Up next for the Oakland Raiders was a home game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers were coming off a 23-20 win over the New Orleans Saints and the Raiders were coming off a 27-20 win over the Houston Texans. The Raiders won the coin flip and deferred to the second half. There wasn’t a lot to talk about early in this game as both defenses were playing well. But at the 7:11 mark of the first quarter, the Raiders got the ball back at their 38-yard line. Quarterback Derek Carr got the drive off to a nice start with a pass to running back Latavius Murray that was good for 42 yards and a first down at the Carolina 30-yard line. That was followed by a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Seth Roberts. Three plays later, Carr lobbed a pass into the end zone where it was caught for a touchdown by Roberts. Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 7-0 with 4:48 to go in the first quarter.
The Panthers started their next drive at their 25-yard line and immediately received a break as defensive tackle Stacy McGee was flagged for roughing the passer. After that, running back Jonathan Stewart got loose for a gain of 47 yards and a first down at the Oakland 13-yard line. On second and nine from the 12, quarterback Cam Newton looked for tight end Greg Olsen across the middle. The pass was incomplete, but rookie safety Karl Joseph was flagged for pass interference. That gave the Panthers a first down at the three. From there, Newton finished the drive with a three-yard run up the left side. Kicker Graham Gano made the point after and the score was tied 7-7 with 5:22 to go in the first quarter.
Return man Jalen Richard returned the kickoff to the 29 and Carr and his offense went to work. A few carries by Murray and completions to tight end Mychal Rivera and running back Taiwan Jones moved the Raiders to the Carolina 44-yard line. A seven-yard pass to wide receiver Amari Cooper and a six-yard run by Murray netted another first down at the 31. On second and 13 from the 34, Carr went deep for speedy rookie receiver Johnny Holton. He hauled it in for a gain of 30 yards and a first down at the four-yard line. Murray finished the drive on the next play with a four-yard touchdown run. Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders led 14-7 with 12:42 to go in the second quarter.
The Panthers punted on their next possession and the Raiders had good field position at the Carolina 46-yard line. Carr looked for Roberts on first down. The pass fell incomplete, but a flag was thrown and the Panthers were penalized for pass interference. That gave the Raiders a first down at the 35. That was followed by an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree and an eight-yard run by Richard. A short pass to Cooper and another one to Crabtree had the Raiders knocking at the door. But they couldn’t get in the end zone as the drive stalled on the five. Janikowski came on and his 23-yard field goal was good. With 6:49 to go, the Raiders led 17-7.
On their next two possessions, the Panthers gained a total of -15 yards. The Raiders didn’t fare much better as they gained only six yards. With 1:39 remaining, the Panthers tried to get something going before halftime. From their nine-yard line, running back Fozzy Whittaker ran up the middle for a gain of four yards. On the next play, Newton tried to throw a screen pass to Whittaker and defensive end/linebacker Khalil Mack picked off the pass and ran it into the end zone for an easy Raider touchdown. Janikowksi made the point after and the Raiders led 24-7 at halftime. As the teams left the field, the Raiders had a lot of bounce in their step and the Panthers looked demoralized. It was if they had been run over by a truck. I’m pretty sure it was a Mack truck.
But there are two halves to a football game and things have been known to change as the game progresses. That certainly was the case in this game. The Raiders started their next drive at their 22-yard line. Things got off to a good start with a nine-yard pass to Crabtree. Then there was disaster in Raiderland. As Carr took the snap for the next play he fumbled the ball and it was recovered by linebacker Thomas Davis. But it was worse than just a fumble. Carr jammed the pinky finger on his throwing hand and left the field in considerable pain. As a matter of fact, the sideline reporter said he was screaming in pain. The entire stadium got quiet and the Raiders were the ones who looked demoralized now.
The next four drives looked like this for the Panthers:
Stewart 1-yard touchdown run (Extra point blocked)
Ginn 88-yard touchdown pass from Newton (Two-point conversion failed)
Stewart 3-yard touchdown run (Two-point conversion failed)
Kelvin Benjamin 44-yard touchdown pass from Newton (Gano Extra point is good)
That was one of the worst quarters I have ever seen the Raiders play. On those four possessions, the Panthers out-gained the Raiders 226-36. Carr got hurt and I can understand the fact that the offense wouldn’t perform as well with Matt McGloin at quarterback. But Carr doesn’t play defense. What the hell happened to them? All of a sudden Newton had all day to throw and the receivers were wide open. I will say that on the long pass to Ginn, linebacker Bruce Irvin was being held very badly. It looked like he and the left tackle were dancing. Yet, head zebra Jerome “Booger” Boger and the rest of the zebras didn’t throw a flag. Carr was able to come back but was picked off by Davis. That helped set up the drive where Stewart scored from three yards out.
