance to get him before he broke free. He made the tough open field tackle to hold him to 11 yards. They would eventually punt. He did it again on their first drive of the second quarter to hold Charles to a 9-yard gain.
Let us not forget, this is the same Jamaal Charles who destroyed the Raiders last season for 215 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. He was held to one touchdown in large part due to those tackles by Asante. His last act was a tackle to stop a big return and allow the defense to finish off the win. He finished fourth on the team with 7 tackles (6 solo) and forced a fumble on Charles, recovered by the Chiefs.
Ross was solid in tackling and coverage most of the day. His coverage stopped two-straight drives in the second quarter. He had tight coverage on a 3rd and 2 to give Alex Smith no place to throw the ball under pressure. Then after a muffed punt, the Chiefs got the ball at the Oakland 11-yard line. They would be held to a field goal thanks to a pass defended at the goal line by Ross. However, he gave up a 21-yard catch that set up the Chiefs' first touchdown, and missed a tackle on the 30-yard dump pass to Charles for their second touchdown. On their next drive, he had tight coverage to force Smith to throw the ball away and settle for a field goal and a 20-17 lead. He had tight coverage on an incompletion on the final drive that set up third down.
Woodson (8), Asante (7), and Ross (5) finished third, fourth, and fifth on the team in tackles.
He caught the game-winning touchdown. That alone could be enough. He did more than that though. He converted the first 3rd down of the game with a nine-yard reception on 3rd and 4. He converted the first 3rd down attempt on the next drive too - an 11-yard catch on 3rd and 7. That one helped set of the Raiders' first touchdown. He had a 17-yard catch in the first series of the third quarter. Then converted another third down on a short pass on the following drive. That one set up the field goal to take a 17-3 lead. The 9-yard touchdown pass to put the Raiders up for good was the capper. He finished with five passes on six targets for 47 yards. Four of those catches were for first downs and the other was for a touchdown. And a good day to you, sir.
Just a really solid game for DJ. He has been outstanding since returning from the PUP list four weeks ago. The first Chiefs pass of the day was defended by Hayden to set up third down. He showed his physicality in this game as well. First with a nice tackle for a 4-yard gain on 3rd and 7, then later when he smacked the full back for no gain on a catch in the flat. He had tight coverage on an incompletion to set up third down on the Chiefs' first series of the third quarter. The Chiefs would make their comeback to tie it up and were knocking on the door for another touchdown. Smith rolled right looking for a place to throw it, but Hayden had his man on lockdown to force him to throw it away and settle for a field goal.
The Chiefs were double-teaming Mack most of the day so he didn't make as big of an impact as he has some weeks. But they weren't able to eliminate him from making plays. He had a run stuff to begin the Chiefs' third possession. Then he ended the next drive when he pressured Alex Smith into an incompletion. He helped end their next series as well with a run stuff on first down and by breaking through the line to get a hand on the runner where he was stopped for a 2-yard gain on 3rd and 5. On the very next series, he pressured and hit Smith as he threw to force an incompletion. He added another pressure to force an incompletion on the final drive to seal the win.
What did he do in this game? Well, he didn't allow a single hurry or sack on Derek Carr. There were quite a few plays where Carr had plenty of time to step into the pocket, survey the field, and find the open man thanks to the protection Penn was giving him from his blindside. He also didn't give up any run stuffs.
Justin Tuck -- The Raiders held on to clinch the win thanks in part to a heads up timeout signaled by Tuck while Sio Moore and Khalil Mack were celebrating Moore's sack on 3rd down. Tuck also killed a series for the Chiefs early in the second quarter when his blocker was called for holding on first down, and on 3rd and 29 he batted a ball down at the line.
He led the Raiders with 12 tackles (7 solo), so how does he end up as a Betweener? Hopefully I can explain that without getting too longwinded. It's difficult because Sio was a part of so many plays in this game both good and bad.
He had tackles on each of the first three Chiefs' series, each were runs for five, five, and six yards. Then on the first series of the second quarter, he gave up an 8-yard catch followed by making a great play on a screen attempt to Jamaal Charles for a 12-yard loss. If he had simply wrapped up, it would have been all good. But he was already thinking celebration and tried to throw Charles, who was then able to regain his feet and begin to run again. Had Miles Burris not been there to help out, Charles may have escaped altogether. Kudos to Burris on that one.
Just before halftime, Sio would add a tackle for loss on third and one after a Chiefs drive was extended by a running into the kicker penalty.
The third quarter is where things got very bad for Sio. The Chiefs first touchdown went to a wide open Anthony Fasano from 19 yards out. He was wide open because Sio didn't cover him off the line. The next drive ended with a 30-yard screen for the score. Sio was one of those who missed the tackle on Charles as he weaved through the Raiders defense to tie the game at 17-17. The Chiefs ended up scoring on three straight drives because the third drive began with a 23-yard catch in which Sio again missed the tackle.
Most people will remember Sio for the big sack on third down of the final drive of the game. He came up the middle on a delayed blitz and took down Alex Smith for an 8-yard loss. He then went into the longest sack dance on record. He ran some 20 yards down field, dancing and soaking up the adulation from the Black Hole. His teammates came to congratulate him and had to wait for him to finish his dance which took a while.
When he was done twerking for the crowd, he turned back where Khalil Mack was waiting and the two began a series of hand slapping, which also seemed to last some time. Benson Mayowa had long since given up on congratulating his teammate and ran back to join the defense. All the while this is going on, Alex Smith has got his team back to the line on fourth down. This forced the Raiders to take a time out to avoid a penalty. A series that Tony Sparano was not happy about in the slightest.
After the game, both Justin Tuck and Charles Woodson made comments about things coming to blows with Sio had that celebration resulted in a penalty that cost them the game. When your teammates are talking about wanting to kick your ass for your antics, you're doing something wrong. Sio is a hell of a player and he has a lot of passion. Think how good he will be when he grows up.
Burris was second on the team with 9 tackles (8 solo). I know it may seem odd to have the Raiders top two tacklers not make the Ballers, but here we are. On the Chiefs third series in the first quarter, he had a run stuff followed by being blocked on a run that would have gone the distance if not for a fine tackle in the secondary by Asante. Burris then gave up a 20-yard gain on a screen play on the next drive. The following drive, he saved Sio's bacon on that tackle for a loss of 12. On the next drive, he missed a tackle on another run that surely would have been a house call if not for Asante. Next drive: stopped a run to help hold the Chiefs to a field goal.
Early in the third quarter, he stayed at home to stop Alex Smith for a 3-yard scramble. On the Chiefs' second touchdown drive, Burris completely whiffed on a tackle to give up a 24-yard gain on a crossing route. Next drive: stop on another QB scramble.
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