Linebacker Malcolm Smith
Before the Oakland Raiders returned to the friendly confines of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for their clash with the Carolina Panthers, we highlighted three matchups that would be critical in determining the Week 12 showdown.
After surrendering a 24-7 lead, the Silver and Black responded in a big way, absorbing the Panthers body blow, and eventually besting Cam Newton and Co., on a 23-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski.
With the win, the Raiders are now 9-2 and remain alone atop the AFC West standings heading into a Week 13 home matchup with the Buffalo Bills.
However, before we look ahead to Sunday's game, let's take a look back, and see how our matchups played out.
Quarterback Derek Carr vs. Quarterback Cam Newton
As we suggested before the game, Sunday's battle at the OACC, really did come down to the play of the team's respective quarterbacks.
After a beyond pedestrian first half that saw him complete just three passes, Newton roared back with a vengeance in the second half, giving Carr and the Raiders as much as they could handle.
However, in the biggest moments of the game, No. 4 rose to the occasion, while the reigning NFL MVP couldn't come up with the necessary plays to secure a win.
Carr did cause all of Raider Nation to hold its collective breath after he ran into the locker room after suffering a finger injury on the first series of the second half, but the Raiders third-year signal-caller returned after missing just one series, and was able finish out the game.
"Obviously, he's our leader, one of them, and he's a heck of a football player," said Head Coach Jack Del Rio. "For him to come back, it certainly gave us a lift and then he played well and made plays to help us come back and win."
Carr not only enjoyed the better statistical day of the two quarterbacks – 26 of 36 for 315 yards and two touchdowns – but the Silver and Black also came away with the win, so you have to say the Raiders quarterback won this matchup.
Guard Gabe Jackson vs. Defensive Tackle Start Lotulelei
Lotulelei played 54 defensive snaps for the Panthers, while the Raiders imposing interior lineman went the distance and played all 74 offensive snaps Sunday afternoon at the OACC.
While the Raiders weren't able to get the run game going like they probably would have liked to against the Panthers defensive front, the tandem of Latavius Murray and Jalen Richard was able to finish the game with 68 yards, and particularly in the second half, the duo moved the chains when absolutely necessary.
Once again, the Raiders were stout in pass protection, and although they allowed two sacks during the Week 12 win over the Panthers, the group's 13 sacks allowed is still the fewest in the NFL.
Lotulelei – although he played 73 percent of the Panthers snaps – was kept off the stat sheet, not totaling a tackle during his time on the field.
Give Jackson and the big fellas up front credit; Lotulelei has the ability to be a game-wrecker, but the Raiders offensive front was able to neutralize the athletic defensive tackle all afternoon.
Linebacker Malcolm Smith vs. Tight End Greg Olsen
Coming into Sunday's game at the OACC, it was no secret that Cam Newton's number one option was Greg Olsen
The Pro Bowl tight end was leading the Panthers in both receptions and receiving yards, and in 2016 he had routinely shown to be a valuable asset for Newton, particularly with the struggles of the team's offensive line.
Give credit where credit is due though, as defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.'s group realized the need to limit Olsen, and that's precisely what they did.
While Malcolm Smith did spend a fair amount of time squared up with No. 88, so did rookie safety Karl Joseph as well.
"We knew that coming into the game that he [Olsen] was one of [Newton's] top targets, so we were going to have do a good job on him playing man or zone, so we had to keep an eye on him," explained Joseph. "I feel like we did a good job of that, for sure."
The Silver and Black's defense did just that, limiting Olsen to just four catches for 45 yards.