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Raider Nation takes over San Diego

Oakland Raiders fans react after an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in San Diego. The Raiders secured their first playoff berth since 2002 with a 19-16 victory over the Chargers.
Oakland Raiders fans react after an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in San Diego. The Raiders secured their first playoff berth since 2002 with a 19-16 victory over the Chargers. The Associated Press

On a day of history, when 14 years of playoff-less football were wiped clean, the Raiders reaffirmed a slogan that has taken hold from here to Mexico City – Have Black Hole, Will Travel.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio estimated that 60, maybe 70 percent of the attendees at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday supported his team against the San Diego Chargers. It could have been as many as 80 percent. At the end, when Derek Carr was taking knees to tick off the clock ahead of the Raiders’ 19-16 victory, it was fully 100 percent of them who were blowing a hole through the San Diego sky.

“It was pretty awesome to see,” Del Rio said of the cacophony in Silver and Black that rose above the announced crowd of 68,352.

“Loud and proud,” he continued. “We love it.”

It was pretty awesome to see. Loud and proud. We love it.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, on his team’s support in the announced crowd of 68,352 in San Diego

A crowd seems to follow this team wherever it goes, whether it’s Baltimore or Tampa Bay. Raiders management is so confident of the transferability of passion for the team that it is willing to play home games in the Nevada desert. Owner Mark Davis believes the financial opportunities will be greater for the team in Las Vegas. Business and political leaders in Oakland hope to convince him otherwise.

In Sunday’s invasion of San Diego, Raider Nation booed the Chargers as the hometown team took the field. Showing little regard to gender, Raiders partisans also let The Charger Girls dance team have it with sounds from the Bronx, despite the squad’s introduction as the “hottest” such group in the NFL.

It made perfect sense that the Raiders came in as the fan favorite, as well as a 2 1/2-point pick of the nation’s gamblers. San Diego’s sensible sports fans knew to stay away from Qualcomm and instead spend the gorgeous day amid the region’s natural wonders, including the beach, where the game-time water temperature was a swimmable 61 degrees at Torrey Pines.

Both the game and the day’s beach activities were played under a powder-blue sky, same as the Chargers’ jerseys. Sand and surf can be an attractive alternative on a Sunday afternoon when your team is 5-8, as were the Chargers. Next year, San Diego fans are expected to have much more time available for the region’s outdoor treasures, if the Chargers exercise their option to move to Los Angeles. Some news organizations reported the move Sunday as a near certainty.

The Raiders took the field with the wind as well as the crowd at their back. It blew in strong from the heartland, carrying news of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 19-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Someday, the Titans’ quarterback, Marcus Mariota, will make a nice exacta box with Derek Carr in the running of the best quarterbacks in the United States. As of Sunday, they had their teams in first place of the AFC’s western and southern divisions – the Raiders all by themselves thanks to Tennessee’s takedown of the Chiefs.

San Diego got on top of the Raiders on Sunday when Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers went over the top of the Oakland secondary to hit Travis Benjamin on a 47-yard touchdown pass. The play accounted for 18 percent of San Diego’s yardage on the day, the Raiders’ defense knocking the Chargers back for much of the rest of the encounter, just as the locals do the many fine beers produced in and around America’s Finest City.

Eventually, with Oakland pass rusher Bruce Irvin chasing Rivers toward Otay Mesa, sacking him twice, the Raiders’ defense took the spunk out of the Chargers. Once the offense stopped turning the ball over inside the Chargers’ 10-yard-line, the Raiders’ chances of winning improved. They tied the score 10-10 just before halftime when Carr lofted a fade into the hands of Michael Crabtree that NFL electors certified as a touchdown after the popular vote of the officials on the field falsely determined that Crab failed to keep his heels in the field of play.

Sebastian Janikowski kicked field goals all day for the Raiders, just as he has for the Raiders his entire career. It dates to 2000. One of his four re-tied the score 16-16 midway through the fourth quarter before he slotted the game winner from 44 yards away with less than three minutes to go.

4Field goals, including the game winner, by Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski on Sunday

Sunday marked the return to the lineup, after one game lost because of kidney stones, of incredible left guard Kelechi Osemele. If you saw the Raiders’ loss to Kansas City on Dec. 8, you heard NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth note his significance to the Raiders’ running game. With Osemele back in action, the Raiders ran for a very solid 145 yards, with the ground game helping set up Carr’s touchdown to Crab and Janikowski’s scoring kicks.

Of the many free-agent acquisitions over the past three years, the Raiders’ signing of Osemele helped as much as any to qualify the team for the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

“There’s a lot of doubts coming, but looking at the type of players we have on this team – Derek and Latavius (Murray) and all those guys, (offensive linemen) Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson and Donald Penn – it was only a matter of time before this happened,” Osemele said..

Don’t be surprised if Osemele winds up an All-Pro.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

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