Dubbed "The Relocation Bowl" Thursday night could very well have been the last time the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders ever play each other. That is until one or both of them has a different city in the name and perhaps even before both of them shack up together in Southern California. All that will be decided in a few weeks. For now, there was an actual football game to be played.
While playing in San Diego, it has the feel of a home game, nothing in San Diego could compare to the home atmosphere the Raiders felt in Oakland on this night. It was a blackout of the best kind, with fans almost universally in black and very few Chargers fans among them. Some were there to see the Raiders in their last game of the season or perhaps their last in Oakland, but most were there to bid farewell to one of the greatest players to ever don a Raiders uniform - Charles Woodson.
Woodson was sent off with a victory in his home finale - albeit an ugly one that went into overtime. It was a game that featured the Raiders with a total of -10 receiving yards in the first half and without a single first down conversion in the second half.
They came on just enough in the overtime period to get out of their own way and win the game 23-20. Woodson got a Gatorade shower, gave a postgame speech, finishing with "Though this may be my last game in the Coliseum, I will never leave you."
The Raiders needed a lot of help from the Chargers and a bit of luck to come out winners.
This Top Baller nod was a long time coming. Autry has been downright brilliant this season for the Raiders. This former undrafted free agent who spent a good portion of his rookie season on the practice squad, has come on like gangbusters in his second season.
A nose for the ball, Autry has become known for tipping the ball at the line, whether it be a pass or a kick. He had another one in this game and a sack as well - his third of the season.
His stats weren't gaudy, but that's what Ballers & Busters is really about. For instance, he made the first play of the game, when he got around DJ Fluker to force a holding penalty. That's a big play that won't show up in the stats, but set the Chargers back to first and 20.
Autry made the first play of the second quarter, with a run stuff for a 2-yard gain.
Early in the third quarter, with the Chargers up 17-10, Malcolm Smith found a hole up the middle on the blitz and shot through for the sack and a 5-yard loss. That hole was there because Autry got pressure right at the snap and the Chargers double teamed him. Yet again, a big play that escapes the stats.
What does make the stats are sacks. And with the Chargers at their own 6-yard line, Autry's sack happened in the end zone for a safety. For a team that was doing nothing on offense in the second half, that safety was desperately needed. It brought the Raiders to down 17-12. Then later in the game, when the Raiders scored a touchdown plus a two-point conversion, that became a three-point lead.
Down 20-17, the Chargers began their drive. Still outside field goal range at the Oakland 45-yard-line, Autry got pressure on two consecutive plays to force incompletions and put them in third and 10. That may have been enough to keep them from scoring if not for a DJ Hayden pass interference penalty on the next play.
The game would go to overtime, with the defense holding to retain the victory. It's an overtime that would not have happened if not for the play of Autry.
Every bit of offensive success the Raiders had in this game at Murray's footprints all over it. They began the game with a touchdown drive. On that drive, Murray represented 43 yards of offense, including 3 carries for 33 yards and the drive capping 22-yard touchdown run.
Their next scoring drive came in the second quarter. Murray had 31 yards of offense on that drive including 5 carries for 28 yards. That set up a 52-yard field goal to pull to down 14-10. In the first half, the Raiders offense had a total of 64 yards. And Murray had 86 yards of offense. Wrap your head around that one.
In the second half, the offense could do little to nothing. They had zero first downs, and only two plays that went farther than five yards - a 14-yard screen play to Murray (on second and 15) and an 8-yard run by Murray. Murray finished with two runs for 10 yards on the Raiders OT scoring drive. He finished the game as the second leading receiver with 38 yards on five catches along with 19 rushes for 79 yards and a touchdown for a total of 117 yards from scrimmage.
In some ways, having King on this list is not a good thing. You never want your punter to be heavily featured. Better to have him cooling his heels on the sideline. Unfortunately for the Raiders, King was needed quite a bit in this game. Eight times to be exact. And seven of those punts were outstanding.
