Programming note: Watch Monday’s Raiders press conference with head coach Dennis Allen live at 1 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California and streaming live online here
What you need to know: The Raiders should have cruised to victory on Sunday night. They certainly didn’t. They had to sweat out a 27-17 victory at Oakland Coliseum, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The Raiders absorbed some body blows, but never crumpled to the mat. That’s a huge positive. It’s something they couldn’t overcome last week against Washington.
This time, they finished off a game. When they absolutely had to make a big play, they did so. D.J. Hayden went horizontal to intercept a fourth-quarter pass in the end zone. With a 17-point lead down to seven, the offense had to score and did.
That, Raider Nation, is how you finish. Dennis Allen has a tough task of teaching this young team how to win, and Sunday night’s AFC West victory over the Chargers was an excellent lesson in what to do and how to act: Start fast, finish strong and hope mistakes made in the middle don’t hurt you.
“It’s always a good thing when you finish,” inside linebacker Kevin Burnett said. “Our ability to do so has been questioned the last few weeks and today we came up on top. What we have to learn is this: We don’t have to make it close all the time. We can deliver a knockout punch. We just have to prove it to ourselves.”
That’s the next step. Cruising to simple wins without drama is an art the Raiders haven’t mastered. The Chargers proved that by getting back in this game.
Unlike the Redskins a week prior, the Raiders didn’t let ‘em off the hook.
“It was important to finish off a team,” left tackle Khalif Barnes said. “We’ve had a chance to do that in the past and we didn’t put teams away. It was a good team effort tonight. The defense did their thing, special teams were on point and the offense had its moments. A win like this is a valuable experience because it shows us what we’re capable of. It also teaches you to play a full 60 minutes.”
Getting defensive: The Raiders entered Sunday’s game with no interceptions. Not one. They left this contest with three. The defense was a turnover machine against the Chargers, recording three picks, two fumble recoveries and a turnover on downs. The Raiders also stopped Danny Woodhead at their own 1-yard line.
D.J. Hayden all but secured victory by intercepting quarterback Philip Rivers in the end zone, and Charles Woodson iced it by grabbing another pick with the Raiders ahead 10 points and time running low.
“I just think we’ve been due,” said Woodson, who tied an NFL record with his 13th defensive touchdown in returning Woodhead's fumble for a touchdown. “We played four or five games at this point and we haven’t really gotten any turnovers to really break a game open and today, I just think we were due. We made the plays when they were there for us to make them.”
That’s been a growing trend among an upstart unit with 10 new starters. They’re playing well together, and making tough stands at opportune times. Allen’s defensive philosophy is predicated on trading yards allowed for game-changing plays, and the Raiders are making quite a few.
“I thought the defense played good,” Hayden said. “We got some turnovers. We got some defensive turnovers this game; we had a defensive touchdown. I thought we played pretty decent for the whole game. We still have some little stuff weneed to adjust, but as an overall defense I thought we played good.”
Pryor’s infectious energy: This Terrelle Pryor kid is fun to watch. He keeps plays alive and makes big plays with flare for the dramatic.
[RELATED: Pryor shows Raiders they don't need Freeman]
He’s inspired a fan base and a locker room, making them believe that anything is possible when he’s on the field. He gives the Raider Nation hope for a brighter future with progress from week to week, as if he’s becoming an NFL quarterback before our very eyes.
It’s hard to say if Sunday was his best start, but it was efficient and effective. Pryor's quarterback rating was an impressive 135.7. Lofty numbers for a quarterback we can no longer call a run-first guy.
After leading the Raiders to victory, the team is behind its on-field general.
“You can see his swagger back there,” receiver Rod Streater said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence, making throws, making reads and he’s getting a lot better. You never know what’s going to happen when he has the ball, other than that he’s going to make some great plays.”
Even Allen, as stern as he can be even after a big win, couldn’t help but heap praise on this sparkplug.
