Senior Insider, raiders.com
The Oakland Raiders packed their bags and flew to Mexico Sunday afternoon, and in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, they flew back to the Bay Area with a 27-20 win over the Houston Texans in tow.
It wasn’t their prettiest win of the season, but Head Coach Jack Del Rio’s squad handled business on Monday Night Football, beating the Texans at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
With the win, the Silver and Black are now 8-2, and combined with the Kansas City Chiefs Week 11 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Derek Carr and Co. now sit alone atop the AFC West.
Next on the agenda is a true home game against the Carolina Panthers, but before we look ahead to that game, let’s take a look at five takeaways from the win over the Texans.
1. These Raiders can win ugly
The Raiders have seemingly found new ways to win each week of the 2016 regular season. They’ve won by the skin of their teeth, they’ve won in dominating fashion, and they’ve won relying heavily on the arm of their Pro Bowl quarterback.
Well, add a new one to that growing list, because Monday night, the Raiders won ugly.
The Texans outgained the Raiders by 29 total yards, and when all was said and done, the Silver and Black had rushed for just 30 yards, but regardless of the statistical disparities, Head Coach Del Rio’s group found a way to fly back home with a win.
“Ugly, pretty, a win is a win,” said defensive tackle Stacy McGee. “I’m just happy with the win. I’m just proud that everyone hung in and fought, and now we’re 8-2.”
While Monday’s effort wasn’t the Raiders best of 2016 – not by a long shot – the win at Estadio Azteca, was significant because it showed that even when things aren’t firing on all cylinders, the Silver and Black can buckle down and find a way to beat a quality opponent.
2. Monday’s win proved that football is indeed a game of inches
Halfway through the fourth quarter, with the game tied 20-20, the Raiders defense delivered its best pair of back-to-back plays of the 2016 regular season.
After an impressive kickoff return by Akeem Hunt, Brock Osweiler led the Texans into the red zone, and with 7:07 left in regulation, he and the Houston offense found themselves facing a 3rd and 12 on the Raiders 16-yard line.
Lamar Miller received the handoff on third down, but was pushed out of bounds just short of the first down marker, and on the next play, the Raiders defense stood stout yet again, stopping Hunt mere inches away from a first down.
The Raiders offense took over on downs, and just five plays later, Carr connected with wide Amari Cooper on a 35-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game winner.
They always say that football game is a game of inches, and Monday night at Estadio Azteca that sentiment proved true, literally.
“That’s when you have to buckle down and play your best, when the game is on the line,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said. “Like [defensive end] Khalil [Mack] says, ‘by, any means.’ That’s what you have to do.”
Ellis and the big fellas up front did just that, and their ability to get a strong push in the most critical moments of the game undoubtedly helped the Raiders secure their eighth win of the season.
3. Jalen Richard just keeps providing a spark
There’s just something about the rookie running back from Southern Mississippi, isn’t there?
“I just try to come in every day and make an impact every game I can, and help the team [make] plays, and to help the team win,” Richard explained. “It shows in the confidence that the coaching staff has in me to put me in those situations to make plays, and put me in the best situations that show my skillset. Any opportunity that I have, I have to make the best of them.”
No. 30 has certainly made the most of the opportunities he’s been given in 2016, as he ranks third on the team in rushing yards, and has also been a valuable contributor in the return game.
4. Bruce Irvin came to play Monday night
The Slash Brothers were rocking and rolling Monday night at Estadio Azteca.
Khalil Mack finished his night with yet another sack – his seventh in the past five games – and was a disruptive force all evening, and his production was paired perfectly with what Irvin was able to bring to the table as well.
Not only were Irvin’s stats impressive against the Texans, but No. 51 was near the ball all evening, flying around and leaving his imprint on the Week 11 game.
5. The Raiders own sole possession of first place in the AFC West
0-10 seems like a long, long time ago, doesn’t it?
Gone are the days of the Silver and Black permanently taking up residence in the cellar of the AFC West; as General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Del Rio have executed their plan, and as a result, the Raiders have just secured their eighth win of the season, and are now currently standing alone atop the division.
Now, there’s still a lot of football left to play – six games, with three very important division games remaining – but that doesn’t mean that some of the Raiders players aren’t appreciating how far they’ve come over the past couple of seasons.
“It sounds great,” McGee said when asked about the team’s record. “It feels good. I’ve been here for a while, and it’s the first time we’ve won eight games, and to be first place in the AFC West, that’s a blessing.”
Like we said earlier, it’s important not to look too far down the road, but as of today, the Oakland Raiders are in the first place in the AFC West, and that is reason to smile.
However, that smile will be a lot bigger if the Silver and Black are still in this position in six weeks time; that I can promise you.