His only non-spectacular punt of the game was his first punt of the day. And even that one was not bad. He was punting out of his own end zone and it traveled 43 yards. After a facemask penalty on the return, the Chargers were set up at the 31-yard-line and converted the field position into a touchdown.
Six of his seven other punts landed inside the San Diego 20-yard line. The other one traveled 54 yards in the air to the 22-yard-line.
All of King's masterful boots came in the Raiders' inept offensive second half. They went thusly: 48 yards to the 13-yard-line, 42 yards to the 8-yard-line, 51-yards to the 9-yard-line, 53 yards to the 16-yard-line, 44 yards to the 10-yard-line, and 65 yards which the Chargers let go to the 12-yard-line to end regulation. He now leads the NFL in punts inside the 20-yard-line (39) and punts downed (20).
He had a run stuff tackle on the Chargers second possession to help hold it to a three-and-out. He began the second half by making the tackle on the kick return short of the 20-yard-line. With the Chargers up 17-12, and looking to extend the lead, he had a tackle for loss on a pass into the flat and a couple plays later had a run stuff for no gain. On the very next play, he had coverage on an in completion on third and ten. The Chargers were so angry about it, they were called for unsportsmanlike conduct and were backed up a little farther which put their field goal attempt at 53 yards out. Heeney later made the key stop in overtime, making the tackle on a 2-yard catch on third and four. It set up fourth down and Rivers' pass fell incomplete to seal the win.
Smith had his issues in coverage in this game. It has been a bit of a problem for him this season and it was an issue in this game as well. He also gave up a big 21-yard catch and run to Danny Woodhead late in the game. Outside of that, he made several crucial plays to help the Raiders get this win that overshadow his deficiencies.
His first two big plays came back to back on the Chargers' first series of the third quarter. The first was a run stuff for a loss and the second was a blitz up the middle for a sack and a loss of five yards.
His biggest play, and one of the biggest in this game, came late. With five minutes left in the game, the Chargers were on the move. They had just picked up 27 yards on a Dann Woodhead run up the middle that put them at the 38-yard-line. Rivers completed a pass to tight end David Johnson four yard out. Smith was there to make the tackle and while he did, he punched the ball out where it was recovered by Benson Mayowa and returned to the 3-yard-line. It set up the touchdown and a 3-point-lead. Huge, pivotal play. Oh, and Smith led the team with 14 tackles (11 solo).
He led the team in catches (6) and yards (39), which isn't saying a lot considering how little the receivers were getting in this game. But he had several key receptions in this game. The biggest one was his fantastic grab in the left side of the endzone for the touchdown off of the aforementioned forced fumble and return. He also added three catches in the overtime drive for 23 yards including an 8-yard grab on third and six. One of those catches he was nailed by the defender and it drew an unnecessary roughness penalty for leading with the helmet on a defenseless receiver. Despite the hard hit, he held onto the ball. The penalty gave the Raiders a first down on third and 29.
He had no sacks and wasn't the dominating force he had been for a few weeks. But he was still a major factor. On the Chargers' first drive off of the Derek Carr interception, he had a run stuff for no gain at the one-yard-line. It at least made the Chargers wait one more play to score.
In the third quarter, he pressured Philip Rivers to force an incompletion on third down.
Then he was a big part of one of the more bizarre series of events you'll see in a football game. The Chargers had strung together a long drive in the fourth quarter, looking to extend their 17-12 lead. They were setup in first down at the Oakland 20-yard-line. A play later, Mack got a bit of pressure and tipped the Rivers' pass incomplete to set up third and ten. Mack again got pressure, forcing a quick throw out short left where Heeney had Danny Woodhead covered. Woodhead thought it should have been pass interference and so did the Chargers' coaches. They berated the officials and were flagged for it.
