After the third quarter of the Raiders 37-29 win over the Chargers, I already had potential headlines running through my head; "Raiders cruise to win over Chargers", "Raiders win in San Diego going away". But as the fourth quarter went along, those headlines became less and less appropriate.
When the fourth quarter began, the Raiders had a commanding 37-6 lead over the Chargers, so you can understand why the win looked like it was a given. But you expect that from a spectator and someone covering the game. You don't expect that from the team on the field. Or at least you hope not to see that. But that's just what Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio got from his players, and he watched as his team's 31-point lead evaporated to a one-score game in the final seconds.
"I thought really for the first three quarters of the game, very strong efforts in all three phases," said Jack Del Rio. "And I think that's the longest that we had sustained really good football as a team in all three phases. So, I'm really happy for our guys, excited about that. And of course it would be natural to ask ‘what about the fourth quarter'; the fourth quarter is not what we're looking for, but that's not going to be the focus. The focus is going to be that we got a win that we much needed and certainly there'll be some things that we know we need to clean up, but we're really proud of the guys and the effort and commitment level and the way we're growing and developing as a football team."
It's important not to let the fourth quarter overshadow what the Raiders did in the first three quarters of this game. They absolutely dominated the Chargers. The Raiders offense scored on their first seven series. That first series came off of an interception on the third play of the game.
That turnover was the first of two in the game, and the Chargers offense went virtually nowhere for the first three quarters. Rivers had 123 passing yards heading into the fourth quarter with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Meanwhile Amari Cooper had more yards and points by himself than the entire Chargers offense. Cooper had 5 catches on 5 targets for 133 yards and a touchdown. Latavius Murray had 11 carries for 75 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and a touchdown. And Derek Carr completed 23 of 28 passes for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions. That had the Raiders line up the punt for the first time late in the third.
Compare those numbers to the fourth quarter where the Raiders didn't score once, Cooper had no catches on one target, Carr had 9 yards passing, and Murray had 4 carries for 10 yards. Meanwhile the Chargers scored 23 unanswered points on three touchdowns and a couple two-point conversions. Rivers alone added 213 yards passing and three touchdowns. After all that, it came down to an onsides kick for the Raiders to hold on for the win.
For the most part, what matters is the W. And for the Raiders, they can lean on that and take any lessons from the fourth quarter and learn from it knowing it didn't cost them the game.
"I think it's about sustaining really good effort," Del Rio continued. "I've seen spurts of really good effort from our football team. I think today was the closest to sustaining for 60 minutes and ultimately that's what we're after. We're looking for complete games, we're looking for all three phases doing good things to help our football team play great football."
On the field, it's important to play smart football without risking letting the Chargers get quick scores off turnovers. Much of that responsibility falls on the coaching making the right calls, but naturally it also falls on the quarterback. Derek Carr said he could feel the team didn't execute things as well and weren't as aggressive as they needed to be to close out the game.
"In this league, you can never ease up," said Derek Carr. "You can't ease up in your mentality or anything really."
"I agree with coach. And that's something to become a great football team that we wanna be, we gotta keep the pedal down. We gotta keep the pedal down and that's if it's a tie ball game or we're up a lot or we're down a lot. Good football teams keep playing no matter what. I felt like we played hard, that's not a question, but I think that maybe there some things maybe slipped up here and there."
Once again, it's important to emphasize the Raiders won this game. That's the most important thing. It's a lot easier to lick your wounds in a fight you win than it is in a loss. So, in some ways it could be that much better, because the Raiders not only showed early the type of performance of which they're capable, but they can come out of it learning that they cannot ever ‘cruise to a win' or ‘win going away'. Winning teams don't cruise. They keep driving hard for the entire 60 minutes.