With the Panthers leading 32-24, Carr knew he had to get his act together. He was wearing a black glove to protect his pinky and he and the offense went to work from their 25-yard line. The drive started out nicely with a nine-yard pass to Crabtree and a three-yard run by Murray that netted a first down at the 37. Richard ran up the right side for a gain of nine and a facemask penalty on the Panthers gave the Raiders 15 more yards and a first down at the Carolina 39-yard line. Two runs by Murray and a seven-yard pass to Crabtree moved the ball to the 25. On third and 11 from the 26, Carr connected with tight end Clive Walford for a gain of 14 yards and a first down at the 12. From the 12, Carr looked for Walford again and found him in the end zone for a touchdown. That pass was a dart. I think that was proof that Carr was feeling better. Up next was a two-point conversion attempt. Carr rolled to the right and found Roberts in the end zone. That tied the score at 32-32 with 8:31 to go in the game.
The Panthers had plenty of time to drive down the field and take the lead again. From the 25, Newton found Ginn for a gain of 11 yards. Stewart ran up the middle for three yards on first down and Olsen caught a pass for eight more yards. But that play was brought back because of a holding penalty. On third and ten from the 31, Newton looked for Benjamin on the right side of the field. He caught the pass, but was pushed out of bounds a yard short of the first down marker. On fourth and one from the 40, the Panthers decided to punt.
Punter Michael Palardy got off a nice punt and the Raiders set up shop at their 13-yard line. On first down, Carr was pushed out of bounds for a loss of four yards. Roberts caught a short pass on the next play and that set up a third and nine situation from the 14. Carr went deep down the middle for Crabtree and he made the catch for a gain of 49 yards and a first down at the Carolina 37-yard line. That was one hell of a catch and Crabtree lost his helmet as he came down with the ball. A five-yard run by Murray and another pass to Crabtree netted another first down at the 17. Three more runs by Murray moved the ball to the six-yard line. That’s when the play calling got weird. Murray ran up the middle for a gain of one on first down. Then the Raiders called pass plays on second and third down. Both passes were incomplete and that stopped the clock. Janikowski came into the game and easily made his 23-yard field goal attempt. That put the Raiders up 35-32 with 1:45 to go in the game.
Judging by how poorly the Raider defense played in the second half, I was pretty sure the Panthers could tie the game up. They might even be able to take the lead. On first down from the 25, Newton found Olsen wide open for a gain of 20 yards. Isn’t there someone who can cover Olsen better than Malcolm Smith? From the 45, Newton connected with wide receiver Devin Funchess for a gain of 11. It took two plays and the Panthers were already past midfield. But the next three plays were all incomplete passes. On third down, Olsen got open across the middle. But he couldn’t hang on to the ball. If he would have caught that pass, the Panthers would have been in field goal range. Instead, it was fourth and ten from the Oakland 44-yard line. Newton took the snap and the pocket collapsed around him. Mack sacked Newton, the ball came loose and Mack recovered it. That sealed the deal and the Raiders came away with a 35-32 win. The win improved their record to 9-2 and the Panthers fell to 4-7. For for the first time since 2002, the Raiders are guaranteed to finish a season with a winning record. It’s a miracle!
For the Panthers, Cam Newton completed 14 of 29 for 246 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Ted Ginn and Greg Olsen tied for the lead in receptions with four apiece and Ginn had the most receiving yards with 115. On the ground, Jonathan Stewart led the way with 96 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. As a team, the Panthers rushed for 129 yards on 25 carries. Defensively, cornerback Daryl Worley led the team in solo tackles with ten. Their star linebacker Luke Kuechly did not play in this game with a concussion and he was sorely missed.
For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 26 of 38 for 315 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Michael Crabtree led the team in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 110. Much like the game in Mexico, the Raiders had a hard time running the ball. All totaled, they rushed for just 55 yards on 30 carries. Latavius Murray led the way with 45 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown. Defensively, Khalil Mack had a monster game with six solo tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception returned for a touchdown. He’s the first player to do that since Charles Woodson did it in 2009.
I was really hoping this game would be a blowout. It looked like it might be until the defense totally collapsed in the third quarter. But, the bottom line is the Raiders won the game and maintained first place in the AFC West. Up next is another home game against the Buffalo Bills. Until then, take it easy.
The Raider Guy