K Sebastian Janikowski kicks a field goal when the Raiders hosted the Browns in 2007. Photo by Tony Gonzales.
The Oakland Raiders emerged victorious in an emotional game in Houston during Week 5. After losing owner Al Davis a day earlier, the Raiders set out to honor his memory by doing the one thing he always wanted, "Just win, baby."
FS Michael Huff intercepted a last-second QB Matt Shaub pass in the end zone to seal the 25-20 victory, bringing Head Coach Hue Jackson and much of the Raider Nation to tears. "Winning a real huge game on the road in Houston especially after the couple days we had, it was just a tremendous feeling," said Coach Jackson.
The team returned home to their Alameda facility to find hundreds of fans waiting to greet them, celebrating the victory and honoring Mr. Davis. "I think our players, and I know the organization, are really happy and thankful for the many people that showed up last night," said Coach Jackson during his Monday press conference. "What a hard fought game in Houston by our football team. I thought our guys fought as well as we fought all year."
Winning has always been important to the Raiders, but this win meant more than most. "Every win is a big win, but this win was definitely more emotional than one we'll probably ever have," said WR Jacoby Ford.
"It meant a lot," said S Jerome Boyd. "We really went out there, played with heart, and tried to play lights out. I mean we're trying to win every game, but we really wanted to play that one for Mr. Davis and his family. It was real rough. It was rough on us as players, but as family, it hits home a lot more. We just went out there and tried to play hard."
TE Kevin Boss, who joined the Raiders during training camp, understood the magnitude of the win. "It meant everything for this organization," said Boss. "We all owe a lot to Mr. Davis for bringing us here and letting us be a part of the Raider family. So, it was a very special win for us as a team, the whole organization, and Raider Nation."
RB Rock Cartwright's successful execution of a fake punt proved to be a crucial first down against the Texans. He helped his team find a way to pull out the victory for Mr. Davis. "It was big for us," said Cartwright. "That's the name of this game is winning football games. Anytime you can win a football game, it's a great feeling. It was very emotional with the passing of Mr. Davis so we came out and did what we wanted to do, which was to win a football game."
The team felt Mr. Davis' presence during the game and played as though he were watching from the stands. "It was huge with the events that took place," said T Khalif Barnes. "It made it even sweeter that we could go do that for him. I know he couldn't see it in the physical, but I know he was there and he was happy about that."
The Raiders want to continue to honor the man who gave them an opportunity to live their dreams when they face the Cleveland Browns at home, in front of a sold-out crowd, at O.co Coliseum on Sunday. "There will probably be a lot of people, a lot of former players coming back and I expect the atmosphere to be electric because that's the way Mr. Davis would've wanted it," said QB Jason Campbell. "The one thing he'd always tell us to do is that he didn't care about anything except he just wanted us to win. He always said 'just win,' so I think a great tribute to him is to continue to win and that's the only way we can honor him."
In order to "just win, baby," the Raiders have shifted their focus to a 2-2 Browns team. "We're at home, we're in front of our fans, huge football game for us because it's the next one, and we're playing the Cleveland Brown," said Coach Jackson. "They have a really good running back; I mean Peyton Hillis is as good as there is in the league. The guy is a beast and he'll run you over. I mean there is no question about that. They've got a good offensive line, a young quarterback who is talented, some talented receivers – Josh Cribbs is a nightmare. He's one of the best players in football, no doubt about it, and we've got to make sure we get that young man stopped. On defense, they're young and they're talented. I mean D'Qwell Jackson, [Ahtyba] Rubin; the defensive tackle Phil [Taylor] I mean come on, these guys are good. So, we've got to get ready for this football team and I think that's what we're going to do."
The Browns are coming of their bye week and have had extra time to prepare for the Silver and Black. "We know they're coming off a bye week and have been preparing for us for two weeks," said Campbell. "We have to get on our horses and get ready to play. We've got to come out there and take care of what we've got to take care of here at home. We're focused on Cleveland; they've got a great running back, a really good young quarterback and they're defense is again top ten statistically. So we're getting ready to play."
Offensive guard Cooper Carlisle knew the significance of last week's win, but has now put his focus completely on the Browns defense. "Obviously, it was an emotional win with all that happened so it was big," said Carlisle. "The Browns are a good defense. We started installing and looking at them earlier in the week, but they are a good team, playing well, they're a good defense and we're looking forward to it."
Coach Jackson has emphasized to his team that they need to focus on playing Raiders football, something Mr. Davis would have wanted them to do. "All of you guys know Coach and knew what he was all about," said Coach Jackson. "He's truly about, 'Lets move on and move to the next situation and opportunity that we have so that we can capture that' because we're chasing something and he knows it and we know it and that's what we're going to do."
In preparing for the Browns, Coach Jackson has seen the strengths of the Cleveland defense. "They're really good," said Coach Jackson. "Those two inside tackles they have, the middle linebacker I think is playing exceptional, Chris Gocong is playing unbelievable for them at will backer. Joe Haden's a corner; I know he's been nicked a little bit but he's a really fine player and they've got this guy, number 43 [T.J. Ward]. Oh my gosh, he's good! I mean they're a good defensive football team. It's a heck of a challenge for our offense, but that's the way it is in the National Football League. We're not seeing anything we haven't seen, but I have great respect for their football team."
The Raiders offense is looking forward to the challenge. "We're looking forward it a lot because they are the next game on the schedule," said Barnes. "It just happens to be the Browns and they are coming to our backyard. That's just the most important game of the year right now because it's the next one and all our attention is on Cleveland."
Offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, who continues to impress as a rookie, is looking to keep the Raiders running game going. "We're excited about it," said Wisniewski. "They are a tough front and it's a good challenge for us to try to keep doing what the offense has been doing and trying to keep Darren as the number one runner in the league. They're tough, they're physical and we're going to have to be the same."
Second-year offensive tackle Jared Veldheer is preparing with his teammates throughout the week in order to perform at a high level on Sunday. "It's going to be another great challenge," said Veldheer. "We'll continue to look at the things they do, keep practicing on the field, and go execute on Sunday."
The Raiders defense is getting ready to face Hillis, Cribbs and McCoy on Sunday. "Good quarterback, good receivers, good running back with Peyton Hillis," said CB Stanford Routt. "Just another game on the schedule and we've got to win this game so we can go to 4-2 and be right up there with San Diego in the top of the division."
Each player understands his individual job in order to come together as a team. "I think they are a very good football team," said DE Trevor Scott. "We have our keys that we need to stop and pretty much focus on eliminating all the big plays. We just need everyone to focus on their job so we can get a win."
Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmur praised the team the Raiders are becoming. "I think that you've got to look at the Raider team as a big, physical, about as good looking of a team that you're going to play," said Coach Shurmur. "They're very talented. I think that they are doing a nice job up front. I mean, when you can say the strength of your team is the defensive line on defense I think that gives you a chance. Then they've got some very talented guys in the back end as well. I think that Jason Campbell is playing good football and there is talent all over the field. So I think that's what makes the Raiders dangerous. Then the kicking game when you have Lechler and Janikowski and a talented team that can cover kicks and block for the returners, I don't know what more you want."
Coach Jackson will lead his team out on the O.co Coliseum field on Sunday in front of Raider Nation and continue to honor Mr. Davis with the Raiders Commitment to Excellence.