Raiders fire final bullet in Ravens shootout
Oakland’s offense clicked like the knee of a 40-year-old linebacker Sunday. Especially when it mattered.
The Raiders scored 10 points in the first three minutes of the game, aided by a forced fumble on Baltimore’s first play. Derek Carr held pace with former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, as the Raiders grabbed 254 yards in the first half alone.
The Raiders’ dominant pace held, though it was matched by the Ravens in an action-packed 37-33 win.
Rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper grabbed seven receptions for 109 yards in his first NFL game with more than 100 yards, and his first regular-season touchdown. Counterpart Michael Crabtree gained 111 yards on nine receptions.
Oakland’s second year undrafted receiver Seth Roberts made the catch that sealed the Raiders first win of 2015. Well, so did cornerback Neiko Thorpe, picking Flacco on a desperate long pass to the left sideline.
The Raiders kneeled on the ball, and called it a win. Head coach Jack Del Rio, a Hayward native and Raiders fan growing up, nearly got choked up. He said:
“I had to focus on taking my mind off of it so I didn’t get choked up. Very special.”
It was a shootout through and through, with Oakland’s defense again surrendering chunk yardage to tight ends Maxx Williams and Crockett Gilmore as this week’s beneficiaries.
The pair totaled 96 yards and two touchdown on six catches. Gilmore did most of the heavy lifting; two of his grabs were touchdowns as the rookie Williams took notes.
The Raiders duo of Crabtree and Cooper, though, became the first pair of Oakland receivers to top 100 yards in one game since Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey did it in 2012. The 37 points scored are the most against a Ravens team in franchise history.
Oakland posted 20 first half points, but it was matched by Baltimore, who took advantage of some coverage issues early on. Del Rio said:
“Our coverage is going to need to be better. We’ll address it, try to correct it. It’s going to be challenging the first couple of weeks. … I do believe that we have the makings of a pretty salty pass rush and coverage unit.”
While overall defense for the Raiders was lacking, Carr and his two top receivers balled out. Running back Latavius Murray gained 65 yards on 15 carries, and 22 yards through the air, catching three balls from Carr.
The two teams exchanged jabs and haymakers until the final kneel. The game held as much excitement as the Raiders’ first win of 2014, which didn’t come until Week 12, on a Thursday night with a national audience.
Oakland entered that game as a 7-point underdog, just like Sunday’s win. Oakland won the final two home games of 2014, a decisive victory over the 49ers and another close game versus the Bills.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
Said Ravens offensive lineman Marshall Yanda:
“Oakland was the better team today. Obviously they did things pretty well on defense, and they did things well offensively. … Give them credit, they outplayed us today.”
The Raiders are hoping for a trend there.
While the defense wasn’t as stingy as they might hope, Oakland’s defensive backfield still made it tough for Baltimore’s top receiver, Smith, to do a lot of damage. D.J. Hayden and Thorpe combined for five passes defensed, and, according to Smith, the coverages were well disguised:
“They were switching up coverage, so it varies to be honest. I’m not really sure, before every play, what the defense is going to be. I have to read it and just run my route accordingly.”
Newcomer to the Raiders roster, safety Taylor Mays — who was signed during training camp, then released before being signed again — wasn’t totally surprised to be a large part of the back end of the Raiders starting defense.
Mays felt that he made some mistakes, ones that will haunt him more than the plays he made. The strong safety led the team in tackles for a solid portion of the game, but would still like a few back. Mays, though, thinks highly of the Raiders secondary:
“We have a lot of potential, as you can see. You want to be the guy that does the most he can do to help the team win. … I don’t care about the good plays necessarily. It’s the bad plays that haunt you. It’s one of those things where you want to continue to get better.”
Thorpe’s game-clinching interception was something that showed how well the Raiders can play in the crunch. It was an errant throw from Flacco, as Smith tripped up on the switch between baseball dirt and turf, but Oakland’s secondary still had to finish it off. They did, and Thorpe said:
“I really can’t tell you the difference. I would say that we know as we went in this week, just like last week, stick to the game plan. We just had a different outcome this time.”
Roberts, whose game-winning touchdown catch might be team highlight material for a while, added:
“It feels awesome, man. … We did it for us, for our organization, the team, the Raiders. We haven’t had a win in a long time so it feels good to have our coaches with smiles on their faces and leaving happy.”
Thorpe hasn’t been active for a win since Oakland’s last, at home facing Buffalo just days before Christmas in 2014. Roberts has only been active one game, Week 1. He was a member of Oakland’s practice squad last season.
Said Del Rio:
“Step forward for a game-winner? Yeah, that was nice. He’s worked hard.”
The Raiders have a few days to practice, and are looking forward to their Week 3 road game at Cleveland next Sunday.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.