SAN DIEGO – Sebastian Janikowski was part of the last Raiders team to make the playoffs. That was 13 years ago, well past the NFL’s life expectancy.
Play as long as Janikowski and good times are bound to come. They flooded early, as he was part of three straight playoff teams to start his career. That was prelude to a long, hard winter.
The Raiders didn’t have a winning season from 2003-15, and Janikowski survived all that losing with professional outlook and a brave face.
Those days are done. The ice has finally broken, and Janikowski can revel in a triumphant return to the playoffs. A postseason spot was secured after a 19-16 victory on Sunday where Janikowski’s contributions were vital.
He hit four field goals in as many attempts, including the game-winner from 44 yards out with less than three minutes remaining.
Not one for words, to the media at least, Janikowski conceded that going back to the postseason really means something.
“I can’t even describe it," Janikowski said. "It feels so special. I’ve waited a long time for that.”
Raiders fans have, too. Players were as excited for them as anyone after the franchise had suffered for so long.
“It means a lot for the city. It means a lot for the team and the organization,” receiver Michael Crabtree said. “But that’s just the first step. Getting to the playoffs is cool. Winning in the playoffs is the best of the best. That’s our goal, to get to the championship.”
The Raiders want the smoothest possible road for a championship run. That would come from winning out. After Kansas City lost to Tennessee earlier Sunday, that would come with an AFC West title, home playoff games and possibly a first-round bye.
The Raiders knew the final Chiefs score before kickoff, but it didn’t add any juice to this game. Win and you’re in. That’s all the motivation required at this time of year.
The offense struggled in the red zone but scored just enough to make a solid defensive effort stand. Having a chance to win the division made this moment doubly special.
“It’s exciting. We control our own destiny,” free safety Reggie Nelson said. “We’re still driving the bus. We have to continue to play solid football and win games.”
Kansas City remains hot on their trail, so the Raiders must continue pressing for wins to stay ahead and avoid falling back into the wild card pool.
“We got some help today, but we have two games left,” running back Latavius Murray said. “We need to finish strong and let the chips fall where they may.”