Instant Replay: Raiders beat Chargers, clinch first playoff spot since 2002

Instant Replay: Raiders beat Chargers, clinch first playoff spot since 2002


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.

Gruden, McKenzie set to sell Suh on the Silver and Black


Gruden, McKenzie set to sell Suh on the Silver and Black

Ndamukong Suh’s coming to Alameda. Jon Gruden, Paul Guenther and Reggie McKenzie will have a chance to make a pitch, explaining exactly why the superstar defensive tackle belongs in the Silver and Black.

McKenzie (and owner Mark Davis) would’ve relished this opportunity last time Suh was a free agent. The Raiders had plenty of cap space in 2015 but oh, so many needs coming off a 3-13 campaign, and weren’t prepared for his market value to go nuclear. McKenzie steered clear of the mushroom cloud, and Suh’s deal set a new market for defensive players.

He made $60 million over three years in Miami, but didn’t see his contract’s second half after lackluster team results and hints of inconsistent effort. The Dolphins are reportedly angling for a culture change, and didn’t think Suh would help the transition.

That put him back on the open market, with more guaranteed dollars dancing in his head. Suh’s on a free-agent tour rare in the modern NFL, where dollars are committed quick once free agency opens. Suh’s slow playing this one, thus far hopping from New Orleans to Tennessee to L.A. to see the Rams on a private jet. His charter will land in Oakland Wednesday to see what the Raiders have to offer.

There’s little doubt what Suh can bring. He might be the best interior defensive lineman east of L.A.’s Aaron Donald -- yes, there are a few other top talents -- and would be a perfect fit for Guenther’s scheme. That system needs a Geno Atkins type. He made the Guenther’s Bengals go in recent seasons, and Suh’s certainly as good or better when going strong.

The real question’s what the Raiders can offer that others can’t. The Titans and Rams have more salary-cap space, as it stands right now. The Raiders are the only non-playoff team in his bunch, with the other three seemingly on the rise.

The Raiders could champion playing with Khalil Mack. The Rams have Donald, the Titans have Jurell Casey and the Saints have Cam Jordan. Suh has made reference to the final three in interviews with Yahoo! Sports.

Gruden, however, is certainly a selling point. Several signed free agents cited the A-list head coach as an attraction to joining the Raiders. A healthy, impactful Derek Carr and Suh’s addition to the defense could make the Raiders a real contender right away, something that will obviously get brought up in Wednesday’s visit.

Suh’s an Oregon kid, and the Raiders are the closest team to home. That might help.

He could make a pros and cons list about market, state tax issues, chances of winning, coach and locker room culture, but the almighty dollar can’t be ignored.

Can the Raiders put together an attractive financial package, one that would make them truly appealing? That’s the (multi-)million dollar question?

The Raiders don’t have tons of salary-cap space. In fact they're up against the threshold, though cutting veterans without guaranteed money easily creates space. The Raiders could keep Suh’s 2018 cap number lower through a signing bonus and fat roster bonuses in future years.

Make no mistake: the cap is not an impenetrable road block. The Raiders might have to get away from contract structuring practices that McKenzie’s people used to reach excellent salary-cap standing. That’s especially true considering the monster deal given to Carr last year and the mega-extension Mack will get soon.

We say all that with one caveat. Suh’s exact team-selection criteria aren’t clear. There’s no telling if this Alameda trip could help create a robust market, or if he’s taking the Raiders seriously. Making the trip means something, however, and will at least give Gruden and Co. a chance to woo Suh, lock him down and radically change expectations for the 2018 season.

Raiders remain on a receiver hunt as their top target signs elsewhere


Raiders remain on a receiver hunt as their top target signs elsewhere

The Raiders missed out on signing Ryan Grant. The former Washington receiver visited the team’s Alameda training complex, but left without a contract and ultimately chose to sign a one-year, $5 million deal with Indianapolis.

They lost that one, but are undeterred in their quest to upgrade the receiver corps.

They already signed Jordy Nelson and let Michael Crabtree walk, hoping for steady production and quality locker room leadership in the exchange.

Cordarrelle Patterson was traded to New England on Sunday, creating a spot in the position group.

The Raiders tried to fill it with Grant. No go, no matter.

They hosted veteran Eric Decker on Tuesday, according to multiple reports. They also declared interest in Allen Hurns, a player the Jaguars released Tuesday morning.

Hurns listed the Raiders among interested teams – he said there were 10 in total – in an interview with KFNZ radio in Charlotte, N.C.

Hurns has a 1,000-yard season to his credit – his biggest year came with now-Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson as Jacksonville's O.C. -- and two relative down years since. Injuries have also played a part in that.

Decker had a stellar four-year run with Denver and the New York Jets, but was less effective during two seasons in Tennessee. The 31-year old has experience in the slot, and could be a productive No. 3 option in Jon Gruden’s offense.

Gruden doesn't mind working with veteran receivers, something clear from his past and willingness to add Nelson as a major contributor. 

Even if the Raiders don't land a veteran receiver, they could also look for a receiver in the NFL draft.

Amari Cooper will remain the No. 1 option. Seth Roberts has $4.45 million guaranteed in 2018. Johnny Holton, Isaac Whitney and Keon Hatcher are also on the roster.