With a defender chasing him, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr rolled right, eyes downfield, hoping to hit an open receiver.
The side-armed throw that traveled roughly 30 yards through the air, right into the waiting hands of receiver Michael Crabtree for a first down; a pass right down the pipe, a perfect strike that summed up the day for Carr and Crabtree.
Both were in rhythm, save for an uncharacteristic few concentration drops that Crabtree let go, and the connection was what made the day in Oakland’s 33-16 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
With 39 seconds left in the first half, Carr and Crabtree made an even bigger play together.
Rolling right, again under heavy pressure, Carr lofted a 50 yard bomb though the air, which Crabtree’s momentum carried another six yards, to the two yard line. Carr threw half the length of the field on the run, as if a deep strike wasn’t impressive enough, while his first offensive coordinator in the NFL, Greg Olson, watched from the opposing sideline.
The tandem was on fire Sunday, playing against the fourth ranked pass defense in the NFL, and exploited even the smallest of inefficiencies.
Carr nearly had three first-half touchdown passes, tight end Clive Walford dropped a sure touchdown on the opening drive, and the Raiders settled for a field goal. The 20-6 score at the end of 30 minutes kept the crowd noise to murmur, and the balanced attack rolled on.
By the end of the day, Carr finished with 200 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Crabtree accumulated 96 yards, while Amari Cooper came alive late with four catches for 29 yards on the day.
The early groove between Crabtree and Carr, though, is what made the day for the Raiders.
Raiders convert a season high eight 3rd downs
The Raiders entered their tilt with Jacksonville near the bottom of the heap for third down conversion rate. Just five-tenths above the awful 49ers offense in converting on third down, their 36.1 percent clip has been cause for concern.
I wrote about this following Oakland’s win against Baltimore, and third down conversion rates usually align with a team’s place in the standings. It’s not purely an offensive statistic, either, defensive third down percentages are equally important.
For the Raiders, despite the incredibly high number of yards their defense has allowed, they were running a 35.2 percent clip entering Sunday, just about one point higher than their offensive rate.
Which makes sense, as their first five games were decided by a touchdown or less, and three of their six games this season have been decided by three points or fewer.
On Sunday, though, the tide shifted. Oakland posted their best rate of the season, well above the 5-for-12 third down conversions during their home opening loss versus Atlanta.
The final line doesn’t tell the whole story, since the Raiders were 6-for-11 on third down conversion prior to the second half garbage time where they just burned clock.
Now, though, their rates align better with their division-leading 5-2 record.
Osemele hits the deck
Early in the fourth quarter, big-ticket free agent signing Kelechi Osemele went down with an injury and was helped off the field, heading directly into the locker room. The Raiders’ left guard, who signed a five-year, $58 million contract in March, has been a major reason that Oakland’s line has allowed a league-best seven sacks.
Osemele grabbed his knee while he was on the turf, and given that he didn’t put any weight on the leg, the injury appeared serious.
Osemele returned to the game later in the quarter, though, and the Raiders dodged a major bullet.
The lineman missed half of his sophomore season with a back injury sustained during week 7 of 2013, and missed two games in each of the last two seasons with other injuries.
The Raiders were sporting the league’s 12th most rushing yards entering Sunday, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt. What’s more, their aerial game has been a staple this year with the defense allowing so many big plays.
There’s no doubting that Osemele has been a major part of that, and an absence would open up playing time for second year guard Jon Feliciano and rookie Vadal Alexandar.
Feliciano, a fourth round selection from the Raiders’ 2015 draft, is a talented swing guard who excels in pulling and performing in the run game. Alexandar is a phone booth mauler, with major potential as a road grater, but fell to the seventh round partly due to running the slowest 40-yard-dash at the NFL combine of any offensive lineman.
Oakland has depth at guard, which is more than they can claim if a starting tackle went down. Menelik Watson has been superb at right tackle when he’s been healthy, a seldom occurrence, and Austin Howard has been a revelation since coming over from the Jets last season.
Marquette King must have been training for the Olympics during the offseason.
After long snapper Jon Condo botched an exchange late in the game, and the score only differentiated by 10 points, King decided to improvise. He ran right, around eight big guys trying to take him down, and gained 27 yards.
It’s easily King‘s biggest run of his career — since it’s his first. And if not for a 29 yard run by receiver Johnny Holton on a sweep play, it would have been the longest rushing play of the day for Oakland. Jacksonville running back Chris Ivory scampered for 42 yards early in the day.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about the run is that there is little surprise that King pulled it off. I’m not sure there’s ever been a more athletic punter in the NFL, and if King and Cooper exchanged gear during pregame warm ups or Halloween practice, there’s little doubt that anyone would be the wiser and figure it out from the sidelines.
Of course, there’s a better chance that King shows up to Alameda next Monday in his green Power Rangers costume that he arrived to training camp in. Either one would be fitting, though, evidenced by the play that kept the score and the game out of reach for Jacksonville.
Defense stands up
It’s no secret that the Jaguars offense has struggled this season, after posting the 18th best yardage total (5,581) with the vast majority coming through the air, but Oakland’s defense was nothing to trifle with on Sunday.
Blake Bortles was 23-for-43, throwing for 239 yards and two interceptions, with one touchdown and a 58.9 passer rating. Reggie Nelson and David Amerson both received passes from Bortles, and linebacker Malcolm Smith nearly had another.
The Raiders also forced two fumbles, and Khalil Mack notched his third sack of the season.
Perhaps things are coming together for the defense, which will be necessary if the Raiders are to win the AFC West. Oakland’s offense has been tough to stop, but they’ve blown games because of some big plays allowed then the opponent has the ball.
The challenge now, though, is for the Raiders to keep the momentum going. Analytics gurus will generally say that there’s no such thing as momentum, just like a philosopher might tell that time doesn’t exist.
There’s an emotional element to football that is simply impossible to quantify, evidenced by the meltdown defensive lineman Malik Jackson displayed while being disqualified after his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty within a few minutes of one another.
Rookie defensive back Jalen Ramsey, the third overall pick of this year’s draft, was also given the boot — along with Raiders undrafted receiver Johnny Holton — after getting into a shoving match with each other as the Jaguars’ frustrations boiled over.
Jacksonville’s offense has talent everywhere, and though they’ve been on the low side of a slump, the opponent Oakland dealt with Sunday was of high quality. Ken Norton found a way to get the roster in position, the players executed, and the result was allowing only one touchdown — and only if the garbage time is included.
The only touchdown pass for Bortles came with a few ticks more than four minutes remained, and the Jaguars trailed by 17 points.
The Raiders will stay in sun-soaked Florida this week, with the Buccaneers up next on their docket. Tampa was slated to visit the 49ers for week 7, so Oakland will actually have a chance to be the road team and be more rested than their host.
Oakland is undefeated on the road, and while the Buccaneers are a quality opponent, the Raiders defense just showed real signs of growth. It will be another legitimate test, though, since Tampa Bay has a young quarterback, Jameis Winston, and a star receiver in Mike Evans.
On a personal note, the Florida Gators play the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville next Saturday, a big rivalry game that will be highlighted by a young quarterback named Luke.
Luke is sporting a 4-0 record as the Gators starter, and has thrown for 998 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He’s also the son of Raiders coach Jack Del Rio.
Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are separated by 185 miles of land, but the flight is only about an hour. The drive would be five to six hours. Maybe the Raiders would spring for a little vacation while on their long road trip. I’m sure that Jack will make the trip, though.
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 Raiders football.