The AFC Western division race explains the importance of the Oakland Raiders 27-7 win over the San Diego Chargers Sunday at QualComm Stadium.
The way the Raiders (9-4) played, however, speaks bigger volumes. Oakland now has sole possession of first place over San Diego (8-5) in the AFC and sports the conference’s best record. The Raiders are now in a good position to at least get a first-round bye.
Oakland not only beat San Diego, it dominated from the opening kickoff the way a championship team does. The Raiders set the pace early when Marcus Knight’s 65-yard kickoff return to the Charger 36-yard line to set up Charlie Garner’s 4-yard scoring run – Oakland never trailed.
It’s easy to look at the Raiders potent offense and the fact that quarterback Rich Gannon threw for 328 yards to establish a single-season record for 300-plus passing yard games in a season with 10. Oakland’s offense, however, went into a funk in the second quarter with Gannon throwing six straight incomplete passes and went three straight possessions without picking up a first down.
The Raider defense, however, erected a wall of Silver & Black – nothing the Chargers tried could knock it down. Oakland held LaDainian Tomlinson to 57 yards on 18 carries. He had 153 yards on 39 carries in a 23-20 win over the Raiders in Week 7. Oakland also picked off three Drew Brees passes.
Oakland used a “gap control” defense to stuff Tomlinson, whose longest gain was 15 yards. That strategy meant that the shifty Tomlinson could not cutback to find open lanes and was never more apparent than on the opening drive of the second half.
San Diego faced fourth-and-one at the Raider 31 and decided to go for a first down instead of a field goal. Tomlinson tried to run off left tackle but defensive end DeLawrence Grant forced him to run laterally and safety Anthony Dorsett stuffed Tomlinson for a 3-yard loss.
Then the Raiders began to put their dominant stamp on Sunday’s game.
Oakland still has more work to do with games remaining at Miami (7-5) and home against Denver (7-6) and Kansas City (7-6). The Raiders, however, played like championship material Sunday.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org