Defensive End Khalil Mack
Before the Oakland Raiders and Raider Nation invaded Qulacomm Stadium Sunday afternoon, we posed five questions that we had heading into the Week 15 matchup.
The Silver and Black took care of business, beating the Chargers 19-16, earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2002 in the process.
Now that Derek Carr and Co. have secured a spot in the postseason, let's take a look back and see if we received answers to our questions.
1. Can Derek Carr bounce back?
Boy, Derek Carr sure likes fourth quarters, doesn't he?
With the Raiders down 16-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, Carr did what he's seemed to do best in recent weeks, engineering a pair of drives that resulted in six points for the Silver and Black, including what would turn out to be the game winning field goal by Sebastian Janikowski.
The Raiders signal-caller has now engineered seven fourth quarter comebacks this season, which is the most in the AFC, and good for second in the NFL.
In total, Carr finished the Week 15 win 19 of 30 for 213 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
While it might not have been the prettiest offensive output of the season, DC was certainly efficient in the biggest moments of the game, which no doubt helped the Raiders secure their 11th win of the regular season.
"Stats are fun for people to look at and try to compare, but we just want to win," said Carr postgame. "I promise, there is something in everyone in that locker room and I think that's why we win. Our mindset is we just want to go out there, do our job and help the man next to us so that we can win."
2. Will Nate Allen continue to step up?
Yes, he will.
The veteran safety played every one of the Raiders 55 defensive snaps, finishing the game with six tackles, and one pass defensed, and providing a solid presence on the back end of the Raiders defense along with Reggie Nelson.
"We just know what time of the year it is," Allen said postgame. "This is the time of the year when defenses around the league have to really hone in, and if your defense is getting better and better, and getting to the peak this time of the year, it's always a good thing, because once you get into the playoffs, the defense is what makes it go."
The defense certainly shown a marked improvement over the past several weeks, and it should be commended for limiting Philip Rivers to just 206 passing yards throughout Sunday's game.
Rookie safety Karl Joseph didn't practice at all last week, so as of now it's unclear of when he'll return to the gridiron, but Allen has done an admirable job being back in the starting lineup as of late.
3. Will Mario Edwards Jr. make his 2016 debut?
While Edwards Jr. has been back on the practice field for just about two weeks, No. 97 wasn't quite ready to strap the pads on get to work against the San Diego Chargers.
Head Coach Del Rio was asked about Edwards' status Friday afternoon, and said that while the second-year defensive end wouldn't suit up against the Chargers, the hope was that he'd be ready to go Christmas Eve when the Silver and Black take on the Indianapolis Colts.
Even without Edwards on the field, the Raiders were able to effectively generate a pass rush against Rivers and the Chargers, tallying three sacks and seven quarterback hits en route to the 19-16 win.
Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin form one of the more formidable edge rushing duos in the NFL, and hopefully with Edwards back in the fold Saturday, the defensive line as a whole will get even scarier.
4. Who will make more of an impact, Khalil Mack or Joey Bosa?
First things first, I'm excited that we get to watch the Mack/Bosa battle for the next few years when they square off twice a year in division play.
Both players are in the upper echelon of pass rushers in the NFL, and both Mack and Bosa certainly made their impact in Sunday's game.
Mack finished the game with four tackles and two quarterback hits, and while his streak of consecutive games with a sack ended in San Diego, he was still active along the Raiders defensive line all afternoon.
Similarly, Bosa enjoyed another strong day against the Silver and Black, notching his seventh sack of the season, while also recording four tackles, one tackle for loss, and one quarterback hit.
At just 25 and 21 respectively, both Mack and Bosa are still in the early stages of their careers, but don't let their age fool you, there are big things ahead of both those young players.
5. Will the Raiders punch their ticket to the postseason?
Yes they will, as the Silver and Black are headed back to the postseason for the first time since 2002.
"I'm just happy," Carr said postgame. "You saw the equipment guys high fiving each other, and the training staff too. That's the kind of stuff that makes my day. Throughout all of the fun times and the hard times, that's the stuff that makes my day."
Not only did the Raiders earn their way into the postseason in just their second year under Head Coach Jack Del Rio, but as a result of the Kansas City Chiefs last-second loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Silver and Black are back atop the AFC West.
The Raiders have two games left on the docket before they officially embark on their postseason journey, but the group still has a lot to play for in those pair of matchups, mainly the right to be division champions.
"Our number one goal was always to win the AFC West," defensive tackle Dan Williams said. "That's in the back of our minds, and we're just going to continue to take it one day at a time. Like Coach always says, trust the process, respect the process, and everything else will take care of itself."
It's definitely an exciting time for Raider Nation, but give the players credit for still being cognizant of the fact that they still have bigger goals ahead of them.