“It’s exciting. It really is,” Allen said. “It gives everybody on the team a boost when he goes out there and makes those explosive plays and creates those plays. A lot of times when you look up and you think, ‘Oh no, something bad is going to happen,’ and here he goes getting out of the pocket and creates. So, it gives our team a sense of confidence that no matter what happens in the game, we’re going to still be able to continue to move the ball and have a chance to score points.”
Play of the Game: It began badly -- 3rd and 14. As big a play as you’ll see this season. The Raiders simply had to convert that fourth-quarter third down in order to knock the Chargers off the comeback trail.
This crunch time play came courtesy of some Pryor magic. He scrambled outside the pocket and bought an extra second by juking an encroaching rusher, which allowed Brice Butler to come back to the ball and make a monumental 20-yard reception.
The Raiders moved into field-goal range and Sebastian Janikowski hit a 50-yarder off the dirt. That re-established a two-score difference that allowed the Raiders to hang for an improbable victory.
“We got the play in late,” Pryor said. “I heard (offensive coordinator Greg Olson) on the speaker before they cut it off, and he said, 'He’s not going to get the play off.’ It was funny, so I sped up. I rolled out and tried to buy time. That’s one of the things I do best, other that steadily improving in the pocket. I’m so glad it worked out. We had to get points on that drive. Plain and simple.”
Player of the Game: Charles Woodson, with his record-tying 13th defensive touchdown and all-around superb effort, deserves a nod here (especially considering Allen gave him a gave ball after the late night win). But we’re giving MVP honors to weakside linebacker Kevin Burnett. He led the team with a whopping 14 tackles. He had a sack and forced Danny Woodhead to fumble. He covered tight end Antonio Gates well when asked and was active tackling in the open field.
It was another workmanlike effort for Burnett, one of 10 new starters on a revamped defense.
“Kevin is like a lot of the guys that we have on our defense that not very many people talk about, but they’re good football players,” Allen said. “ They love playing the game of football. They come to work every day. They’ve been playing in this league for a while. They understand how to play and to play at a high level and he’s one of those guys that’s done that. I think this was a big game for Kevin and he was team captain for this game and I thought he played outstanding in the game.”
Raiders rushers hamstrung: Darren McFadden couldn’t play against the Chargers due to a hamstring injury. Fill-in Rashad Jennings couldn’t play for very long with a similar ailment. That might spell trouble next week, too.
Jennings, expected to take McFadden’s carries, also was removed in the first half due to a hamstring strain, which curtailed the Raiders rushing attack and was a major reason the offense grew stagnant in the second half.
Jennings had 41 yards on 10 carries before being pulled. Marcel Reece had 32 yards on seven carries as the emergency back.
Jennings limped out of the locker room on Sunday night, a serious concern considering McFadden might miss another game heading into the bye week. If Jennings is out, Reece will become the primary ball carrier.
Get off the dirt: The Raiders played their third game on the Oakland Coliseum’s infield dirt because the Oakland Athletics are in the postseason and need to use the multi-sport facility.
This might be the final time. Then again, it might not. The Raiders play a road game next week and have a bye after that, meaning they won’t see Oakland Coliseum again until Oct. 27 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Baseball’s World Series runs from Oct. 23-31, so the A’s would have to make a serious run to force the infield to stick around.
The Raiders postponed kickoff to allow for a stadium transition from ballpark to football stadium, an 18-hour process that was completed around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, five hours before kickoff.
Quote of the day: “It says that I’m one of the greatest to ever play this game. First and foremost, it really means something because it contributed to a victory. To be in the history books is really big time.” -- Raiders free safety Charles Woodson on tying an NFL record with his 13th defensive touchdown.
Looking ahead: Pryor makes the Raiders relevant. Now they’d like to be respected. Beating the Kansas City Chiefs on their home turf in Week 6 would do the trick. The unbeaten Chiefs are tough to crack, especially with their aggressive defense and a high-powered offense powered by quarterback Alex Smith that’s proved tough to stop.
The Chiefs haven’t faced anyone like Pryor, who can keep this team afloat despite its problems with pass protection. It should keep things interesting in Raiders' third AFC West challenge.