O.CO COLISEUM — Raiders head coach Tony Sparano told his team to win a football game.
Not to play a good game. Not to be competitive. To win.
The end result Sunday afternoon, though, fell just short. Competitive? Absolutely. A good football game? Without a doubt.
But the Raiders fell to the rival Chargers as a 29-yard Keenan Allen punt return set up a San Diego touchdown in the game’s final minutes to seal a toe-to-toe, 31-28 loss.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
After the game, Sparano told his team that he was proud. The Raiders hung in with the best team in the AFC by the numbers, and held the Chargers (5-1) to the most honest win of their season.
That doesn’t make it any tougher to swallow, as linebacker Sio Moore said:
“It’s something that we can build off of, but there’s more that we have got to do. We’ve got to find that place in us, the play, the correct type of situational football to come out with a win. That’s all that is, it’s just a situation that pisses me off. Because we’re not supposed to be in this locker room like this right now.”
“If anybody watched that game, you know we had that game won and sealed. And we’ve got to finish that. They’re not better than us. Period. … They’re not better than us, they’re just not. And we let them off the hook. As flat as that goes. … I don’t like this feeling, I don’t like this taste. I’m a little sick.”
The Raiders were able to pressure Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers for the better part of the game. They recorded three tackles for a loss against the run, something that has been a shortcoming for the team.
But Rivers got the best of them in the end, completing two crucial red zone drives for touchdowns. The Raiders had Rivers nailed to the wall on a number of plays, but Rivers found a way to escape, something Sparano said he was all too familiar with:
“With Phillip, I said this earlier in the week, if you don’t tackle him, he’s a guy that buys time. And he’s going to hurt you in those situations. He hurt us in one or two of those situations today. Might have been three of those situations today, where he kind of got outside the pocket, bought some time and found somebody in the scramble drill and made the chunk play.”
The Raiders fall to 0-5, their worst start since 2006, when they went 2-14 under then-head coach Art Shell.
Improvements in all phases
Quarterback Derek Carr had thrown just four touchdowns — and four interceptions — through the first four games. Carr added four more Sunday against the Chargers and their well-above average secondary.
Sparano and offensive coordinator Greg Olson made it they would take the metaphorical leash off of Carr, and did he ever shine.
The offensive line not only didn’t allow a single sack, they didn’t allow a San Diego defender to hit the rookie signal caller all day. There was only one tackle for loss allowed and the Oakland run game went off.
Three different Oakland defenders hit Rivers, too, and defensive end C.J. Wilson recorded his first sack of the season after taking over for defensive end Justin Tuck, who had left with a knee injury.
The run defense allowed only 3.9 yards per carry to rookie Branden Oliver, who torched the Jets top-notch run defense for 114 yards last week.
The team seems to be responding well to Sparano as interim head coach, if the numbers are any indication. The intensity with which they played could lead one to believe wins are coming, possibly in bunches.
Carr clearly has strong chemistry with his receivers, as seen on one-third down play where receiver James Jones ran a comeback route 12 to 15 yards downfield, then broke back to the quarterback for the ball.
The first was a deep ball to Holmes, who wiggled free of his coverage and took it 77 yards for six points. On the play, Carr said:
“I know people are trying to mess with the rookie, so I know they’re trying to show a pressure one way and bring it another way. I was a great play call from (Olson), perfect play call in that instance. I got (Holmes) doing a double move, and we caught them in the right play. (Holmes) did a great job of catching it and he finished it.”
Local kid finishes the win
The game ended on a spectacular interception by Chargers’ rookie corner Jason Verrett, who grew up 50 miles north of Oakland in Fairfield.
On a deep pass from Carr to Butler, Verrett was one-on-one with the game on the line. Verrett won, picking the pass and sealing the win for San Diego.
On the play, Verrett said:
“Come down with it, and when you see when I picked it, I had my hand up. I knew I had it. Happened to have two feet on the field for us to turn it over, so I’m excited. … It’s a surreal moment. All I could say is I’m blessed and just thankful I was able to make a play.”
Verrett welcomed about 50 friends and family members to the game, his father, sister, significant other. Everyone. Verrett was drafted at the end of the first round during May’s annual selection process.
Making the play more spectacular is that Verrett is only 5-foot-9 while Butler is 6-foot-3. Maybe it’s fitting that Verrett displayed his hops, since one of the biggest businesses in his hometown happens to be a Budweiser brewery.
Oakland hosts former Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday for their second consecutive home game.
The Raiders invested heavily in welcoming new offensive linemen during the offseason, and have allowed zero sacks in three of their five games this season. … Carr’s 77-yard and 47-yard touchdown passes marks the first time the Raiders have accrued two touchdown passes of 40-or-more yards since Jeff Hostetler accomplished the feat in 1996. Three of Carr’s four touchdown passes came on third down, one of several pluses for an Oakland team that has struggled mightily on either side of the football. It’s the second time a Raiders quarterback has done it since 1998, Rich Gannon did in 2000. … Linebacker Sio Moore tallied 10 tackles Sunday, the most of any player in the game.