After the flag, what was to be a chip shot 38-yard field goal was then a 53-yarder. Even still, the kick was true and the Chargers were to go up 20-12. But Mack was called for holding on the field goal. The penalty gave the Chargers a first down and they took that over the points. The Chargers threw what appeared to be a long touchdown pass on the next play, but it was ruled incomplete after review. Two plays later, the Chargers were again lining up for a field goal to extend the lead - this time from 48 yards out. And this time he missed. So, after all that, the Chargers came away with no points.
A three and out would give the Chargers the ball right back. On the second play, Mack had a run stuff and the following play was the forced fumble and return to near the goal line which led to the go-ahead touchdown. Mack would finish up with a stop on the Chargers' final drive of regulation and a stop on their final series of the game to help seal the win.
Sometimes a play or two is enough to make the Ballers. Such was the case with Roberts. He caught the short pass to convert the 2-point conversion that put the Raiders up three late. Then he caught a pass off a tipped ball and took it 33 yards, dragging defenders for the final few yards to set up what would be the game-winning field goal in overtime.
Ken Norton Jr
The Raiders have won two of their last three games almost solely due to the play of the defense. Both were division games too. Norton deserves some credit for that. It's one thing to make enough plays on defense to win it, but the defense of late is flat out winning games for the Raiders. Funny how a few weeks ago it was the complete opposite. Not since week 9 against the Steelers has the offense been the driving force of the team. And even with the losses of Justin Tuck, Aldon Smith, and Nate Allen the Raiders defense has been playing its best football of the season.
Benson Mayowa, TJ Carrie - Mayowa scooped up the fumble and Carrie laid a big block to help him return it 40 yards to the 3-yard-line. Both had fairly good games overall as well.
Justin Ellis - Was stout in the middle, making 3 solo tackles with a couple being stuffs at the line.
Raider fans - I never do this. But what a showing and outpouring by the fans in this game. Almost entirely black in the crowd going nuts for Woodson and the Raiders. It was something to behold. Also, important to note that in St Louis and San Diego, stadiums are sparsely populated with home fans. If not for the thousands of "Stay in Oakland" signs in the crowd, you'd never know the Raiders were talking relocation as well. I applaud you all.
If we are honest with ourselves, Woodson was closer to a Buster. But it was going to take a lot more to land him among the Busters for his farewell game. And he also made a couple big plays to balance it out some anyway.
His first play of the game was a big one. In the second quarter, just after the Raiders added a field goal, he came up from his safety spot to nail Chargers running back Donald Brown for no gain on third and one. The Chargers next possession, he and Amerson let a receiver get between them for a 20 yard catch on the way to the Chargers adding a field goal to take a 17-10 halftime lead.
Woodson ended the Chargers first series of the third quarter when he and David Amerson had tight coverage on a long pass attempt on third and 16. After that, there wasn't much to celebrate from CWood. Late in the fourth, he missed a tackle on a 12-yard catch on third and 11 which put the Chargers in first down at the Oakland 20-yard-line. Luckily they took that penalty on the made field goal, had the touchdown pass go incomplete, and miss the shorter field goal or that could have been a damaging play.
The next series featured a brutal run by Danny Woodhead that broke Woodson's ankles (figuratively) and Woodhead went for 27 yards. The turnover saved that one. A Betweener he is, but a winner in his final home game he is as well.
Amerson's day got off to a horrendous start. First drive by the Chargers, he gave up a 12-yard catch to put them at the one-yard-line. Second series, he gave up a 17-yard catch on first down. Third drive, he fell down on an attempted pick play to give up a 7-yard touchdown catch. The Chargers' final drive, Amerson gave up a 20-yard catch in the zone.
That was his first half which was Buster worthy to be certain. His second half, he flipped the script.
He and Woodson had tight coverage on the deep receiver to end the Chargers' first drive on third and 16. The next series, the Chargers went three-and-out with Amerson having a pass defended on second down, and a tackle on a 4-yard catch on third and 7. That 4-yard catch was the only reception he surrendered in the second half or overtime. He later had tight coverage on an incompletion on the Chargers' final drive of regulation.