SAN DIEGO – The Raiders knew a win over San Diego clinched the franchise’s first playoff spot since 2002. They received welcome information just before Sunday’s kickoff, that Kansas City left the AFC West lead up for grabs with a home loss to Tennessee.
The Raiders had a golden opportunity to improve their lot, and took full advantage. It often wasn’t pretty, but the Raiders secured a vital 19-16 victory over the Chargers at a Qualcomm Stadium filled with fans wearing silver and black.
A 45-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski put the Raiders ahead with less than three minutes left, and the defense again held strong in the clutch.
Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack helped shut down a final Chargers drive that formally ended by a Reggie Nelson interception.
That secured the Raiders’ first playoff spot in a decade-plus, and vaulted them back atop the division and into a high seed that would secure home dates and possibly a first-round bye if the Raiders win out.
It was a big moment in this season, one where the Raiders won without playing their best. The Raiders were terrible in the red zone and gave it away too often, but found a way to gut out a win with solid defense and just enough points to squeak by.
The Chargers pulled ahead a series after they fell behind, with a seven-yard touchdown pass by rookie Hunter Henry. Kicker Josh Lambo missed the extra point, keeping the Raiders within a field goal at 16-13.
Janikowski tied it with a 21-yard field goal on a drive that should’ve gotten more. Perry Riley forced a fumble that was recovered by Malcolm Smith in the red zone, and the Raiders couldn’t cash in with three plays from the 1-yard line.
The Raiders defense held strong at several key moments, and gave the offense plenty of chances to surge ahead.
The Raiders offense had two first-half turnovers in the red zone, yet still finished the first half tied 10-10. They closed well, with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree that was acknowledged upon review.
The Chargers hit a 47-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Travis Benjamin on the game’s opening drive. The sides exchanged field goals to set up the halftime score, and the Raiders took their first lead on a 33-yard field goal roughly four minutes into the third quarter.
The Raiders were stalled early by turnover problems. Entering Sunday with the NFL’s best turnover differential, Carr threw an interception and Latavius Murray fumbled twice and lost one.
Those mistakes erased points that could’ve provided a nice cushion. Instead, the game remained close.
By a ’slice of blue: The Raiders tied the game 10-10 with a touchdown catch by Crabtree just before halftime. The effort was initially ruled incomplete, with a belief he stepped out of bounds before gaining possession.
That ruling was overturned upon review, explained in great detail by referee John Perry. He said one foot clearly landed in bounds, and his second was separated by a "slice of blue." That the color of Chargers end zones, meaning it was worth six points.
Home, sweet home-away-from-home: Raiders fans took over Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday, with roughly 75 percent of the sellout crowd in silver and black.
The Chargers had to use a silent count, after pumping in crowd noise during the week’s practice before a home game. The Bolts were booed during pre-game warmups, and didn’t announce their starters for fear of them getting ridiculed at home.
Who’s missing?: The Raiders played a second straight game without Karl Joseph, who was ruled out Friday with a toe injury. The Raiders were also without defensive tackle Stacy McGee and edge rusher Shilique Calhoun.
Several Raiders, including receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, were active after being designated questionable.
What’s next: The Raiders come home for the regular season’s last home game, a Christmas Eve contest against Indianapolis. The Colts are still fighting for a playoff spot, and will be motivated to win a Saturday game at Oakland Coliseum.