Guard Gabe Jackson and Running Back Latavius Murray
Heading into the Oakland Raiders Week 12 matchup with the Carolina Panthers, we posed five questions that we were hoping to have answered Sunday afternoon at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Although the Silver and Black made it interesting down the stretch, Derek Carr and the Raiders handled business, and beat the Panthers 35-32.
The Raiders have now won five games in a row – and secured their first winning season in 14 years – so now that the clash with Carolina is squarely in the rearview mirror, let's find out if our questions were answered.
1. Can the Raiders find a way to limit Cam Newton?
In short, yes, but in particular, the Raiders did an outstanding job of keeping Newton contained through the first 30 minutes of game action.
When the teams returned to the locker room at halftime, with the Raiders owning a 24-7 lead, the reigning NFL MVP had been nearly completely shut down by the Silver and Black's defense, as he had completed just three passes for 18 total yards, including one pick six by Khalil Mack.
However, Newton roared back with a vengeance in the second half, throwing for 228 yards and a pair of touchdowns, albeit it in a losing effort.
"He's a tough quarterback, and he's a great leader for that team," said Khalil Mack of Newton. "We've seen that he was put in a position to win that game. You could tell down the stretch he made some great plays for that offense."
Newton certainly did make some spectacular plays for the Panthers, but in the game's final moments, when the pressure was the highest, Mack forced a strip sack of Newton, recovering the football himself, to secure the Raiders ninth win of the regular season.
2. Will the run game reignite?
While it wasn't the type of dominating rushing game that the Raiders had become accustomed to earlier in the season, the Silver and Black were at least able to get a little bit of production on the ground, particularly in the second half when they absolutely had to get some yards on the ground.
DeAndré Washington was a healthy inactive for Sunday's game, so the bulk of the ground work was done by the tandem of Latavius Murray and Jalen Richard.
At the end of Sunday's game, the Raiders had run the ball 30 times for 55 yards, but -13 yards rushing by Derek Carr skews that number just a tad.
If you take away Carr's four rushes for the aforementioned negative yardage, Murray and Richard finished the day with 26 carries for a respectable 68 yards and one touchdown.
For the second week in a row, the Raiders were unable to hit the century mark on the ground, but when Derek Carr is firing on all cylinders, throwing for over 300 yards, 68 yards on the ground will suffice.
3. Can Khalil Mack record a sack for the sixth game in a row?
Oh yes he will, and then some.
Not only did Mack cement the Raiders ninth win with a strip sack of Cam Newton – recovering the fumble himself – on the Panthers final offensive play of the afternoon, but he also put together one of the most complete efforts of his young career.
When the clock hit 0:00, and the Raiders had escaped with a 35-32 win over the Panthers, the All-Pro defensive end had tallied six tackles, one sack, three quarterback hits, one interception, one pass defensed, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
"He's a really good football player," Head Coach Del Rio said of Mack. "That's what I've been saying. Earlier in the year there was discussion about what about his numbers and I said, you know what I said. I think you were there. He's going to get his numbers. He's a good football player and he brings great energy every day.
No. 52 was absolutely dominant for most of Sunday's win, and with his impressive performance, the Raiders third-year pass rusher has now vaulted himself into the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year consideration. 4. Will the short week affect the Silver and Black?
If you look at the first two quarters of the Raiders game Sunday afternoon, the resounding answer to that question would be, no, as the first half of Sunday's game at the OACC was quite possibly the most complete half of football the Raiders have played this season.
Not only was the offense in a groove, but the defense had rendered Cam Newton almost completely ineffective, and the Silver and Black look poised to run away with the game.
However, Newton and the Panthers roared back in a big way, at one point even taking the lead before the Raiders were able to win the game on a 23-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal.
"We knew we'd get their very best," Head Coach Del Rio said. "Just proud of our guys for hanging in there and finding a way. That's been the theme for us this year."
These 2016 Raiders aren't making excuses for anything, but they certainly didn't look to be hampered by having one less day to prepare.
That being said though, I'm quite sure the players will appreciate a return to their usual schedule this week.
5. Will Greg Olsen be a factor?
Although the Pro Bowl tight end played all 65 of the Panthers offensive snaps, Olsen didn't really get into the mix offensively for Carolina.
Olsen was tied for the team lead with four receptions, but he only tallied 45 yards, and was kept out of the end zone en route to the Panthers 35-32 loss at the OACC.
Heading into the Week 12 game, defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.'s group knew that limiting Olsen would be paramount to success defensively, and give the group credit, that's exactly what they did.
"We knew that coming into the game that he [Olsen] was one of [Newton's] top targets, so we were going to have to do a good job on him playing man or zone," safety Karl Joseph said. "We had to keep our eye on him, and I felt like we did a good job of that."