MEXICO CITY – The AFC West has been jumbled all season long. On Monday night, a pecking order was established.
The Raiders are all alone at the top. The Silver and Black took a one-game lead in the division with a 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans before a raucous sell-out crowd at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
The Raiders were behind most of the game but surged ahead in the fourth quarter and never looked back.
Amari Cooper pulled the Raiders ahead with a 35-yard catch and run for a touchdown, a dynamic play that gave the Raiders their first lead since the second quarter.
It was part of 14 unanswered points from the Raiders, who tied it on a long touchdown catch by fullback Jamize Olawale.
The victory in Mexico City elevates the Raiders to 8-2, a game up on Kansas City and Denver with six games remaining.
It was yet another example of the Raiders finding a way to win. They looked lost most of the game, and made uncharacteristic mistakes, but pulled it together when it mattered most.
After getting outplayed for most of three quarters, the Raiders struck back in the fourth. They tied the game at 20-20 after a 75-yard touchdown strike from Carr to Olawale on a play where the fullback lined up out wide and Cooper was in the backfield.
Houston generated another long drive on their next possession, but the forced a turnover on downs after a controversial spot and replay review ruled Houston short of the marker.
The Raiders caught a break there, and took full advantage.
The game was tied 10-10 at halftime, with the Texans scores sandwiching points for the Raiders. Jalen Richard caught a 17-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter, and a muffed kickoff recovered by Taiwan Jones put the Raiders in prime position to score again.
They couldn’t convert from the Texans’ 1-yard line, and settled for a field goal. That would prove troublesome against a stout Houston defense that controlled the line of scrimmage most of the game.
The Texans took a 17-10 second-half lead after Derek Carr threw an ill-advised interception. The Texans responded with a 13-play, 65-yard drive that ended in a Lamar Miller touchdown.
The Raiders put together a strong drive after that, but settled for another short field goal instead of cashing in for a touchdown. That made it 17-13 near the end of the third quarter.
Smith lights the torch: Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith lit the Al Davis torch before Monday’s game. The San Jose State product, well known for holding up a fist during his gold medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics here in Mexico City, returned to the city for the first time in a while.
Raiders-friendly crowd: The Houston Texans are the closest team to Mexico City. Didn’t matter. Monday night’s crowd at Estadio Azteca was decidedly partisan, clearly favoring the Silver and Black. The crowd was boisterous and into a close contest, with chants that can’t be repeated here, and plenty of noise for the home team.
Laser pointer on Osweiller: If the cheers weren’t obvious, a green laser pointer certainly way. A fan locked a green laser pointer on Texans quarterback Brock Osweiller in the second quarter and continued it in the second half.
The practice is supposedly common from Mexican soccer fans, though it didn’t seem to have a negative impact on the Texans signal caller.
Sitting it out: The Raiders had the entire 53-man roster at their disposal, a luxury afforded by the return of cornerback Sean Smith and defensive tackle Stacy McGee.
The Raiders rendered Connor Cook, Johnny Holton, Dexter McDonald, Antonio Hamilton, Matt McCants, Vadal Alexander and Ryan O'Malley.
What’s next: The Raiders will return from this home-away-from-home game and host a real one next week with the Carolina Panthers coming to town. Their record isn’t good but they still have a shot to win the NFC South and are motivated to play well in a crucial game.