OAKLAND – A game that should’ve prompted raucous celebration was concluded with a major sigh of relief.
The Raiders had a huge lead and nearly blew it. They held on to beat the San Diego Chargers 27-17 late Sunday night, with rope burns from a tug-of-war nearly lost.
Rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden, whose leaping interception in the end zone stopped a Chargers comeback short, secured victory. Charles Woodson made it officially official with another pick with 45 seconds left.
It never should’ve come to that. This should’ve been a blowout, a confidence-boosting win over a solid Chargers team. The second half stole air from that balloon.
The Raiders jumped out to a 17-0 first-half lead that slowly, agonizingly, slipped away. The Raiders offense slowed to a crawl and the Chargers climbed back into the game.
Then, with the Chargers close in the rear view mirror, the Raiders responded with a nine-play, 48-yard drive ending with Sebastian Janikowski’s clutch 50-yard field goal off the dirt. As important as anything, the series took more than five minutes off the clock.
The Raiders got in trouble early in the fourth quarter. Cal alum Keenan Allen’s touchdown catch with 10 minutes, 17 seconds remaining cut the lead to 24-17. It would’ve tied the game had Charles Woodson not returned a fumble forced by Kevin Burnett 25 yards for a touchdown.
Woodson’s clutch play stabilized things and lessened damage, but it didn’t prevent this game from coming down to the wire and being far closer than it should’ve been.
Pryor’s perfect start: Pryor’s first incompletion came with 6 minutes, 59 seconds left in the second quarter. He was invincible over the first few drives, completing his first 10 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns.
Pryor’s efficiency waned in the second half, but he still finished with 221 yards on 18-for-23 passing and two touchdowns despite playing behind a patchwork offensive line that offered occasionally leaky pass protection.
Second-half slowdown: The Raiders offense grinded to a halt in the second half. The Raiders had just one first down in the third quarter and two in the fourth quarter, which allowed the Chargers to creep back into the game.
Streak snapped: The Raiders played four games without an interception. Then, on the third play from scrimmage, Philip Rivers threw them a bone.
He lofted an errant deep ball – there was clearly miscommunication on the Chargers end – that safety Usama Young picked and returned 23 yards.
Pryor added value to Young’s effort on the next play, with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Rod Streater.
Unlucky block: The Raiders blocked a field goal, and stayed on the field in a weird exchange that ultimately ended the shutdown.
Tracy Porter blocked Nick Novak’s 37-yard attempt, but Ladarius Green recovered and advanced the block for a Chargers first down.
The Raiders kept San Diego out of the end zone, but Novak eventually put a 35-yard attempt through the uprights to make it 17-3.
Milestone alert: Raiders free safety Charles Woodson recovered a Danny Woodhead fumble and returned it 25 yards for the 13th defensive touchdown of his career.
That ties an NFL record, which he now shares with Darren Sharper and Rod Woodson.
Sitting it out: Running back Darren McFadden didn’t play due to a hamstring strain suffered last week against the Redskins. His absence was expected after missing a week’s practice and talking about the possibility of missing one or two games with injury.
Center Stefen Wisniewski (knee) didn’t play after being listed as doubtful. Right tackle Tony Pashos, safety Tyvon Branch, defensive tackle Stacy McGee, tackle Menelik Watson and receiver Juron Criner were also rendered inactive.
Criner was the team’s only healthy scratch, making it clear he’s not in their long term plans. He could be released on Monday, the deadline for the team to decide whether to keep receiver Andre Holmes. Holmes was on the reserve-suspended list during a four-game ban for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
What's next: The Raiders play another key AFC West game against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs remained unbeaten after Sunday’s 26-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
Kansas City owns a talented roster that features quarterback Alex Smith, running back Jamaal Charles and pass rusher Justin Houston.
The Raiders run defense must be on point to keep up with Charles and attack of high caliber.