Last Sunday the Raiders kept it rolling, winning their fifth straight game to improve to 9-2. But they just couldn’t stand to make it easy. They had to give their fans heart palpitations.
What began as a lopsided game with the Raiders jumping out to a 24-7 lead at the half, turned into a hard fought come-from-behind narrow victory.
The comeback was spurred by Derek Carr dislocating his finger. The Panthers reeled off 25 unanswered points to take a 32-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. Carr got back on track to pick the offense back up while the defense also shook off their woes to pull out the 35-32 win.
When the defense was at its best – which they were for all but one quarter – it was Mack who led the way. While the Raiders were holding the Panthers to just one score in the first half, he put up four run stops and a pressure for an incompletion.
The offense had a chance late in the first half to put up another score, but couldn’t do anything with it, instead punting it away, giving the Panthers’ offense the last chance to score. They got the ball at their own 9-yard-line with 1:46 left. Mack made the tackle on a 4-yard run to start it off. Then in second down from the 13-yard-line, the Panthers set up a screen. Mack, as he has done many times in his career, sniffed out the screen. Usually that means he’s in position to make the tackle. But he was in the Panthers’ backfield between Cam Newton and his receiver, so he made the snap move to reach up and intercept it, and easily returning the ball six yards for the score. That was the exclamation point on a solid first half, giving the Raiders a commanding 24-7 lead.
Next thing you know, the Panthers had scored three touchdowns. But the defense wasn’t entirely to blame. The first touchdown came off the Carr fumble, the second was on basically one long pass play, an the third off an interception.
With the Raiders now down, Mack was able to go back to work. He had a run stuff and a pressure on the ensuring drive, but another long pass play had the Panthers add to their lead. The Raiders offense got going in the fourth to take the lead back 35-32 and the game would be put in the hands of the defense. Mack and the defense decided they were going to go end it and that’s just what he did.
It wasn’t easy, though. Two completions for 31 yards and the Panthers were at the Oakland 44-yard-line, approaching field goal range. The next play Mack got pressure on Newton to force an incompletion. Two plays later, he would get pressure around the edge again and Newton threw the ball away. An incompletion set up fourth and ten. Facing a 61-yard field goal, the Panthers went for it.
With the game on the line, Cam Newton dropped back, surveyed the field quickly, cocked his arm back and before he could launch it, there was Mack to swat his arm down. Mack had bullrushed his blocker back, then dipped inside, making a bee line for Newton and in an instant swiped down on Newton’s arm for the strip sack. Mack then alertly fell on the ball and the game was a few kneel downs from another Raiders win.
An interception returned for a touchdown, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a team-leading 6 solo tackles is about a good a day as you’ll see.
With the run game once again not functioning, the Raiders offense rested on the arm of Derek Carr. At the end of that arm is very important fingers. One of which was dislocated in two places in the third quarter, leaving the game and indeed the Raiders season in the balance.
Carr was having a great game and the Raiders were very much in control after the first half. He was 14 of 19 for 167 yards and a touchdown for a 117.7 passer rating.
Among his first half highlights was a 24-yard pass to Seth Roberts on the team’s second drive that set up a touchdown pass to Roberts from two yards out to take a 7-0 lead. That drive was followed up by one in which Carr connected with Johnny Holton for 30 yards to set up the Raiders’ second touchdown to take a 14-7 lead.
A field goal and the Mack pick six had the Raiders looking very much in control. But Rodney Hudson’s butt had other plans.
Carr took the second snap on the third quarter and jammed his pinky finger on his center’s apparently very solid backside, dislocating the finger in two places. Carr instantly dropped the ball, clutched his hand and ran to the sideline. The Panthers recovered the ball and drove for a score.
Even with Carr returning after just one series, he wasn’t out of the woods yet. He would throw an interception on his first drive with that turnover also resulting in a Panthers touchdown. A third touchdown early in the fourth, and Carr found himself in familiar territory – down late.
He seems to do his best work in these situations, it seems. Down 32-24, Carr rallied the troops and went on a long drive. He went 5 of 6 for 47 yards and a TD on the drive. That included two 3rd down conversions. In first down at the 12-yard-line, he threw a pass to Clive Walford in the back of the end zone and Walford made the diving grab for the score. Still down 32-30, they went for two. Carr rolled right and threw a laser between defenders to Roberts for the tie.
All that remained was the win. He would get that on two consective passes to Michael Crabtree. The first play Carr recognized a mismatch with Crab defended by linebacker AJ Klein (who was replacing Luke Kuechly) and who had his back turned. He threw it for Crab who plucked it out of the air for 49 yards. The next play, he went for Crabtree on a back shoulder pass up the left sideline for 15 yards. After that, they ran some clock and lined up for a chipshot field goal to take the final lead of the game.
Carr finished 26 of 38 for 315 yards, 2 touchdowns, and one interception. Not bad for a guy who was wearing a glove most of the second half and had to take all his snaps in shotgun formation.
