TE Brandon Myers blocks a punt in the Raiders 2010 victory over the Chargers at O.co Coliseum. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders host the San Diego Chargers in a must-win game for the Silver and Black. With the opportunity to go to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, the Raiders will leave everything out on the field in the division rivalry game. There are many scenarios at play in order for the Raiders to make the playoffs, but in every case, Oakland must win on Sunday.
Despite the implications of other match ups on Sunday, the team is solely focused on themselves and taking care of their own business. "I have no idea what the scenarios are or anything, I just know we have to win this one," said T Khalif Barnes. "It's not a cliché or anything, that's really all I'm focused on. I can't keep track of all the scenarios, there's way too many. We just need to win and everything will take care of itself."
QB Carson Palmer is on the same page with his right tackle. "I've heard a bunch of different scenarios but none of that - it's all irrelevant if we don't handle our business," said Palmer. "So I'm taking the mindset that we need to go out here and play good football and win and whatever happens, happens. I'm not going to worry about who's playing who, where we might end up, who might come to us if we win and somebody else loses, you just can't focus on all that. You got to focus on the Chargers and that's our sole focus and my sole focus.
The players understand the magnitude of this week's game. "It's a big game because we're in it," said Head Coach Hue Jackson. "It is the Raiders against the Chargers and that's as big as it gets. There is a lot riding on this game and I think we all understand that so to a man, to a coach, to a trainer, to equipment people, to everybody within this organization, this game is as big as they get and we're looking forward to playing."
For many of the players, this is the first chance they've had to play for a playoff spot. "We're so close," said six-year veteran FS Michael Huff. "We have to go out there and win Sunday to take care of our part and hopefully everything else will take care of itself. But we haven't been this close in awhile and I think we have to take advantage of this opportunity."
The team and coaching staff are staying consistent with their weekly routine. "It's just another game, all games are important, all games we need to win," explained Palmer. "Especially with young guys that don't have a lot of experience, you don't want to freak anybody out or make people think that you need to play differently or make a spectacular play or do anything out of the ordinary, you just need to do your job and go through your footwork, where your eyes should be, where your hands should be all those little things and not put too much emphasis on 'we have to win we have to win we have to win.' Guys just need to go out and play and do their jobs."
"Everyone is excited," said DT Richard Seymour. "I think it's business as usual, but you can't do anything totally different than you've done all year. I think you have to go in and prepare. You go in and you have fun and it's just attention to detail."
The team is staying even keeled so they can focus on their game preparation. "There isn't any magnitude, it is just another game," said WR Jacoby Ford. "No need to try and hype it up, we know what is already at stake so it is just another regular game for us, that is how we are looking at it."
The players understand that if they play the way they know they can play, the rest will take care of itself. "I think it's a football team that understands the opportunity," said Coach Jackson. "I think they know what's at stake here and you can't get it any better than that but with that being said we know we got to go play the game. But it starts out here, it starts in our meetings, it starts on the practice field, and then we have to go finish it on game day."
Although the Chargers have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Raiders still expect them to come into O.co Coliseum and put up a fight. "This is our rival," said Huff. "They hate us and we hate them, so they want to spoil our playoffs for us. We're going to get their best shot and we wouldn't expect anything else."
The men in Silver and Black are preparing for a tough match up. "I think they're going to come with their guns blazing," said Coach Jackson. "I think we're going to see it all. You do everything you can to win the game, that's what Norv's [Turner] about. They're not coming in here doing anything else, they're coming to win and whatever it takes, whatever they think it's going to take to win, that's what they're going to do. We have to be on our Ps and Qs and with that being said, we're going to do everything we have to do that it takes to win the game also. We're going to play, we're not going to sit there guarding anything other than we're going to try to do everything we can to win this football game and I know they will be too. So its going to be a chess match all the way around, but it's going to be one exciting football game."
The Raiders defense will see QB Philip Rivers, WR Patrick Crayton, TE Antonio Gates, and RB Ryan Mathews. "This is a good, talented football team," said defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. "When you start tying Gates into it and Crayton, and all their weapons, Mathews out of the backfield, Floyd out of the backfield, we have got our hands full, we have got to bring our 'A' game to handle their 'A' game."
The Chargers offensive line has done a better job of protecting Rivers and the Raiders defense knows they're playing well. "[They] solidified that tackle position, but they are also getting the ball out a little bit quicker," said Coach Bresnahan. "[Rivers] is not sitting back and trying to hold the ball on every situation and get it down the field. He is using his check downs or using the screen game, the drive routes or the under routes, so they are doing some things to help Philip out, and that is helping the pass protecting as well."
DT Tommy Kelly enjoys facing Rivers in the division rivalry. "I always love playing against Phil," said Kelly. "Phil is a big time quarterback so any time you can play against him everybody will have a lot of attention on the game so any time you can get to Phil, you get a little glory."
Coach Jackson knows the Raiders will be up against a talented football team. "I think they're better than what people are putting out there about them," said Coach Jackson. "That's a very good football team with very good players, with a quarterback that's unbelievable, with skill players and defensive players and they're going to be different then the first time we played them and hopefully we're different then the first time we played them too. This is a good team, it's a heck of a rivalry and they're going to come to play and we're going to come to play and we're going to have to play our best to win the game."
The Raiders offense will contend with Chargers defenders Shaun Phillips Donald Butler, Takeo Spikes and Antwan Barnes, CB Quentin Jammer and FS Eric Weddle. "Shaun Phillips is probably going to play who wasn't on the field last time; he's definitely a difference maker," said Palmer. "So, we know that they're coming in here to win and they're coming here to knock us out of the playoffs and they're not going to roll over. This is a team that's going to fight for their coach, they're going to fight just to knock the Raiders out of the playoffs, that's going to be a big focus for them and we understand that."
The game will be played in front of another sold out crowd at O.co Coliseum, the eighth of the season. "My hat goes out to our fans for supporting us," said Coach Jackson. "What we have to do is give back to them as I've always said. And how we give back is by winning. We need to win at home."
The Coliseum will have a playoff-like atmosphere on Sunday. "If I know our fans and the way they've been for us all year, it's going to be unbelievable," said Coach Jackson. "They'll be on the edge of their seats. They'll bring the noise and the passion and they'll give us extra energy and we need them and I expect them to be as loud as they've ever been. We need a true 12th man this week."
Veteran WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh is preparing for this game like it is already the playoffs. "Honestly, in my opinion, it is really like our first playoff game because if we lose then we go home, if we win you have an opportunity to advance so that is how you have to approach it," said Houshmandzadeh.
P Shane Lechler hopes to come full circle with the Raiders organization." I think everybody in the locker room wants to win and wants to win now," said Lechler. "My situation is hopefully to get to see this thing go full circle. I had it great when I first got here with the AFC championship game my rookie year and then the snow game up in New England and then the Super Bowl, and then not much after that. To see it come all the way back full circle, last year 8-8, just to see it go full circle would be good."
The Raiders are excited to take the field on Sunday in what is now the biggest game of the season. "These types of games, especially when you get to play them at home, these type of games are why you do what you do in February, March, April, May when nobody's watching," said Palmer. "[This is] why you're staying up late at night watching film, this is why you do that, to be prepared. Every kid wants to play in the NFL and the next dream is to play in a game like this and the next dream is to win the Super Bowl. So this is a big moment for this team and our fans. It's a huge advantage any time we get to play in front of our fans in that stadium because they can be so loud. So it's exciting, this whole team's excited."