The Raiders hadn’t given East Bay faithful much reason to cheer. They struggled through a difficult home slate, with more losses than they would’ve liked. Primary focus was one making Charles Woodson’s final home game memorable, but the Raiders wanted to send the home crowd out on a high note. The team believed the raucous fan base deserved better after so many losses. They did that with Thursday night’s home 23-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers. It wasn’t pretty, but the end result was the most important thing to a team all-smiles after a stressful evening. Let’s look at five takeaways from the Raiders’ latest win.
1) East Bay's final ride?
Though few wanted to talk about it, players and coaches knew this was possibly the Raiders’ last game in Oakland. Owner Mark Davis has eyes on Los Angeles, and could be approved for relocation next month. The Chargers and Raiders have partnered on a stadium proposal in Carson, while the St. Louis Rams have a competing proposal in Inglewood. Raiders fans have offered unconditional support during a dark period, and the team wanted to honor that with a solid showing at the end. They did that with a dramatic win.
“Where you’re going to play is something in the hands of the owner,” edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “All we can do is play ball. All that other stuff isn’t in our control. For right now, we’re the Oakland Raiders. It was important to give these fans something to cheer for.”
2) C-Wood’s big night
Veteran safety Charles Woodson announced his retirement on Monday, setting up a final farewell with home fans on Thursday. His final game in Oakland wasn’t perfect. He didn’t force a takeaway, he didn’t return a punt and his only offensive play went for a 3-yard loss. The Raiders got him and win, and his awesome 18-year career was honored in the stadium and on national television. All Woodson wanted was a win, and he got one. His postgame speech was moving, and his kids equaled Riley Curry on the cuteness scale. He got a memorable win, which was all he really wanted.
3) Defense on the rise
The Raiders have won two games in three weeks, and both victories were due to defense. Denico Autry had a pivotal safety, and Benson Mayowa’s 40-yard fumble return changed the tide against the San Diego Chargers. That unit was a liability earlier in the year, but has really clamped down over the last month. That’s due in large part to a productive pass rush, and better tackling. Malcolm Smith has been a force in the middle, and stability on defense has allowed the Raiders to get wins without scoring a ton of points.
“It’s important for our morale moving forward to know that we can do that,” Smith said. “We’re going to need that going into next season and next week.”
4) Offense trending down
Hate to be a scrooge on Christmas, but it’s worth pointing out that the Raiders offense isn’t as explosive as it used to be. The Raiders have only reached 21 points twice in the last seven weeks, and needed an assist from the defense to get the points necessary to beat the Chargers. The team’s explosiveness has gone into hiding, with drives turning into plodding affairs. They used to take yards in chunks, something defenses aren’t allowing anymore. The run game has been strong early and lackluster late. It certainly doesn’t help that Amari Cooper has been hampered by a foot injury. The offensive line seems tired and is worse at two positions with right tackle Austin Howard on IR and right guard J’Marcus Webb sliding out to take his spot. There’s one game left to end on an upswing, something the Raiders will want before heading into the offseason.
5) Never, ever take points off the board
The San Diego Chargers took three points away from their total in a game lost by that margin. Josh Lambo made a field goal, but Chargers coach Mike McCoy chose an automatic first down from a defensive holding call instead. The Chargers got a touchdown reverse upon review, and then Lambo ended up missing the next field goal attempt. The Raiders were thankful for that turn of events, which helped facilitate a come-from-behind win. Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio took a pass when asked about that decision, happy he didn’t have to deal with that mess.
“The good news is I don’t have to answer to that,” Del Rio said with a laugh. “Y’all let Mike (McCoy) answer that or the other side and we’ll just move on.”