Wide Receiver Amari Cooper
It once again came down to the final minute, but the Oakland Raiders handled their business, and beat the San Diego Chargers 34-31 Sunday afternoon at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
With the win, the Silver and Black now own a 4-1 record – their best start since 2002 – with another AFC West matchup on the horizon next weekend.
Head Coach Jack Del Rio and his squad will welcome the Kansas City Chiefs to the Bay Area next Sunday, but before we look ahead to the Week 6 tilt, here are five takeaways from the Raiders win over the Chargers.
1. Once again, the Raiders kept it exciting
The Raiders have now earned four wins, and of those four wins, three of them have been by three-or-fewer points.
That pattern held true again Sunday, as the Silver and Black beat the Chargers by a field goal, and made enough plays in key situations to come away with a hard-fought victory over an AFC West foe.
"In fair, our guys hung in there [and] made enough plays to go home happy today," said Head Coach Del Rio postgame. "That's what the idea is, come out of here with a smile on your face, and celebrate being tied for first after five weeks. We're happy with that. Obviously, not always all you want. We were only 1-of-3 in the red zone today. We've been on fire down there, but we did get the one we needed."
The difference between a win and a loss is razor thin in the NFL, and for the past several weeks, the Raiders have found themselves on the winning side of that line, routinely rising to the occasion, and taking advantage of their opportunities in the final moments of the game.
These Raiders are cool under pressure, and don't seem to be fazed by the big moment, something that might not have been the case just a few seasons ago.
2. The Silver and Black own a share of AFC West lead
The Denver Broncos lost to the Atlanta Falcons 23-16 Sunday afternoon, dropping their overall record to 4-1 after five weeks of regular season play.
With the loss, combined with the Raiders win, the two teams now sit tied atop the AFC West, and as happy as Derek Carr and Co., are to be in that position, the Raiders quarterback knows the road ahead of the Silver and Black is still a long one.
"It's nice, but the road still goes through Denver," Carr said during his postgame press conference. "They are the Super Bowl champs, division champs. I will always pay their respects to them, because that's what they earned. We've earned absolutely nothing yet. We've earned four wins in five games, which is a great feeling. It feels very nice, trust me, don't twist that, it feels really nice, but we haven't done anything yet."
Carr's right, the Raiders haven't won anything just yet, and division champs aren't crowned in early-October, but it's certainly significant that the Raiders have put themselves in an advantageous situation thus far.
The Broncos travel to Oakland for a November 6 showdown at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, so be sure to circle your calendars.
That one will be fun.
3. Amari Cooper had himself a ballgame
We can all stop talking about how Amari Cooper hasn't scored a touchdown now, as he found the end zone for the first time in 2016 Sunday afternoon against the Chargers.
In total, Cooper finished the day with six catches for 138 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, and was just inches away from having two more, a fact that Carr brought up postgame.
"I was happy that we won, but him [Cooper] and I looked at each other and said, 'man, we left too much out there,'" Carr said. "We left so much out there; it's too much. We can't do that. We're not going to get away with that every time."
There are assuredly a few plays that Cooper would like to have back from Sunday's win, but the second-year receiver is quickly, and quietly, growing into one of the more electrifying wideouts in the NFL, and Sunday's effort just solidified that fact.
4. For the first time this season, the red zone proved problematic
Coming into the Week 5 matchup, the Silver and Black had been a dominant force in the red zone, coming away with 10 touchdowns in their 11 trips inside the 20-yard line.
However, the same could not be said Sunday afternoon, as the Raiders were just 1-of-3 in red zone situations.
Yes, Sebastian Janikowsi enjoyed a solid day, connecting on four of his five field goal attempts, with his lone missing coming from 50 yards out, but if the Raiders offense had been able to convert on one, or both, of its trips to the red zone, Sunday's game likely doesn't come down to the final minute.
The Raiders singular red zone touchdown was a well-timed one, as it put the team ahead 10 in the early stages of the fourth quarter, but going forward, the Silver and Black would be well served to return to their previously dominant ways in the red zone.
Field goals are nice, but touchdowns are always better.
5. The Raiders defense made the Chargers offense one dimensional
When all was said and done, and the Raiders had beaten the Chargers 34-31, Philip Rivers had completed 21 of 30 passes for 359 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Now, having an opposing quarterback go over 300 yards passing for the third time in the young season, isn't necessarily ideal, but on a positive note, the Raiders defense did successfully make the Chargers one dimensional, allowing just 72 yards on the ground in Sunday's win.
"I will say, one good thing, we held them under 100 [rushing] yards today," defensive tackle Dan Williams said. "[Melvin Gordon] had one go today, but another thing is, we've been trying to get more pressure, help on the back end, take some pressure off those guys, and we know that everything works together, but we're just trying to step it up more on our end."
The Raiders did indeed surrender their fair share of big plays to the Chargers, but they were able to make the San Diego offense one dimensional, something that the defense as a whole should be pleased with.
Is there room for improvement going forward? Absolutely, but the defense rose up when necessary, and forced Rivers' hand when they needed to make a play.