The Raiders won the toss and deferred to give the Saints offense the ball first. The D stepped up big time. After two incompletions, Bruce Irvin got pressure on third down to get a strip sack. Jihad Ward recovered it and the Raiders were in business.
Business wasn’t good early on, with the offense unable to do anything. They would be lucky to get a field goal out of it for an early 3-0 lead.
We knew the Saints offense wouldn’t be held down long. They took the next drive to the Raiders 11-yard line where they would add a field goal to tie it up 3-3.
The Raiders’ offense would also come alive on their next drive, and they would finish it off with a touchdown. Amari Cooper would have catches for 35 and 34 yards on the drive. Latavius Murray burst up the middle for the 6-yard touchdown and the Raiders took a 10-3 lead.
The trading blows continued as the Saints then marched down the field to tie it back up again. On the first play of the drive, Willie Snead beat Sean Smith up the left sideline for 49 yards. Snead would finish it off with a 1-yard touchdown catch on fourth and goal.
That’s where the trading blows would end.
The Raiders’ next drive wouldn’t go far and they punted the ball away. The Saints answered with another touchdown drive highlighted by a 25-yard catch by Michael Thomas and finished off by a fantastic throw from Brees to Brandin Cooks between coverage from Keith McGill and DJ Hayden. The Saints took a 17-10 lead and carry that lead into the half.
Both teams had their shot in the two minute drill. The Raiders stopped the Saints even despite having a Bruce Irvin sack wiped away by a phantom pass interference call on DJ Hayden. The Raiders got the ball with 1:20 left and some bad playcalling, game management, and a slow ball placement by the officials kept them from being able to put any points on the board.
That deferment on the coin toss gave the Raiders the ball to being the second half. And they went three-and-out.
Midway through the third quarter, a Marquette King punt pinned the Saints at their own 2-yard-line. Then on the first play of the series, Brandin Cooks burnt Sean Smith up the left sideline. Drew Brees threw it to him in stride and he was gone for a 98-yard touchdown.
That was the second time Sean Smith had been burnt for big yardage up the sideline and the Raiders benched him after that, replacing him with DJ Hayden.
Then things would go off the rails for the Raiders offensive line. Menelik Watson had already been knocked out of the game with a groin injury. He was replaced by Matt McCants. Late in the Raiders drive at the end of the third quarter, McCants was also lost to injury.
With Austin Howard (ankle) and Vadal Alexander not active for the game, the Raiders had to get creative. They moved Donald Penn from left tackle to right tackle, Kelechi Osemele moved from left guard to left tackle, and Jon Feliciano – the last remaining active offensive lineman on the roster – came in at left guard.
Patchwork Oline and all, the Raiders would begin the fourth quarter with a touchdown drive. A 43-yard hookup with Amari Cooper followed by a 25-yard flick pass from Carr to Michael Crabtree would put them at the Saints 2-yard-line. Next play Jamize Olawale pounded it up the middle for the score.
Down 24-19, the Raiders opt to go for two to try and pull to within a field goal. Carr passes up an open Seth Roberts in the flat and throws incomplete to a covered Crabtree in the back of the end zone.
Pass interference penalties on Malcolm Smith and DJ Hayden would help the Saints to get back into scoring position. Denico Autry got a hand on the field goal attempt but it still went through to put the Saints up 27-19.
Down by a score, it was time for the Raiders to make a big play. They got that big play from undrafted rookie Jalen Richard. The Louisiana native took a handoff up the middle, broke several tackles and was gone 75 yards to paydirt. This time, the Raiders converted the 2-point attempt with Carr going up high to Amari Cooper at the right pylon to tie the game at 27-27.
It was a new game, but the celebration wouldn’t last long. Willie Snead, who had been gouging the Raiders all day, was wide open up the seam with DJ Hayden and Reggie Nelson both missing coverage. They chased Snead down and forced the fumble, but Michael Thomas scooped it up to give the Saints the ball in first and goal at the 2-yard-line. The Saints scored on the next play to take back the lead at 34-27.
With just over six minutes left, the Raiders got the ball and would control the clock for more than five minutes. A fourth down pass attempt for Jalen Richard fell incomplete, but the Saints were called for pass interference and the Raiders still had life with a first down at the Saints’ 13-yard-line. Two plays later, Carr went for Seth Roberts on a slant over the middle, Roberts spun out of a tackle attempt and was in for the touchdown.
Behind 34-33, all the Raiders had to do was kick the extra point to tie it up. But Jack Del Rio had other ideas.
The Raiders were going for two.
They lined up to go for two initially and had to call a timeout. Most thought the Raiders would think twice and opt to go for the extra point after all. But, no. They were going to two and that was that.
At the snap, Derek Carr was going for Michael Crabtree on a jump ball all the way. He put it where it needed to be and Crabtree went up for it and make a brilliant catch to convert and give the Raiders the 35-34 lead.
It wasn’t over yet, though, the Saints drive would start at their own 23-yard-line with :43 seconds remaining. On two plays (minus the spike) Brees would connect with his favorite target Willie Snead for 21 and 13 yards to put the Saints at the Oakland 43-yard-line and in position for a 61-yard field goal attempt.
The attempt would sail wide left as time expired and the Raiders would escape with a 35-34 come-from-behind season-opening win.
Drew Brees finished throwing for 423 yards and 4 touchdowns with no interceptions. His top two receivers were Willie Snead with 9 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown, and Brandin Cooks with 6 catches for 143 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Derek Carr threw for 319 yards and a touchdown with two converted two-point conversions. Amari Cooper was the Raiders’ leading receiver with 6 catches for 137 yards. That 75-yard run by Jalen Richard made him the Raiders leading rusher with 3 carries for 84 yards.