Close your eyes for a moment, succumb to a blitz of imagination, and the famously dumpy Coliseum on this Sunday wasn’t just old and tired. This was old-school, throwback entertainment, an homage to the days of the wild, wild West.
After a sluggish opening half, Derek Carr and Philip Rivers morphed into a modern version of Jim Plunkett and Dan Fouts. These were the division rival Chargers and Raiders, dueling to the final tick of the clock, trading touchdowns, throwing deep, throwing often, throwing sideline routes, fades into the end zone, darts over the middle.
He has really, I think, taken a step forward in terms of emotional control, the poise to be kind of surgeon-like and just be accurate with the ball. Let his playmakers do their thing.
Jack Del Rio, Raiders coach, on Derek Carr
And a botched placement by Chargers holder Drew Kaser that averted a likely overtime? Well, it happens. Late-game gaffes happen to the Chargers a lot this season.
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But the Raiders are something else. They are earning another look. And another. And another. They haven’t started a season 4-1 since 2002, when they reached the Super Bowl and Rich Gannon silenced his critics. Carr not only is the next best thing, he is swiftly emerging as one of the league’s most poised, gifted young talents.
In terms of the final score, with the Raiders winning 34-31, he got the better of old man Rivers.
“He (Carr) has really, I think, taken a step forward in terms of emotional control, the poise to be kind of surgeon-like and just be accurate with the ball,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. “Let his playmakers do their thing.”
Del Rio did his thing, too, flashing that gambler’s edge at the raciest part of the afternoon. But more on that later.
After a sluggish offensive start by both teams resulted in a 10-9 halftime lead for San Diego, the AFC West rivals engaged in a prolific game of my turn, your turn. Rivers, who completed 21 of 30 passes for 359 yards and four touchdowns, threw second-half scoring strikes of 18, 1 and 4 yards. Carr, who entered the game on a roll – with nine touchdown passes and only one interception – took a little longer to gain a rhythm, but then he just rocked.
Carr led wideout Amari Cooper down the left sideline for a 64-yard scoring strike on Oakland’s first second-half possession to pull his team within 17-16. After Rivers answered with the 1-yard scoring toss, Carr drove his team downfield, setting up Sebastian Janikowski for a 48-yard field goal, his fourth of the afternoon.
Then came that roll of the dice, the moment that revealed a lot about the Raiders and the, um, intestinal fortitude of their coach. Down 24-19. Just over one minute remaining in the third quarter. Staring at a fourth and 3 at the Chargers’ 21. Plenty of time left, so of course, conventional wisdom suggests Janikowski trots out and and puts three more points on the board.
Not a chance. Carr, who completed 25 of 40 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns, threw a deep fade that Michael Crabtree grabbed in stride and ran into the right side of the end zone for the go-ahead score. And if that didn’t dazzle enough, the third-year quarterback rifled a pass over the middle to Cooper for the two-point conversion and a 27-24 lead.
“It’s like all these situations,” said Del Rio, explaining his fourth-down decision. “You make the call, what you think is the best for the team, and then you count on your guys executing. Crab (Crabtree) got open and made a nice play.”
Del Rio also praised his five rookies who played. He applauded the diminutive backfield of 5-foot-8 runners DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, who subbed nicely for the injured Latavius Murray, and was similarly impressed with linebacker Perry Riley Jr., who joined the team only Tuesday and played the entire game.
But then came the kicker, the rowdy, loyal, sold-out crowd. Given the circumstances, afternoons like these are to be cherished. Sunday’s game was a mere prelude to what figures to be a pivotal few days regarding the Raiders’ uncertain future in Oakland. In a special legislative session scheduled Monday by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, 63 lawmakers will meet in Carson City to debate a measure for the private-public financing of a $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat football stadium that could serve as a home facility for the Raiders and UNLV.
2002 Last time the Raiders started a season 4-1
The discussions are expected to last throughout the week, and a vote is expected at the end of the talks. A two-thirds vote is needed to pass a deal that would be financed by the Raiders, the Sands Corporation and CEO Sheldon Adelson, and a 0.88 percent hike in Southern Nevada hotel and motel charges.
Though the legislation is opposed by the Nevada Taxpayers Association and Nevada for the Common Good, proponents of the bill believe they have the momentum within their state ... and elsewhere. (Local journalists have had little trouble these days reaching the normally elusive Mark Davis on his cell phone, providing further evidence of his desire to relocate into a proposed state-of-the-art stadium near the southern edge of the Strip.)
If the measure passes, it will be up to the NFL owners (and a three-quarters vote) and Commissioner Roger Goodell, who continues to resist the Las Vegas market and express a preference to keep the Raiders in Oakland.
The NFL, indeed, is a brutal game. The team finally becomes relevant – no, on the upswing and almost irresistible – for the first time in years, and the Davis-led ownership group again is jotting down the phone number of moving companies. And if not Las Vegas, becoming a second tenant at the Los Angeles Rams’ new venue remains a possibility.
For now, Raiders fans probably should heed the cliché, enjoying the moment and seizing the day.