After 14 years the Raiders are finally back to the postseason and it couldn't feel better for Raider Nation. The best part of this playoff clinching win was that they got to do it in front of a home field crowd. Sure, it wasn't their stadium but that crowd was all Raiders unlike anything ever seen at an opposing team's field.
There are varying degrees of reports of the size of the crowd dedicated to the Silver and Black with people guessing anywhere from a low guess of 60% to a high guess of 80%. Being there I can tell you it was a hell of a lot closer to the 80% though and it was glorious. The Oakland fans were so loud throughout the hallways that you couldn't even think and you could see the embarrassment from the Chargers fans in attendance.
It's one thing to have a majority of the other team's fans like what usually has been happening at Qualcomm stadium when the Raiders come to town but this wasn't something else. This was a literal home field crowd at an away stadium, so much so that Chargers QB Philip Rivers said point blank that it was an away game for them in their own ballpark.
The crazy thing is that the Chargers still almost won the game despite the frustration they must have felt being at “home” and having to go with the silent count. The 12th man for the Raiders made a huge difference, it honestly feels like if San Diego had their fans in the stands like most teams do it would have been enough to get them those few more points they needed to win.
However, if they are going to let their stadium get so overrun like that then they deserve whatever comes next. What came next was the Raiders eeking out a victory that clinches a playoff birth and puts them back in the driver's seat for the AFC West title and a first round bye in the playoffs. It's all the more sweet that the playoffs come off the back of a divisional rival who has had their way with the Raiders far too often during the dark days gone past.
Another thing that was really awesome about this game is that yet again when the Oakland defense had to make a game winning stop they completely decimated the other team. This defense is really hitting their stride and has been playing much better of late, but even when they were struggling the most this season if they needed a stop to win the game they've done it all year.
The main reason they have been able to come up with these big stops? The tandem of Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack of course. It is simply amazing the way these guys have that extra gear of adrenaline on these game sealing defensive drives. The two completely terrorized Philip Rivers on those last 4 plays for the Chargers, and the sack that Irvin got on 2nd down was beyond huge. These two obviously love playing together and it's been a great success with Irvin being another great free agent signing from Reggie McKenzie.
Another free agent signing from McKenzie helped seal this win too with Reggie Nelson getting the interception on the 4th down pass from Rivers. It would have been fun to see him return it for a touchdown but it was unnecessary and I was yelling get down the whole time. The victory formation afterward will go down as an all time great regular season moment in the great history of this franchise.
The offense wasn't spectacular, but they still won even without having their elite offense on display. It was nerve rattling during the first half when they had 2 red zone turnovers. This game could have been a blow out if they scored on both of those but the turnovers kept the game extremely close. The Chargers defense deserves credit for making big plays there, but the offense needs to get back to their dominate ways in scoring position.
The end of the first half was an entirely different story though, there is nothing wrong with Derek Carr's 2 minute drill. It has been uncanny to watch the Raiders be able to turn it on and get down the field in a hurry before the end of the half time and time again. Carr has been the best 2 minute drill QB in the entire league, he thrives on the pressure which is the greatest part of Carr's game.
Oakland's special teams was the difference in this game though, the field position battle and Janikowski's 4 field goals were paramount to this win. After a rare bad game from Marquette King last week against Kansas City he turned it back up to full throttle in this one, his 64 yard punt with a 10 yard penalty tacked onto it was a thing of beauty.
It was awesome to see Sebastian Janikowski come through so big in the game that finally ended the playoff drought though. Jano is the longest tenured Raider and was actually on the team in the Gruden years, he has been knee deep in this horrid losing streak all along. Of all the players on this team, Janikowski really must be basking in the sun of finally making the playoffs again.
The season goals are not over yet though, the Indianapolis Colts are next and they are playing good football themselves. They just completely demolished the Minnesota Vikings and the Vikings had to win to keep themselves in playoff contention. A win against them sets the Raiders up for a huge game against Denver after that which would guarantee them the AFC West and either the 1 or more likely the 2 seed.
Enjoy this moment everyone, it's been a really long time coming. Some of you out there were in elementary school the last time the Raiders clinched a playoff birth, and some of you were even younger than that. This is what we have all been waiting for, it's finally the return to glory that the Raider Nation has had over a decade of yearning for.
Now let's hope this team finishes the season off right and comes home with the division crown after the next two games of tough football. The playoffs don't technically start for another 3 weeks but make no mistake, they are already here as far as this team is concerned.
They may have clinched a wild card already, but that is only the first of many goals the Raiders hope to accomplish this season. One thing is for certain though, Al Davis would be proud of this team and proud of what Mark Davis has accomplished since taking over as owner. You know he wouldn’t be satisfied yet though, there is too much more to do before satisfaction comes.