I would like to begin my praise of Roberts by pointing out a bit of an oversight on my part last week. He was listed as a Buster for his drops and lack of production, but he deserves a great deal of credit for the block he laid on his defender that helped Amari Cooper for his 39-yard game-winning touchdown catch. I missed its importance upon my initial viewing and noticed my oversight on subsequent viewings. Not to mention, there was an identical play in this game in which Cooper did NOT get that block Roberts had laid and the result was Coop was stopped for a short gain.
It's only appropriate then, that the first good play Roberts made was a block that helped spring Latavius Murray on his 32-yard screen. The next play, Roberts showed up as a receiver, catching a 24-yard pass from Carr. That catch put the Raiders in first and goal from the 6-yard-line. Three plays later, in third and goal from the two, Roberts got behind his defender and Carr put it up high for him to make the catch for the first touchdown of the day.
The next time we heard from Roberts was when the Raiders needed a successful two-point conversion to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. He was bracketed by defenders and Carr fit the ball in to him on a ball that had some fire on it, which Roberts clutched securely in his gut for the 2-point conversion to tie it up at 32-32, completing the comeback.
After probably his worst game as a pro, and certainly his worst as a Raider, he bounced back in a big way this week. He had to get a drop out of the way first, though, which he had on the Raiders second touchdown drive.
The following drive, he had an 8-yard catch and a 10-yard catch in which he eluded a tackler behind the line and picked up 10 yards to the 6-yard line. The Raiders would add a field goal for a 17-7 lead.
He began the second half with a 9-yard catch. When Carr returned from his injury, Crab made a short catch to convert a third down. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Raiders down by their largest margin, 32-24, he got things started with a 9-yard catch. A few plays later, he caught a 7-yard pass to convert on third and 3. With the drive still alive, the Raiders scored the touchdown and two-point conversion to tie it up.
His best was yet to come, however. With the Raiders in third and 9, Crabtree went up the seam, with linebacker AJ Klein draped all over him, but not facing the ball, Crabs made a tough catch and Klein not only interfered with him, but ripped his helmet off on the way down. Klein was attempting to give up the 15-yard penalty to keep from giving up the yards (49), but Crabtree wouldn’t be denied.
On the next play, Crabtree got a step on his defender up the left sideline and when the defender turned to face the quarterback, it was too late, Crabtree had stopped route and took the back shoulder pass for a 15-yard gain before the defender even knew what happened. That catch was enough to move the Raiders into easy field goal range at the 17. Just some clock running was left and the field goal to go ahead a final time.
Mack received some gushing praise from Irvin after the game. Irvin openly asked us why we wanted to speak to him. That he’s ‘Robin’ and referring to Mack as Batman. He said things like he was “blessed to be in his presence” and called him a future Hall of Famer. I think Irvin was being a bit too modest.
He had a pretty good game in his own rite, even if it was overshadowed by Mack’s herculean efforts.
The first pressure the Raiders put on Newton came from Irvin to start out the Panthers’ second possession with an incompletion. Early in the second quarter, he had a major role in forcing a three-and-out, by getting in the backfield to steer a run for no gain and then sacking Newton on third down.
Late in the third quarter, he had a run stuff and swatted down a pass attempt at the line. Then on the Panthers final drive to try to tie it, he got pressure from the right side to flush Newton from the pocket and force him to throw the ball away to set up third and ten.
This kind of performance was long overdue for Walford. His first solid play was a seal block that allowed Latavius Murray to get the left edge to run for the Raiders’ second touchdown. His first catch was on Carr’s first pass after returning with his new glove. It went for 17 yards.
Walford’s biggest contribution came early in the fourth quarter. With the team in third and 11, in need of a touchdown, he caught a 14-yard pass to put the Raiders in first down at the Carolina 12-yard-line. The next play, Carr threw for him again and Walford made a gorgeous catch in the back of the end zone, leaping in the air and twisting his body to pull it in and coming down with the touchdown. After the two-point conversion, the game was tied up. That was a clutch catch by the second year tight end who has had his struggles this season, but looks to be progressing of late.
Early in the game, he teamed up with Mack on a couple run stuffs and kept his position to help with a third early in the third quarter. That’s nice work and all, but that’s not why he’s here.
Time and time again, Autry has shown an innate ability to knock down passes and kicks at the line. He had another in this game and it turned out to be one of the biggest plays of the day.
After the Carr fumble, the Panthers drove for a touchdown. But they wouldn’t get the extra point, because Autry drove up the middle and got his hands in the air to block it. The Panthers would score again a short time later and, being that they were down five, they went for two to try and make it a three-point game. That attempt failed to keep it 24-19. Another score followed and now being up one point, they again lined up to go for two and again they were unsuccessful. A final touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and the Panthers opted for the extra point instead to make it an 8-point game.
That one blocked extra point was the only reason the Raiders were looking at a one-score game after the Panthers’ onslaught of scoring. What would have been 28 unanswered became 25. And instead of driving for the tie late in the game, the Raiders drove for the win. Big play.
Latavius Murray – Not big numbers, but his 32-yard screen got the first scoring drive started, and he had a 6-yard run on third and 3 along with the 4-yard touchdown run for the Raiders’ second score.